This time of year can be triggering for many.
We find ourselves walking back into family systems that can trigger, uproot, cross boundaries, and bring us back to a time in our lives where we didn’t feel honored, respected, or in control.
It doesn’t matter that you’ve been going to therapy once a week for the last year, reading all the self-help books, following your favorite Instagram self-help accounts where you nod along with everything that’s written, or meditating on the daily.
Although you may be integrating healthy practices into your life, it’s quite normal to feel yourself lose grip of your tools the moment you walk back into your childhood home, get that look from your father, hear the first bout of criticism from your mom, or field intruding questions about your dating life, baby timeline, or what must have happened for you to lose your way in this world.
Let me first say, you are not required to travel to your family home for the holidays. You have permission to say no. Your job in this world is not to take care of the emotional health of others at the expense of yourself. This one can be deeply confronting and may require another separate article, but for now, just know, it’s OK to skip out.
If you do choose to go and have some concerns, here are some things to consider:
Make a plan for yourself in preparation. This may include how long you stay, where you’re going to sleep, and if you’ll need a vehicle in case you want to leave. You may consider communicating some of the plan ahead of time. Remember, you’re not asking permission—you’re letting everyone know what it is you’ll be doing.
Get clear on your expectations. It’s easy to become hopeful that interactions with certain family members might be different than before. Check that. If someone pleasantly surprises you, that’s great, but for now, remind yourself ahead of time what it is you ought to expect and how to handle it when it presents itself. If you expect your aunt to make mention of you being single again, know how you’ll respond ahead of time.
Use nature. Get outside every day. Create space for yourself. Be intentional with leaving the home to go for a walk, to grab coffee (yes, even if there’s some at the house), or to go journal at a park. If you live somewhere cold, just move your energy. Go to a coffee shop, visit a bookstore, or just bundle up and let yourself get present to the beauty around you.
Remind yourself to not sacrifice your emotional well-being for others.
Say it to yourself every day. Say it in any moment you need it. If you share the holidays with a partner, ask them to support you and remind you of this. If you aren’t partnered, use a friendship (a quick text can go a long way). Come home to this over and over again.
Vienna Pharaon is the founder of Mindful Marriage and Family Therapy and is one of the most sought-after Licensed Therapists in New York City. She has a way of leading people back home, connecting deeply to their needs, and helping people connect to their voice in order to create the change they wish to see in themselves and their relationships. She is the relationship expert for Motherly, has over 400K followers on Instagram, and has been featured in The Economist, Fatherly, The New York Post, and Vogue.
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