Just Say No: Holiday Obligations and How to Break the Cycle

It’s December and we are in full-blown holiday mode. Christmas movies, holiday shopping, endless memes about food and family. Some of the posts on social media are cute; sweet pictures of close knit families coming together to celebrate one of the few times a year they’re able to get together. Couples get engaged. Toddlers meet Santa for the first time. For many people it really is the most wonderful time of the year. For others, it is not. For others are caught in the Cycle of Family Obligations.

This cycle is a quarterly push from family you otherwise don’t hear from who suddenly want to get together. What is their motive behind this push? Hard to say. Some are driven by bragging rights…they want to Facebook about the perfect family they have. Some are lonely and have put very little effort into building relationships so they’re just going to force them. Some are controlling. Some are abusive. Some don’t want to face the truth that they come from a broken family. Each cycle is different, yet the behaviors remain the same.

There are many ways that the Cycle of Obligation can be enforced. Some family use powers of persuasion. “It’ll be fun” or “everyone will be there!” they say. Others use guilt trips. “Haven’t seen you in a long while you know” or “It would be nice if you would stop by for once” or “We have missed seeing you, we never hear from you” Others use veiled threats of consequences if you don’t attend. “Grandma is not getting any better you know. This could be her last holiday” or “Don’t bother asking me for anything if you don’t show up”. Each phrase is different but the meanings behind the messages are the same: You don’t have a choice. Come see your family. You owe it to us. Don’t turn your back on your family.

How do you know if you are that miserable holiday person? Ask yourself a few questions and answer honestly: Do you dread spending time with your family during the holidays? Are their certain people that can make your anxiety or anger sky rocket, even with a simple text or brief voicemail? Do you spend most of your holiday in a state of frenzy, rushing from gathering to gathering, never stopping to rest? If your answer to any of these questions is yes…you are in a cycle of Holiday Obligation.

The cycle of Holiday Obligation is one that most do not want to address. Most want to try to enjoy the holidays so they push down the feelings that these obligations bring up. Those feelings don’t go away, however. They surface later on in the year and appear as depression, anxiety or anger. Actions during the holidays may eat away at you until you can no longer stand it and you snap. With that in mind, it becomes clear that addressing these Holiday Obligations is necessary. If you have children ask yourself: Are my children enjoying the holidays? Am I my best self when I’m with my children or am I stressed and angry? Do I want my children to partake in this cycle as they get older?

Here’s some hard truth and justification for your actions: If you have been physically or emotionally harmed by a family member, regardless of what their title is, you have every right to not spend the holidays…or any days for that matter, with them. Family does not equal obligation. You did not choose to be born into your family. They have the ability to make choices about how they treat you. If that treatment was poor then I am telling you it is okay to create your own holiday traditions and surround yourself with people that you love. Do not make excuses for the behaviors of others. If you have told them you how you feel and their behavior doesn’t change then one thing is clear: they are consciously choosing to hurt you. And that is not going to change so long as you keep coming around.

The first time you do not attend an obligated get together, you may feel guilty. You may feel sad. You may grieve. Keep in mind that you are not grieving for skipping out on the people at the gathering. You are grieving because you are coming to terms with the fact that your wish for a perfect family or fun get togethers is not going to happen. It has never happened. But it CAN happen for you. You will just have to create it yourself.

The holidays are hard. If you find yourself struggling during the holidays I encourage you to talk about the things that have happened to you with a third party: someone who wasn’t there to witness what happened. No incident is too small or insignificant. If it happened to you, if it had an impact on you, then it matters. This year don’t spend the holidays being worried and stressed. Set your boundaries. Go to the gatherings you want. If nothing is appealing to you, feel free to create your own. Surround yourself with those that care about you. Think about the people who are your go-tos, your support systems. The ones you can depend on to lift you up, make you laugh, and help in times of need. Those are the people who are important.

I mean, I’m pretty sure Jesus himself didn’t go home for the holidays. He was too busy loving and caring for those that society had cast aside. He was a rebel just like you. Now go out and have fun. It really is the most magical time of the year!


  1. Awesome article! Thank you for sharing! Keep it up. Much Love, Miccoli


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