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How To Survive Your Family, And Yourself, This Christmas

Blog by: Dr. Nicola McCaffrey (DClinPsy.) Clinical Psychologist

Whist for some of us, this can undoubtedly be “the most wonderful time of the year” for others the holiday period can be one of the most triggering, challenging and emotionally exhausting periods. This is particularly true for those of us planning on spending the holidays with our families. Let's be honest, not all of us grew up in (or inherited) functional, compassionate, thoughtful families. There may even be times over the Christmas period when you find yourself wondering where that otherwise functional healthy adult, whose body you inhabit for the other 364 days of the year, has gone to!

If spending the holiday season with your family feels challenging, you are not alone. Many of us watch our adult selves dissolve as we slip into old behaviour patterns in the face of family dynamics. Do not despair though kind reader as just like you millions of adults all over the world returning to their childhood homes over the holiday period are also about to spontaneously revert to their adolescent selves. This kind of behaviour is in fact so common that some therapists advise to simply expect that this type of regression is likely to happen and enjoy what it has to offer. Try not to hold on so tightly to your current role that you cannot find comfort and enjoyment in your old one. By setting our expectations up in this way we are less likely to be caught off guard if and when it does occur.

Whilst it is entirely normal to regress somewhat when we find ourselves in the bosom of family, it is also important to hold onto the healthy adult we have become. Maturing as a person means being able to catch ourselves when we notice ourselves sliding toto far backwards and actively deciding to progress rather than regress. This means attempting to relate to our family with the same respect, dignity and compassion that we offer to others. Therefore, in order to support yourself in navigating the black hole of holiday regression it is imperative that you make some plans and prepare yourself in advance of your return.

Having acknowledged that we are likely to regress to our former adolescent selves at some point over the Christmas period, get curious about what is likely to trigger this for you. It can be anything from a smell, to the unfolding of a familiar conversation, a story that is often shared at this time of year, or even a particular person. Now reflect on how you typically respond and consider whether this is helpful and feels good to you. If not come up with a creative list of other ways to cope and self-soothe when you are feeling particularly challenged. This can be as simple as taking a moment for yourself outside in the fresh air, or even having a positive motivating mantra to remind yourself of your more typical healthy adult response. If you are lacking in inspiration you can borrow mine “This day is only 24 hours long, I am going to do my best for as many of those hours as I can. Its nothing special but it helps!

Another interesting suggestion on coping comes from research which examines the mind body connection. The science here suggests that how we hold ourselves influences our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, adopting an “adult posture” can counter our emotional reversion to childhood. Stand up tall, plant your feet firmly, and use the same tone and words as you typically would in your everyday adult life. It might just help. Maybe. Maybe not. Oh I don’t know. Why am I always the one in the family having to come up with the solutions?!

Merry Christmas Everyone!


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