Tis the season for spending time with family. Parents and siblings and maybe even a dog sitting around a roaring fire…warmth, laughing, love, affirmations. That’s what we all experience, right?
Umm…maybe not ALL of us.
To be honest, for most of us going home for the holidays is a mixed bag. There are significant times of connection….but there can also be triggers or shame or painful patterns that we fall back into.
Do any of the following feel true to you?
- It can be a relief to leave family gatherings
- You often don’t feel like yourself with family
- Your family no longer knows who you are or what you are about
- There are certain family rituals (or jokes or opinions or words) that are unbearable but you feel like you must go along anyways
If you feel any of the above, they can often point to shame in the family system. And shame in the family system will affect our body and mind as we re-engage with that system.
Another phenomenon we may encounter is what we call “age regression.” This describes a state where you feel like you have reverted back to your teenage (or younger) self. You are no longer “adulting” as you do in other parts of your life. You may find yourself even behaving in old ways when you were younger to “go along” with the family.
Ugh! That’s not a good feeling, right?
How does this happen? Usually it starts with a comment or look or reaction that invokes anger in us. Often it comes from a parent or authority figure where we have a historical basis for why the behavior affects us negatively. From anger though it often turns into shame which is more of a toxic, deeper sensation to our bodies. As the shame quickly disseminates in us we become fearful and confused and even overwhelmed and numb. We have fallen into an old shame spiral and we are temporarily stuck.
This whole cycle may only take a couple of minutes – but in that time we are no longer our adult selves. If we ask ourselves “how old do I feel right now?” the answer will surprise us.
Does this make sense to you? Can you recognize times where this has been true? Do you know what your own “triggers” are and who they come from?
So what do we do if we recognize this is happening? Here are some suggestions that could be helpful:
1) Pause and get in the present and begin to breathe slow, deep breaths. This helps stimulate certain nerves and can bring us back into our present adult self.
2) Leave the situation and walk. Body movement is helpful – as you walk see yourself as your adult self. Remind yourself you are no longer a child and you have choices now.
3) Make a call to a healthy, accepting friend. Connecting with another human being is one of the best tried and true ways of getting out of our shame and back into our adult self. I recommend people have 1-2 people as their “911 friends” – people they can text or call in the moment when it feels overwhelming.
4) Grab something in your hands that represents safety. Hold your car keys to remind yourself you have the ability to leave. Or, hold something cold in your hands (ice cubes, soft drink can) – this can refocus your neuropathways on the sensation to your hands and help you get out of the shame cycle.
For this holiday, maybe we can enter in with a sense of acceptance and love for what we received from our family of origin. But let’s also not be naïve of our triggers and what can make us feel disconnected or separate or shamed. We are adults now with all kinds of healthy choices we can make for ourselves.