‘Tis the season to be jolly. Let’s face it, for most of us that means it’s the season to be jolly well careful as you tip toe around family dramas and negotiate the minefield of dysfunctional family patterns and age old arguments.
It pays to remember that most of the problems we encounter in families are a consequence of old coping strategies and automatic nervous systems responses that break social contact, or as Dr Stephen Porges describes it, "biological rudeness".
The good news is you can use it to your advantage so that each new year, family Christmas gatherings are a little bit easier than the last.
It’s the perfect time to collect data for your inner work. You can supercharge your progress by using your triggers from the family Christmas for your inner enquiry. And if you're well prepared, you can have some fun as well.
Capture the many inner stories that will come up during this time and plan to use them for greater awareness, and to build on the most important relationship you have in your life – the one with yourself.
Here are my 10 best tips for surviving the family Christmas
1. Why I do this
Remember that everyone who has agreed to join with you for your family Christmas is reaching for the same thing – connection. Healthy connections can be achieved with a little forward planning and remembering that everyone has their coping strategies and hard-wired nervous system responses, and wants to feel safe.
2. Plan in advance
Review your boundaries in advance of any family functions, and plan your responses and/or exit strategy when those boundaries are breached. This will help you be prepared for the unexpected, and support you with the confidence to enjoy yourself. When you're considering your boundaries, focus on your emotional and physical safety, and what you'll need to do or suggest if you begin to feel unsafe, threatened, hurt or other discomfort that limits your enjoyment.
3. Have a back-up
Brief at least one good friend who you can call on if things get tough. Having support will help you remember that there are people out there that you can relate to, and who are there for you when the chips are down.
4. Focus and influence
Focus on what brings you joy and helps you to feel good. By doing this you are consciously activating the social engagement mode of your nervous system which makes you more approachable, less threatening and you’ll be directly influencing the mood of everyone gathered. This happens through the process of neuroception – their nervous system will pick up on your mood, and in particular, how safe they feel, before they are even aware of it. The opposite is also true.
5. Switch out of stress
When you arrive at every event, identify items in the surroundings (a picture, photo, garden), or a person that helps you to feel calm and centred. When things get a bit tough for you, take your attention to this item or person and just focus there for a while. This will help to switch your nervous system out of the stress response, and on its way back to social engagement mode.
6. Plan to break away
Plan several break-away periods to re-centre yourself, gather your thoughts and remind yourself of your boundaries and responses.
7. Reach for the wall
When you begin to feel triggered or need a little extra support, lean against a wall with your whole back, and press firmly. Tucking a pillow in the small of your back helps to make better contact with the firmness of the wall as well. Alternatively grab a drink bottle (or maybe that wine bottle you have your eye on) and hold it firmly with one or both hands. This sends the message to your brain that you are supported, reduces the stress response and the impact of the emotional trigger at the same time. Breathe deeply and slowly. A swig of that wine might also help!
8. Enjoy yourself
Drink just enough alcohol to enjoy yourself and not enough to lose yourself.
9. When it's getting too much
When you find yourself falling back into old patterns, conversations and/or arguments that throw you off balance, remember point number 1, then point number 6: healthy connections --> break away --> boundaries and responses
10. Collect the data
Note the situations occurring when you are triggered and take these to your inner work process during or after the event. If you take your journal with you, going off quietly on your own to jot down some notes could offer just the perfect distraction, or as I prefer to call it, a mini-vacation.
11. A bonus - you've made progress!
Show yourself lots of compassion before, during and after family events. Regardless of how good or not it all went, know that you are making progress every time you achieve more awareness.
Our defensive states are hard-wired after a lot of practice, and require commitment to the inner work, often with the help of a therapist to make lasting change.
Make sure you do your inner work after the event. The stories that you want to review and release are closest to the surface when you are being triggered so grab this opportunity to know yourself more deeply, and clear out stuff that no longer serves you.
About Me: Josie Coco
Discover the core problem. Solve it. That’s the inner work process that you want to work with when you’re a business woman with the demands of family, home, and work competing for your time and headspace. I’m a Health and Well-being Mentor and Certified BodyTalk Practitioner. You are welcome to seek more information and work with me here.