Being Around Family

***Disclaimer: This blog is not for everyone –  if family events feel comfortable and calming – other blogs may be for you which discuss other kinds of trigger situations, but this one you might not need.***

For many of us, we are creeping up on our extended family’s “holiday season.” These events can cause us to slide back into a place we have left long ago, and for some of us, a place we intentionally worked to disengage from. In my professional experience – and my personal experience, until I actively addressed this pattern –  attending family events can send all of us into a place we no longer want to be emotionally, physically, and mentally. That experience can be so automatic, it can feel like there is nothing to be done, because we have no control over it. Not so! There is something to be done.   

The largest mistake I have seen others make (myself included); is to know this might happen, to dread it, to plan for it occurring but not to come up with strategic plans for avoiding it. The roles we take in our family of origin are so patterned, from such young ages, that it almost feels automatic or outside of our control to be something else. To avoid this occurrence –  of us becoming something we were – we must actively strategize resistance and replacement of those patterns.

Strategizing around coping skills for family events looks differently for each of us. It might be a person, a belief, a forced role, a bias that triggers us, which can feel like very different antecedents. The process of planning, however, looks quite similar. The next time you are calm and have some time to process, think about the challenges you experience around your family. Maybe scribble them down or type them out on your phone.

  • Is it the uncle who talks over you because he believes you never made anything of yourself? Because he inflates the success of his own child in comparison? 
  • Is it the mom that wants you to be married and settled down on your way to producing grandchildren rather than attending to your career? 
  • Is it the sibling that grew up parenting you, and even though you are now grown, continues to try to parent you?  

The triggers are different for all of us.  

When you are calm and able to process, for each trigger, jot down what you wish you could do in response. Don’t censor your gut response, just jot it down. Do you want to:

  • stare blankly through the person as though you can’t hear them? 
  • share your beliefs in contrast? 
  • walk out of the room and go take space? 

Write down what you wish you could do.  

Next,get realistic. What are you capable of? Not next year, but this year. What are you able to do in response to these triggers? Be realistic – this strategy only works if you can actually accomplish it, thus starting the negotiation. “I wish I could do this, but I bet I can do that.” I want to do this, but I know I can do that.” After this process, you will have a couple strategies that you HAVE to try this year around your family. The only way to move the dial is to do something differently.  It does not have to be perfect. It has to be different to break the pattern.

  1. Generate your list of triggers when you are calm and able to process.
  2. Be as honest as you can about what you have the ability and capacity to do in response.
  3. Be specific about your potential response.  As much detail as you can will help your brain begin to practice.
  4. Stay in the realm of your integrity when coming up with strategy as something outside your value set will always make you feel worse.
  5. Remember it doesn’t have to be everything, it has to be something, slowly, over time to break a pattern.
  6. Be compassionate with yourself about how you do.  This is you changing your interactions with your family of origin, a monumental and gargantuan feat that troubles most if not all of us.

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