Turn the Tables
Sidestepping the Pitfalls of the Thanksgiving Holiday

by Kelley Kosow

Life coach and shadow-work specialist Kelley Kosow shares her tips for creating an “Integrity Protection Program” so you can sidestep the potential pitfalls of the Thanksgiving holiday. At a time when stress can suddenly trigger the worst in us, she recommends getting proactive about prioritizing our own self-care.

no place like home for the holidays

Although the song says, “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays,” and despite what we see when we watch Hallmark Channel’s Five Night Thanksgiving Movie Event, the fact is that most of us experience a sense of dread as we envision our upcoming holiday gatherings. Feelings of resistance, anxiety, and resignation start to bubble up as we anticipate the drama and dis-ease that will undoubtedly accompany the candied yams and pumpkin pie.

As we contemplate the upcoming holiday, our minds naturally drift back to Thanksgivings past. Just by thinking about our family dynamic, we can become stressed out — many of us have scenarios that consistently cause trauma and trepidation before we get to and/or around the Thanksgiving table. Any hope of warm and fuzzy feelings turn cold and cautious as we contemplate situations like:

  • How do I once again try to explain to my family why I have to bring my own food since I eat vegan or gluten-free?
  • What can I do to appease my parents and in-laws, who are all divorced but expect us to show up and make their Thanksgiving meal the most significant one?
  • How should I handle it this year when, at the last minute, my sister-in-law once again decides to invite four more people to dinner?
  • What do I do when Uncle Bob brings up politics and the holiday goes from being about pilgrims, Native Americans, and gratitude, to Democrats versus Republicans and hate and hurling insults?
  • How do I not get pissed off at my family when they stay glued to the couch and watch TV as I do all of the work in the kitchen?

Your first instinct might be to cancel Thanksgiving, or you may want to hide in order to avoid the inevitable — to do what you have done in the past and remain silent or passively stand by. You are good at pretending things are “fine” as you face-dive into the mashed potatoes, drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine, and unconsciously choose self-sabotage over self-love.

It goes without saying that checking or numbing out is not the best option. Nor is avoidance, settling for crumbs, enduring the explosions or inappropriate actions and behaviors of others, or allowing yourself to self-implode, then berating and beating yourself up for it later.

It is time to turn the tables on Turkey Day trauma and trepidation. It is time to declare a no-tolerance policy when it comes to putting ourselves in unhealthy scenarios in which we do unto others better than we do unto ourselves —  compromising our wants, needs, desires, and truth. It is time to initiate some new holiday traditions!

Creating an “Integrity Protection Program”

In my book, The Integrity Advantage, one of my favorite sections is about creating an “Integrity Protection Program,” a set of structures and practices that aid us in protecting our highest good. To help navigate the holiday pitfalls, it is crucial that we be proactive about formulating a holiday Integrity Protection Program and put structures in place to safeguard our sanity. We must commit to establishing a clear set of ground rules, some for ourselves, and some that we convey to our loved ones that we hope they can adhere to. Even though it would be nice to think that our family members and close friends know our needs, assuming often gets us in trouble and causes misunderstandings.

As we take on being proactive about turning the tables on Turkey Day trauma and trepidation, we must also commit to communicating our requests and boundaries to others in a clear and timely manner. It is okay to:

  • Tell your sister-in law that the cut-off day for any additional guest is the Monday before Thanksgiving.
  • Give each family member a list of tasks you need them to perform and add in a time frame for when they need to be done by.
  • Call your hostess and ask what they will be serving to see if it meets your dietary needs and then check if you can bring some “sugar-free” or gluten-free options.
  • Remind your in-laws that you will be eating dinner at your mother’s house and will be at their house in the afternoon to say hello.
  • Declare the Thanksgiving table a “no-politics” zone.

Structures and boundaries are acts of self-care and demonstrations of self-love. One of the “ahas” I have had is this: just like we need to establish structures and boundaries to safeguard us from the actions and habits of others, we also need them to safeguard ourselves from our own weaknesses and pitfalls. When it comes to the holidays, It is better to know myself, not to test myself!

Preempting stress and overwhelm

If I know that leftovers will wreak havoc with my food plan, then instead of hoping that this year will be different, that this year I’ll resist the leftover chestnut stuffing or deep-dish apple pie, I make a plan: I eliminate the temptation and allow myself one “leftover day” before I give the excess food away.

If year after year, I get angry with my children because they are late getting dressed and out the door for Thanksgiving dinner, then I defuse the situation before it happens: I let them know in advance what time we are leaving and invite anyone who is not sure what they are wearing to model it the day before so there is no last-minute drama.

If I always feel overwhelmed by my holiday to-do list, then starting two weeks before, I start peppering into my schedule the things I can do ahead of time so I don’t feel rushed and exhausted the last few days.

Although I might like to think that this year I will handle things differently, chances are I might not. That is why I love this concept of knowing myself instead of testing or tempting myself. It supports me in embracing my humanity and creating structures that set me up for success.

Changing your holiday karma is possible. But we need to be as mindful about creating our holiday Integrity Protection Program as we are our Thanksgiving menu. My hope is that, to whatever extent you need to, you can turn the tables on Turkey Day trauma and trepidation and have the yummiest of holidays.

Transformational Action Steps

Step One.
Start formulation your holiday Integrity Protection Program.

  • What boundaries do you need to establish with others?
  • What structures do you need to create that will support you in successfully navigating your family’s issues and dealing with their dynamics?
  • If you take on the concept of knowing yourself and not testing yourself, what structures can you put in place to safeguard yourself from your own weaknesses and pitfalls.

Step Two.
Make a conscious choice to have a wonderful Thanksgiving and walk through the holiday with eyes of love and gratitude.

Kelley Kosow is a Master Integrative Life Coach, co-CEO and Program Leader of The Ford Institute. She is a leader and teacher of emotional education, shadow work, and personal mastery. Kelley recently authored The Integrity Advantage.”

Kelley is known for being a “kick-ass” coach who uses her quick wit, laser sharp insight, genuine examples, and ruthlessly compassionate style to transform people’s lives. Truly gifted in supporting people to realize their limiting patterns and beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviors. Known as a “coach’s coach,” Kelley works with individuals, groups and corporations worldwide.

In 2007, Kelley joined the Ford Institute staff. She was hand-picked and personally trained by the Debbie Ford to lead her programs and continue the legacy of her life-changing work. Kelley is a graduate of Brown University and University of Miami Law School. Kelley has been featured in local and national media. Oprah Magazine named Kelley as someone who could “Dream it, Do it.” She has been featured in In Style, People, NY and LA Times, and Conde Nast Traveler.

How do you sidestep potential Thanksgiving pitfalls?

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