The holidays are like Las Vegas. Lots of drunk people wandering around beer goggling, blinking lights, spending too much money. And then there is the crushing return trip – that head-pounding Monday morning back at work, fatter and poorer than you were before.
But these aren’t the only ways the holidays are like Vegas. Let me introduce you to something I call emotional gambling.
At the casino, you put a token in the slot machine. 9 out of 10 times nothing happens. But every so often you win a little something. And there’s always that chance, however slim, that you could
“WIN IT ALL!”
on the very next pull of the handle. This is called a partial reinforcement schedule. Give the rat a bite of cheese every so often when it pushes the lever, and guess what? The rat keeps pushing the lever. And keeps pushing the lever. And keeps pushing the lever.
Sometimes things go well with your family. Usually they don’t. Not as well as you’d like anyway, which means more holidays than not, you eventually find yourself a little depressed, exhausted, shell-shocked. You ask yourself, “
“Now why do I do this every year?“
But the question fades by the time spring shows up, and next year finds you on the road again, chasing that Norman Rockwell painting of a family that never quite existed. Welcome to the worldwide industry of emotional gambling.
Maybe this is your year. Maybe you’ll WIN IT ALL! and your family will shower you with all the love, praise, respect and heartfelt apologies you deserve. But probably you won’t.
If you’re going to make the trip, you’re going to make the trip. Nothing I can do to stop you. But go in with a plan, just like you’re hitting the casino tables.
When your time is up, it’s up. Don’t “double down” and stay another night, hoping to correct the previous night’s disaster. Good money after bad.
And know when you’ve had enough eggnog. This is always exactly one eggnog before you realize you’ve had enough eggnog.
Most importantly: Pay attention
Notice what’s really happening at the dinner table–not what you vaguely remember happening a dozen years ago.
Be honest with yourself: Do you show up despite the family drama? Or do you show up because of the family drama? Because if there is drama most years, yet you keep showing up, that means some part of you wants the drama.
Roll the dice if you must, but know this: In the history of humankind, no family member has ever resolved any longstanding issue with another family member over reheated stuffing and shots of Don Julio.
Special Note: If you missed Part 1, do not fear, you can read it here.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.