Don’t Give Up Your Life

If your family will not be kind to you this holiday season, please: be kind to yourself. 

A holiday can be a minefield of triggers, expected and unexpected, for those of us who grew up in dysfunctional/abusive/neglectful family systems. If you’re one of us, take care of yourself during this holiday season. Give yourself the option to step away from family activities and interactions if you need to. Make a safe space for yourself. Allow time and space for whatever feelings may come up and be as kind to yourself as you can.

You’re not obligated to sacrifice yourself to “keep the peace” or make others happy at the expense of your own sanity and well-being. It’s not your job to help maintain the illusion of a happy, healthy family and it’s not your job to fix your family or save it either. It’s never the child’s job to fix or save the family, although many of us feel and were conditioned to feel otherwise. If other family members aren’t motivated to acknowledge and address issues, there’s nothing to be done but care for yourself.

A corrupt family system will eat you alive no matter how much you try to keep silent and appease it. It will keep on taking as long as you keep on giving. You’re not a child anymore and you’re not trapped. Walk away if you need to. Cry and rage if you have to. Be the “bad guy”, the “troublemaker”, the black sheep, the scapegoat, the one who “ruins everything” if you have to, but don’t give up your life for a family that can’t even see who you are and never will.


This was previously published on poetry, dreams, and the body.

 Read more by Rick Belden: Arrow

Creative Commons License
Don’t give up your life by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Photo credit: David Jewell. Used by permission.

About Rick Belden

Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems. His second book, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within, is currently awaiting publication. He lives in Austin, Texas.

More information, including excerpts from Rick’s books, is available at his website. His first book, "Iron Man Family Outing," is available here. You can follow Rick Belden on Facebook.


  1. Thanks for your comment, Frank. Sounds like you have a good plan in place for the holiday. I love the homemade Festivus Pole. Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to quote the other Frank (Costanza) and tell someone, “Good thinking, Cougar.”

    I hope you have an easy, nourishing holiday season.

  2. Christmas has always been the most difficult time of the year for me. Even when I am NOT with my Family of Origin, I still struggle with my depression due to too many bad memories.

    This year, I am bringing a homemade Festivus Pole (Seinfeld) to lighten things up when I visit my family.

    But as far as self care, I plan to do a lot of reading, going to reread the Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, pray, meditate, journal, take an internet fast, and exercise.

    Good advice Rick about how to take care of ourselves during this difficult time.

    And I wish you a very peaceful Christmas and New Years,


  3. Anissa Stone says:

    ….what if it’s your own children doing it to YOU? My kids’ father left when they were 4, 3 and 1. They are now 18, 17 and 15. They cannot get along. (oldest is home from university) I even moved an hour away because they wanted me to. I think your post was intended in a different way, but dysfunction has no boundries or age limit. I’m tired of trying to smooth it over and keep my kids and parents happy. I think 2013 will be the year I will start to honor myself.

    • You’re right, Anissa. My intention in this post was to address those of us who hit the wall with family of origin issues and history at this time of year, but what you’re describing doesn’t sound very easy either. I hope you can find some ways to navigate through any holiday difficulties without too much wear and tear. Your goal for 2013 sure sounds good to me.

  4. This describes me and my life! It took me two years worth of therapy to accept how my family mistreats me, displacing their anger on me because they cannot deal with my sibling’s child sexual abuse. I love them, I miss them, and I hope one day the lightbulb goes on for them.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Brenda. Sometimes that light bulb comes on and sometimes it doesn’t. In the meantime, I think it’s best to be realistic about the situation and take care of yourself as you are doing.

  5. This is exactly what I’ve done, walked away and although there’s heartache in it, it’s been so freeing!

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