Don’t Let Codependent Dysfunctions Spoil Your Holiday Season

Snow is falling, the fireplace is crackling, and the turkey is slowly roasting in the oven while you sip from your mug of hot chocolate, surrounded by your loving family. Idyllic, isn’t it? We wish! In reality, most of us get overwhelmed the minute we arrive at family gatherings: we overeat, overdrink, and spend time trying to get the approval and love that we never quite feel we got as children. There is nothing like family with all its unresolved conflicts and unrealized expectations to hijack our brains.

While the holidays represent a period of time in our calendar year meant to bring us joy to celebrate a winter holiday we believe in, the season also has a way of triggering codependent behaviors that seem to arise out of nowhere, changing us from our regular successful and competent adults to emotionally turbulent teens. Chances are, you are like so many other people who are caught up with one foot in the Codependent Stage of Development and the other as an interdependent functioning adult.

Just as we have roles in our family of origin, we have some predictable patterns of behavior that emerge during the holiday season because of both nature and nurture. Whatever our strategy for getting attention, love or approval we choose, we are trying to meet the unmet needs of childhood or operating on automatic pilot instead of being a grounded and confident adult. 

Codependent Strategy #1: “Best” others

You use behaviors that make you feel you are better than or superior to others in order to feel okay about yourself. This means you have to buy the best, most expensive presents or make a deal about how much trouble it was to find something. You have a need to show to others that you are successful, generous and prosperous even though you have to go out on a financial limb to buy them. You fear being judged by others and protect yourself from feeling inadequate by overcompensating with gifts. You don’t let anyone be equal to you and use teasing comments to devalue others. You don’t let others help you or know what’s going on with you. Stoically, you suffer silently, never letting on that you are in financial and emotional distress.

Codependent Strategy #2: Disengage & devalue

Conforming to tradition or social norms feels threatening to you and so you refuse to conform or adapt to your family’s norms. While you are perfectly capable of going along with these holiday traditions, you passively rebel against the status quo. You arrive late, don’t bring what you said you were going to for the potluck meal or spend way more or way less than what you all agreed upon for gifts. Not having a strong sense of your own power and authority in the family, you fear being taken over by the demands to conform and act out by withdrawing or being contrary. You show your family that you are a powerful individual by acting out at the expense of peace and harmony. You frustrate others and when confronted, act as though you are the one who has been wronged.

Codependent Strategy #3: Chameleon & magician

You survive relationships by becoming what people need you to be. Your authentic self disappears and you become a chameleon, trying to be all things to all people. You are intuitive and play the role of making everything work at the expense of your own happiness. You try to make sure everyone else’s needs are taken care of and play the role of peacekeeper when others act out emotionally. Because you fear conflict, you protect yourself by focusing on others, preferring to be invisible than to suffer from the reality of what is going on in your family. You likely complain to one or two people about the dysfunction of family members after the event. You cope by drinking or eating too much, internalizing conflict and soldiering on. 

You may have recognized one of the above strategies as your behavior over the holidays.  If so, here are a few tips for making sure you create the holiday season you want to have.

Tip #1: Change your holiday script

OMG, I hate this time of year. The gift giving is so stressful, I never have enough time to prepare properly, my family is insane, and I feel like such a disappointment! HELP!”. If you have a holiday script like the one above, you are likely on your way to creating anxiety and misery for yourself. Winding ourselves up with “not enough” thoughts and “I’m so stressed” exclamations every 15 minutes is a formula for unhappiness during the season and depression come January. The good news is, it is possible to change your internal holiday script and have a wonderful festive season despite the triggers we face.

Tip #2: Don’t take things personally

Just because a family member is out of line doesn’t mean you have to react to them. We make everything much more difficult when we take the behavior of others about ourselves. Their behavior is usually motivated by what they want to feel and sometimes has nothing to do with us. Just because someone insults us, doesn’t mean we have to get all dramatic and act like we are mortally wounded. Often siblings and parents will say things they have always said, just to get a reaction. Or out of their own insecurity or anxiety, they insult, devalue or otherwise embarrass you. Don’t make their comments about you. So, if your mother says, “Is that what you are wearing to dinner?” in a tone that implies “Oh my gosh, what are you thinking wearing that!” simply respond, “yes, I am and I think it’s divine.”

Tip #3: Cultivate presence and watch the stories you tell yourself

Our stories, especially those that make us seem like a victim, an outsider or the family loser, usually are result of things that happened to us in the past. Now we’ve pulled them out and dragged into the present, believing people are doing exactly the same thing we had done to us in our childhood. We can interpret and put meaning onto things that are said to make it look like others don’t care about our feelings or are in some way rejecting us.

Cultivating present moment awareness means that we challenge our stories and perceptions and don’t automatically believe what we are telling ourselves. Just because we feel something, doesn’t mean that feeling belongs in the present. Own your story and script and don’t let it get in the way of you having a good time.

Tip #4: Don’t get pulled into drama

If you have a relative that shows up late, distressed or otherwise emotional, take an empathetic, transactional approach. Don’t let your emotional reaction add fuel to the fire. Whatever is going on with them is not a dramatic event that needs to spoil the party. A comment like “Sounds like you’ve had a rough time. Come settle in and say hi to everyone.” is a good way to transition them from the state that they are in to visiting mode.  If every year your father makes a big deal of what he has spent on presents or your mother is disappointed because yet again, no one bought her what she actually wanted (because she always says, “I have everything I need.”), notice your impulse to take sides or act as mediator and let it go.

You have the power to decide how to feel and how you will behave during the holidays. Take courage as it takes time to rewire your holiday brain. By becoming aware of the behaviors you need to shift from, you are on your way to having a joyous holiday season.

May love, light, and laughter guide you on your way to achieving your potential.


Need More Tips & Tricks for the Holiday season?

Learn more about dismantling codependent holiday season and how to have mindful and joyful festivities in our Holiday Special Episodes 45 and 46 of the ‘Dismantling Dysfunction’ Podcast:

Make sure you sign up for our weekly newsletters for tips on how to dismantle dysfunction:

What Can I Do If I Am in a Codependent Relationship?  

We specialize in helping clients identify codependent and other dysfunctional behaviors in relationships. We have several counselling approaches we take – individual, group, couples – to help individuals break free of the dysfunctional codependent behaviors that are destructive to relationships. Contact us for a consultation to find out how we can help.


Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the ‘Dismantling Dysfunction‘ podcast!

Also, you can find a ton of great resources on our YouTube Channel: Dranitsaris-Hilliard!