It’s November, which means it’s the holiday season, and we’re on the fast track toward a new year. For many, this time of year means gathering with loved ones. For others, it could mean trying to avoid loved ones at all costs. Either way, this time of year tends to bring up unique feelings in all of us. Ideally, the goal is to reconnect with those closest to us and enjoy the time that we get to spend together. That connection can get lost when we feel bogged down by obligations and the guilt that comes when those obligations are not met.

Why Do We Feel Obligated to Family?

Family traditions should be fun gatherings that members are excited to participate in. If you feel uncomfortable, or even dread having to get together with the family, there could be a deeper reason. Usually, people get so accustomed to the routine of family participation that they automatically go with the flow. Even if there is someone or something there to upset them, they go through with the gathering because that’s all they’ve ever really known. There also could be a parent or family member that they don’t want to disappoint with their absence. They feel obligated to put someone else’s happiness over their own. mentions that, as children, our only point of reference to know what is normal comes from our parents or caregivers. If we are told that obligations must be fulfilled without question, then that is how we will view it even in adulthood. According to Psych Central,

“The aforementioned environments and situations instill certain emotional responses in a person: guilt, shame, anxiety, hurt, betrayal, disappointment, loneliness, emptiness, and many others. This false sense of guilt can even become a default state that is referred to as chronic or toxic guilt.” 

Feeling like you’ve let a loved one down can feel intense and uncomfortable. Disappointing those closest to us may even feel like we’ve hurt ourselves in a way. While these people may be important to us, our perception of their feelings should not dictate our actions. There is a difference between connecting with those we love and feeling obligated to them.

Connection vs. Obligation

Some words associated with obligation include constraint, burden, requirement, and duty. On the other hand, the following words are associated with connection: union, bond, agreement, and relationship. It’s pretty clear from the words themselves that there is an obvious difference between the two. According to an article from, “Obligation only serves the other; it is not in integrity. Commitment serves all, including yourself.” When you share a true connection with someone, you both feel free to do what you like. There is no pressure to put the other person ahead of yourself, because you both accept your own interests and those of the other person. There’s no fear of disappointment or guilt. In order to create relationships with connection rather than obligation, the key is to understand the boundaries of everyone involved.

Switching from Obligation to Connection

When trying to resolve any relationship issue, a great place to start is with yourself. Showing self-compassion is a practice that we seem to forget about. We, as humans, are not perfect and we need to understand that is ok! Another great step would be to set healthy boundaries for yourself. If you feel miserable internally, your external relationships will suffer as well. You’ve heard me say this before – break free from the prison of yes. Unhealthy obligations only continue when you say yes even when you want to say no. Acknowledging when you are unable to take on anything else is how you learn to communicate your boundaries to others. Connecting with others also takes communication. Rather than repetitively involving yourself in things that upset you for the benefit of others, start a conversation about how you feel. You may even find that you’re not alone in those uncomfortable emotions. If the guilt of obligation has become a long-term issue that you need assistance with, the best thing to do is seek professional help. Please, feel free to contact me. I am always happy to help! I offer in-person appointments as well as HIPAA-compliant virtual options.