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Robert J.Ackerman PhD
In about a month another year will end. Traditionally, people like to look back on the year and some like to look toward to the future. That seems to be an American trait; we are always looking at anything but the present. However, this brings us to getting through the holidays. They will soon be present. It seems that there are thousands of articles each year on how to get through the stress of the holidays. It is amazing to me that in American culture we find the time for gratitude, family togetherness, giving, receiving, and happiness to be so stressful. Think about it. Have we become so high-strung that we can’t even enjoy ourselves?


Yeah, yeah, I know—I don’t know your dysfunctional family. As a matter of fact years ago I myself suggested that card stores should have a “dysfunctional family” section. Just think of the sayings inside of those cards: “The holidays bring back such family memories—frustration, despair, and rehab are some of them” or “Thank you for always being there for me—obviously I am still in denial” or how about “Thanks Anyway.”


Perhaps the expectations for the holidays are always too high. We need to be more realistic. Functional families—dare I use the phrase “happy families”—are not functional all the time and dysfunctional families are rarely dysfunctional all the time. Instead of having suggestions that reflect only positive thoughts, techniques, and behaviors, maybe we should have more realistic suggestions for spending time with average families and friends. After all, there are probably some people in your family that you just don’t like. The idea of being around them is second only to a root canal. I can guarantee you that at some holiday dinners this year someone at the table will be texting—they just don’t want to be there. Therefore I can’t resist offering some realistic suggestions for the coming holidays.


  • Take your copy of the DSM-5 to your family gatherings. It will help you to understand your family better and allow you to practice your diagnostic skills.
  • Don’t tell people, “Have a Happy Holiday” it creates too much pressure. Maybe we should just say, “Have a Holiday!”
  • Don’t try to keep up with all of the correct first and last names of everyone on your holiday card list. Just address all of your cards to “Occupant.”
  • Don’t complain about twelve consecutive hours of football on television on Thanksgiving Day. Without it people might actually have to talk with each other.


Besides all of this I still believe in the moments that make holidays special. I still believe in the opportunity to realize the importance of some of the people in our lives. I still believe in the power of loving friends and family and I am grateful they are in my life. 


Have a Holiday!
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Formerly Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. Dr. Ackerman is a co-founder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and the Chair, Advisory Board of COUNSELOR: The Magazine for Addiction Professionals. He has published numerous articles and research findings and is best known for writing the first book in the United States on children of alcoholics. Twelve books later, many television appearances, and countless speaking engagements, he has become internationally known for his work with families and children of all ages. His books have been translated into thirteen languages.