People who have BPD often have even more acute holiday stress and distress during the holiday season. Most of this is related to issues of expectations which are unmet either by the person themselves or the family members with whom they are celebrating. So to paraphrase a popular song, for many of us, this is not the hap, happiest time of the year.
If you grew up in a toxic family where your emotional needs went unmet on a long-term basis, then chances are the holidays are a real minefield for you. And, more than likely not, your family as well.
I’ve talked in the past about the roles different family members play and nowhere are these roles more apparent than at the holidays. Mother makes a wonderful turkey dinner and expects everyone to arrive on time, sit down and partake. One person, often the person with BPD sabotages the meal by being late. Or not being hungry enough. This sends father into a fit of anger and so it begins. If your family has certain, predetermined holiday rituals such as listening to certain types of music or eating certain kinds of food, even the slightest deviation from this can set the whole ball rolling downhill. And so it begins. Everyone is upset and everyone is angry and more likely than not, the person with BPD ends up feeling blamed for ruining the whole shebang. These kinds of conflicts can often spur families to sever contact with one another and isn’t that a shame? So, how can the person with BPD survive the holidays with their self-esteem and self-respect intact?
Disengage if necessary
There is no unwritten rule that says that you have to participate in every aspect of every single holiday celebration. If the big, family dinner sets your teeth on edge, disengage from it. Make other plans but be sure to tell your host very gently and respectfully that you won’t be attending. You don’t have to give a reason even if you are pressed for one. This will likely feel very unnatural to you and you will almost certainly be overcome with guilt as well as a hefty dose of shame. If spending time with your family over the holidays fills you with anxiety and dread, spend time with people you enjoy and with whom you can laugh.
I am a big believer in the premise that good boundaries make good relationships. Most people with BPD are either fueled by rage or turn into massive people pleasers. In both cases, they lose all sense of their personal boundaries. In this case, if the holiday celebrations are too much for you, give yourself permission to back away. Without explanation or guilt feelings.
Give yourself permission to be less celebratory
Just because the entire world is reveling in the holiday spirit does not mean you have to do the same. Personally, I have a huge love/hate relationship with Christmas. This is largely because of the commercialism of the holiday and the fact that it is inescapable. Allow yourself to be spontaneous over the season. Volunteer to work in a local soup kitchen or at a homeless shelter. Doing something for someone else might be just what is called for. Take the expectation of yourself entirely out of the equation.
If you give gifts, make the process easy
I try to get all my Christmas shopping finished before October 31st so I don’t have to go into the malls once the season has begun. I also do a lot of my shopping online. I make a list of everyone I need to buy for and I stick to it no matter how tempted I am to expand it. Sometimes I just donate a little extra to my local food pantry. I shop at my local dollar store so that I stay within my budget.
Take up a winter sport
If you live in a cold climate and are like me and hate the snow, taking up a winter sport is a great way to get outside into the fresh air and get some exercise. Most of us are tempted to go into deep hibernation over the winter but exercise is very good for us, especially if you have Borderline Personality Disorder. Studies have shown that exercise dramatically enhances life for people with a mental illness.