Going home for the holidays can be wonderful and also dreadful. Being around family brings up a lot of stuff for most people, our patience is tried, our old patterns flare up. The family conflicts and tension you'd otherwise distance yourself from are right in your face. So, what can you do to enjoy your holiday and not dread it? Well, it's all about preparation. Going into it with a clear head and the intention to take care of yourself. Having a game plan so to speak. It's not unlikely you'll see people that trigger or frustrate you. Run through those scenarios in your head and plan how you'll respond or how you'll distract yourself or thoughts that will help you afterwards. Limit your time in stressful situations or with people that stress you out. Do your best to manage your triggers. If possible, take control by meeting in a place where you'll be comfortable. Spend time with the people who bring you joy.
When I would spend time with family, I used to want to share all my personal growth knowledge and help my them change and grow, that my answers would work for them. Now, I see that honestly, it's not my responsibility. I'm not here to tell people how to live. I'm here to share information and be supportive. If they're curious I'm happy to jump into conversation. But I much prefer letting them be who they are and doing my best to love and embrace them where they are, perceived flaws and all. It's easier for me to enjoy myself without the added pressure of trying to fix everyone. Especially when they're not interested. It would be much to my 17 year old self's surprise that I don't know everything.
I love my family and part of me is happy to go home and spend time with them. Another part of me worries about being in their presence for more than a day or two. It's highly probably that I or our dynamic will regress to when I was a teenager. Take this for example, I'd been living at home for a couple weeks with my Mom, helping her recover from knee surgery. My older brother came for a weekend to help out. He's two years older and the dynamic between the three of us, all highly intelligent people tends to turn to sarcasm, competing for control and being right. Let me preface this by saying I'm not a morning person. One morning, while I'm still a bit cranky and half asleep, we're having a discussion about gun control. Of all things, gun control. It was election time and my brother is into guns and target practice. He taught me to shoot actually, and I enjoyed it. So he's on one side and my mom is trying to reason with him that democrats don't want to take away his right to have guns. He starts arguing his point. Then I start to say, from my prone position on the couch, that democrats don't want to repeal the 2nd amendment, they want ...and he says "she already said that." Oh wow, that triggered me something fierce and I sat up and yelled, "Well, I'm talking now!... Jesus, I've got to get out of here." and I got up and stormed up to my room. I laid on my bed and started crying and was pissed. And I got to thinking about my triggers. Like why the hell did I just do that and regress to a younger me.
In that moment, I could have done what my 17 year old self would have done, which is yell and be angry and cry and then shut down, holding everything in. But I'm not 17 anymore. I'm a grown ass woman, and I have the ability to reflect and spot a trigger, even if after the fact. A trigger is a strong emotional reaction to something otherwise innocuous because it brings up your shit, basically. Pushing your sensitive buttons. It's an association to another event or pattern of behavior or emotional wound that is at minimum uncomfortable for you to remember. Perhaps something unresolved within you that needs your attention. Family members are usually the best button pushers.
And so, my trigger for not being heard or listened to was set off in a big way. This wasn't really about what my brother had said in that moment, not at all. It was about all the other times in my life, with my family especially, that I felt I couldn't share or wasn't being heard or that my opinion wasn't valued. What quiet person hasn't experienced that? I have a lot of anger around not being heard, so I work on it, and recognize that I got triggered and try to explain my outburst. I don't want to say that I'm sorry it happened, because I'm not. I'm grateful for the experience. I'm grateful that when I was lying on my bed after having a tantrum I could see how our family dynamic contributed to my low self-esteem growing up and my need for control to feel safe. Like "no wonder I am the way I am". It's a piece of the puzzle to understanding myself. Being triggered also showed me what I value. I value feeling heard, being listened to, receiving someone's full attention and not always having to be right, but allowing for multiple points of view.
I was reminded of an old yoga journal article about going home for the holidays and conversations with my therapist. Spending time with people who can push your buttons so easily can cause you to regress to a younger pattern of behavior and bring up lots of old emotions is totally normal. In order to navigate going home, put your focus on what you need to take care of yourself in that moment. Ask yourself, what do I need right now? I need a break, a boundary, a piece of pie, or to step back and see them for who they are and try to accept them. I needed that time to myself to calm down, wake up and reflect on what I was feeling and why. Some time to allow my knowledge and true sense of self to come back to me.
It may not seem like such a big deal, but all those little experiences that piss you off or make you sad are excellent opportunities for personal discovery and growth. So when your brother annoys the crap out of you, and triggers your shit, try to take a beat and recognize that you've been triggered (without judging yourself!!) and respond in a way that illustrates all the growth and work you've done. But if you do get triggered, and don't take that pause and react with strong emotion, that's ok too. What you do when you're triggered is even more important- reflecting and forgiving. Take responsibility for your behavior and take care of yourself. Be polite but firm in setting boundaries. Do your best to focus on what's enjoyable for you and limit what triggers you. I hope this helps you navigate being home. I wish you Happy Holidays!!