To Grandmother’s House

Deal With Family Holiday Stress In Unique Ways

Family Holidays are wonderful. It fills us with warmth and love and reminds us of tradition. We look forward to being together with our loved ones and experiencing the joy of the season.

Ok, having said all that, there can also be some family trials and tribulations that can occur at this of year that are brought on by holiday stress. Most likely, these are related to the way your relatives make you feel about yourself.

When we walk through the door of a childhood home we can revert back to being the child we were. There can be the Ghosts of Christmas Past confronting us whether we like it or not.

Family stress takes on several shapes. Maybe you have critical mother, maybe there’s a competitive sister, or an emotionally distant father. While these family roles are tolerable during the year, somehow the expectations during the Holidays accentuate old hurts.

Even if you already recognized how to take charge of your life, when you enter your family’s stratosphere, it’s a whole new zone from your daily life.

A Unique Solution to Family Stress

One of the most effective ways to prepare yourself to deal with the reentry into the family dynamic during this time of year is to play a little game with yourself; become a new character.

Why not become an anthropologist? (Anthropologists are scientists who enter a culture in order to study the culture and gain understanding about the dynamics of how that culture works.)

As the scholar / anthropologist  who has been assigned the mission of studying the culture of your family, you enter the family with the task of observation from a distant perspective.

The holidays bring out the best and the worst in families and as a distant observer you would be able to see the positive and negative aspects of the culture. However, understand that you must, as a scientist, keep your bias out of the equation.

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Three Steps to Stress-Free Study

In order to be a good anthropologist, you have to understand what you’re looking for. Let’s look at these three steps that keep you on track with keeping your objective approach to your family:

  1. Observe the culture’s dynamics. Often it is useful to notice what are the different roles assigned to the members of the culture and how they play out that role. Does your mom go into waitress mode and serve the men? How does your competitive sister speak to everyone?
  1. Notice if there are any implicit rules that the culture lives by. Implicit rules are the rules you just “know” but they are never talked about. For example, “we never talk about Aunt Betty’s alcoholism” or “Dad has the final word.”
  1. Become aware of the culture’s communication patterns. Can one member of the culture talk to the other directly or is an intermediary necessary? Are there “cliques” in the culture among whom communication is easier?

What do you do with all those observations? Learn from them. Try to model your own responses and reactions to fit the patterns you’re observing that goes along with the old adage, “When in Rome…”

By becoming a scientist, an anthropologist, you are able to create distance between yourself and the family dynamics that can shield you from the hurt. It allows you to stay above the fray and may also help you to gain insight into how you became who you are.

Further, these observations allow you to prepare yourself with solutions of how you can best protect yourself from feeling frustrated by your family. After all, while you may love your family dearly, you can only control yourself and your own reactions to them.

Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, join her ecourses.