Tips to help your coaching clients have a better holiday season

When this time of year rolls around people start to think about family and the holiday season. Whatever culture we come from there is often much more time spent with family than usual and this can rev up old dynamics and issues that have not been resolved.

As a coach or counsellor you are probably aware if your clients have relationship and communication issues. Even if you only see them in regards to their profession or business, your work will be affected by the fall-out of these dynamics. Clients will often have setbacks that you can circumvent by dealing with this ahead of the holiday season. I recommend that my clients go into this time with increased awareness and knowledge of the patterns and what can, and usually does, happen. If they don’t, then after the new year they are often left in a turmoil of sadness, frustration, anger and regrets that impact their whole life – including at work.

Of course this particular holiday season is not to blame. The dynamic will be operational at all times – the difference is the huge expectations that come with this time of year. From childhood we can see – on TV, in movies, on greeting cards – that now of all times we should be bathed in familial joy and light – and many of us aren’t. Several clients I have served over the years would begin dreading the holiday season right after Halloween – which is the reason for this article.

They know that this parent, sibling, aunt or cousin will argue at everything anyone says. They know that another (or more) will be drinking past the point of reason and reality. They know that control issues, complaints and criticism will be rampant. Lifestyles will be judged, growth won’t be acknowledged – they may decide to stay away – which solves some problems and can create others.

Many otherwise empowered people go victim in these circumstances. They want to be there, want to engage, wish that things will finally be different. They do care about at least some members of the family – but they feel there is no way for things to go better.

I have had good success with clients that want this dynamic to change. Many of the steps that I recommend are based on developing relationship, connections and communication through use of good boundaries. Here are some that have succeeded with my clients:

When a client is not yet ready to deal with all of it I will recommend that they limit the connection. They may choose to stay away and yet to connect in ways that feel safe; such as a phone or Skype call or sending flowers or a gift as a love or peace offering. They may write a letter or email giving positive news and validating the connection.

If they feel able they may invite an in-person visit, but at a neutral space such as at a restaurant or the theatre. Or perhaps with issues of safety or violence – with some, but not all of the family. These practises maintain a safe boundary while allowing a degree of connection that the client feels safe with.

If a client has more ability to deal with the family they may be able in session to brainstorm ways that will work for them. Perhaps they will drop by the family gathering for a certain amount of time and plan to leave before the problems (such as over consumption of alcohol) begin. That way they will leave with a win and create an opportunity to improve on that next time.

Maybe they will go back to their home town but will decide to stay in a hotel so they can more effectively maintain their developing boundaries. Once they start to feel flooded with the guilt trips, criticism, passive aggressive behaviours, blame and shaming they can head back to their private space and decide how and when to proceed.

When a client is aware of the ways that they are triggered by their family members then we can go in and deal directly with that area in sessions well before the event. If they know that their mother’s tone of voice when asking about their weight, job or relationship will really affect them – then we clear that area so they are not controlled by that manipulation any longer. They are then able to stay empowered through those attempts on their boundaries and control. They use their new communication strategies to handle it.

Go over what types of things trigger certain family members and coach your client to stick to subjects that will create the atmosphere they desire. With attention to this ahead of time they can avoid areas such as religion, politics or even sports – that they know will cause trouble. Have them also consider the types of contact and encouragement that each family member might actually appreciate and enjoy. Maybe they love to talk about their pet or favourite charity. Maybe they just want some of your attention through a hug or some smiles of understanding.

Many clients feel that in some cases – with some people – accepting a gift puts them under an obligation. This is another form of attempted boundary violation. They may need to state that they do not acknowledge any reciprocation owed – often this does not need to be verbal – simply the energy of cleanly accepting and giving is enough. Discussing this in session will clarify what is required in their estimation.

Have your client consider their harmonious and peaceful intentions for the occasion. Coach them to keep theses desires in the forefront. If in the moment they are feeling volatile, then teach them to connect to their inner strength and ability so they can achieve their goals. Specialized energetic and meditation practises can really help to reset the boundaries when violated.

Happy holidays to you and yours – including your clients!