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Holiday Wisdom for Families with a Member with Complex Psychiatric Issues

By Jacqueline Perlmutter, RAS, DASD

The intensity of the holiday season folds us into a cultural and familial whirlpool where expectations of positivity and togetherness may be at odds with the reality of having a family member experiencing complex psychiatric issues.


As family members, we would love it at our get-togethers if members could relax and enjoy each other. However, when a member experiences depression, anxiety, social anxiety, addiction struggles and personality disorders, we may have to adjust that dream picture of cozy camaraderie and stress-free relationships. A key tool of this readjustment is to cultivate our own inner peace, acceptance and equanimity. Here are some tools to help move into peace of mind and create the space for joy and gratitude.

Never lose an opportunity to keep your big mouth shut.

This phrase in various forms can be heard in peer recovery groups (Twelve Step, SMART, Refuge Recovery). It’s a humorous yet direct reminder that our best thinking may not be welcomed by our suffering loved one.

Instead of busily seeking solutions, suggesting actions or offering advice to “help” your loved one, keep your mind and conversation focused on what IS working in your loved one’s life. Ask questions, notice any new shifts and be available for encouragement. Express gratitude if your loved one is willing to engage in their own growth process.

This leads to the next tool: Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.

Your urges to find solutions for your loved one offer a wonderful opportunity to engage in your own therapeutic work and deepen your own support network – friends, therapist, therapeutic or peer group community. Sure, it’s a cliché from the airline industry but in making sure we are doing our psychological and spiritual work, we are better able to be a grounded, gracious and loving presence in a family member’s life.


Engage in Pre-Event Visualization, Meditation or Prayer

I invite clients and directees to take time before any endeavor to give it some mindfulness and meditation. One simple method is to take five minutes before you set out for a gathering. Find a quiet spot, sit down, place your hands on your heart and close your eyes. Visualize the gathering and see yourself as you intend to show up – welcoming, warm, grounded, curious. See the group and members as being touched by peace and love. Get in touch with your breath and allow yourself to cultivate an inner smile. End this period with your intention, such as, “May I show up in love and peace, with a smile in my heart.” Offer blessings to the gathering if it feels right for you.

Ask for Help & Understanding

We can put an awful amount of pressure on ourselves to make things “look perfect” when our insides are a bubbly mess of fear, concern and worry, especially when our loved one is in pain, insecurity and doubt. A tendency to overdo is another marvelous opportunity to challenge yourself to do things in a different way. Target your resources and ask for help, from shopping to self-care. Say no to occasions that make your schedule too harried and ask for the caring understanding of a friend or host when you choose to bow out of gatherings or occasions.

Increase the Self-Care & Express Gratitude


The self-care tool makes all the holiday tip lists because we humans have a tendency to “do” rather than “be.” Make space for down time. Set your intention and actions to not over-indulge in holiday goodies that could decrease your immune functions. Practice mindfulness, noticing moments of beauty and grace. Lastly, but never least, express gratitude to all those who will listen. A grateful heart and attitude is a balm to others. Cultivating gratitude has many beneficial physiological and psychological benefits, including triggering some of the neurochemicals of positivity, including dopamine and serotonin. Research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

#Jacqueline Perlmutter is an addiction specialist and spiritual director who facilitates Mind Therapy Clinic’s Emotions and Compulsion therapeutic group each Friday at 1:30 PM. For more information, contact