Holiday Land Mines with Your Family
You will be exposed to your most powerful triggers.
Posted Nov 28, 2019
For some, the holidays are synonymous with a strong sense of familial closeness and love. But it can all be quickly sabotaged when relatives trigger each other, and chaos ensues. You’ve waited all year to be with those who you love, and then people don't getting along.
This time of year is also problematic if you are isolated without a close family support system. Loneliness is magnified. Memories flood in and what was painful becomes intolerable. Over half of Americans are socially isolated. (1) The medical wards are usually full because many people have increased problems around drugs and alcohol. It is helpful to understand the powerful nature of these childhood memories and how they are manifested in adulthood.
Any time you are anxious or angry, you’ve been triggered. Your nervous system has connected a current situation to a similar unpleasant past event. It doesn’t matter if the present or prior event represented a true threat. It just has to be perceived that way and the body will secrete stress hormones in its effort to resolve the problem. The sensation created by these chemicals is anxiety. Anxiety is the result of the reaction, not the cause. When you can’t solve the issue, more hormones are secreted, and you’ll become angry.
One of the most perverse aspects of the human experience is that the deeper your connections to others, the stronger the triggers. It is the reason why family dynamics can be so volatile. Most of your reactions to the world are programmed by your parents during the first 12 years of life, especially the first few. It matters little what your parents teach or preach; it’s their behaviors and attitudes that become embedded in your nervous system. If you have come from a chaotic family, your reactions to the present will be intense, although the present “danger” might be minimal. You needed to be hypervigilant as a child and your nervous system continues in this state as you age. You are and will continue to be hyper-reactive out of proportion to the circumstance. All of this is exacerbated in families dealing with chronic pain.
During the Holidays, you are around the sources of your triggers from your parents, siblings, children and other relatives. No wonder the Holidays can be problematic. Landmines are everywhere.
Now it’s the Holiday season, you have missed your family and want to be with them. What are you going to do? How are you going to handle if the situation if you are being triggered? Because it is likely to happen at some level. Here are a few suggestions, most of which I have learned the hard way.
- Remember the problem with the strong familial triggers and concentrate on enjoying your family. Play may be challenging, but it’s also the reason you want to be with them.
- Don’t give unasked-for advice. They have survived the year without you and have you ever heard of a child listening to a parent at any age?
- Remember that when you are volunteering advice, you are really saying, “You aren’t good enough the way you are.” That is probably what your parents did to you when you were young. It’s also why most of us have the “not good enough” voice in our heads.
- Visualize yourself being angry and what your family is seeing when you’re in that state. Be the person you want others to be.
- If you get upset, quickly leave the room. Nothing is ever solved in a heated argument.
- Be curious and genuinely interested in what your family is up to.
- Don’t discuss your pain, medical care, politics, religion, or complain – about anything. After all, it is the season of joy regardless of your belief system.
Appreciate the fact that you have the opportunity to be with your family. Loneliness is crushing. If you are in this situation, you have my deepest consideration. We will talk a lot more about this later. Reconnecting with the world is a significant part of your healing journey.
Cigna U.S Loneliness Index (2018).