Facing Fears and Dealing with Trauma

We all have trauma. Some experiences are worse than others, some easier to deal with. For many we pretend we aren’t dealing with trauma and thus keep our survival brain operating instead of our socially engaged learning brain. This hurts us all and gets worse with time. Trauma impacts your physical health, relationships, and ability to be successful. Is it time you faced your fears and healed your trauma?

As we move through this season of endings and watch mother nature let go, it’s a good reminder to reconnect with parts of ourselves that have been wounded and shunned. 

During this time of year many spiritual practices focus on reconnecting with the past, honoring those who have come before, and remembering we are connected to a much larger system – nature, family, seasons, history, ancestors, and even traumas. 

I am not affiliated with this movie. I just really like it. I like the concept and spirit of how important it is to honor our ancestors and ourselves at the same time while holding space for all that the family story may contain.

Past trauma keeps us stuck and living as though the bad will happen again. This year what might happen if you faced your fears, looked deeper at your family stories, beliefs, patterns, and trauma to truly heal your body and soul?

In honor of Halloween (Samhain/Día de los Muertos) this month, let’s honor the past and reconnect with our true selves even if it scares us. Many of us avoid things we are fearful of. This makes sense. Usually when we feel fear there is danger near and we need to move away from it to survive. 

The way the brain is set up, the amygdala is wired to help us understand danger, where it comes from, and what to do about it. Its signal inspires for us to get away from things we deem as dangerous. Unfortunately sometimes things we believe are dangerous are just what we believe, they truly aren’t dangerous for us, but caught in belief patterns of fear based on past experiences. What they are doing is hitting the danger, danger, danger button of our brains based on past experiences. It is linking to times when we were afraid or when our ancestors were in danger. But it may not be true today. 

When the amygdala gets going it can be hard to break from the cycle of fear. This is part of what is not working in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a result of a traumatic experience – physical or mental – our nervous system gets highjacked. This highjacking keeps us “looping” in hyper-vigilant states looking for what is wrong, even after the danger is over. 

In addition to being on edge for what danger is coming at us, we can also go into what is known as a hypo-arousal state. This numbed out feeling, lack of connection, and sense of being apart from our experiences is a survival mechanism to keep us alive. Often we bounce between the two states and feel more and more fearful and confused. 

Our bodies are pretty brilliant when it comes to making sure the species goes on. However if we do not heal traumatic wounding and reset the nervous system back toward health it wreaks havoc on our immune system, cardiovascular system, our relationships, our ability to work, and our concentration and thoughts to name a few items. Research continues to link trauma to a number of chronic conditions, like chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, obesity, sleep disorders, headaches, and digestive issues. To heal it we must work with our dysregulated state and allow ourselves to build capacity to stay present to what is happening in front of us now, not what we have experienced in the past. 

In therapy we often work using pendulum states – moving between an escalated nervous system presentation to safety – while the therapist helps regulate the whole system. We work to build what is called a window of tolerance for sensitivity and stress while adding healthy coping skills back into the system. 

Once the nervous system is reset and the healthy coping skills learned, it’s not like the trauma didn’t happen, but instead of being a gaping wound that hurts to move, it’s a scar that may be sensitive to similar experiences. It’s not hurt anymore, but it reminds us that we had a scary or terrifying experience in our past. It helps us see how strong we are and helps us learn to be more kind to ourselves and others. 

As we turn toward trauma it does not mean we have to repeat all the details of the event(s). Often we don’t know them. The brain is good at managing states so we don’t even remember all the ugly stuff we experienced, however the body knows. The experience is still categorized in experiences and needs to be “filed into the right chapter” of life. We do this in a variety of ways, but telling the story isn’t necessary.

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As we begin to face what fears we have, we slowly become more free. We learn that not everything that was will happen again, not everyone we meet will hurt us, and not every trip outside our home ends badly. We slowly begin to see that life is full of good things and bad things. Things we like and things we don’t. Little by little we come out of our shell and heal. We get stronger. We get braver. We get more connected to all that is around us. 

During this time of letting go, closing down, honoring ancestors, facing goblins, ghosts, and ghouls. Are you willing to face your own demons? Then let’s get started. 


If you are ready to face your own demons … contact us and we can help you determine the next steps on your personal journey. Studio B ~ Create. Your. Self.

Studio B is the culmination of my journey as an exercise scientist turned psychologist. Visit us and see how we can help you Create. Your.Self

Acceptance of What is vs. Changing What You Don’t Like.

Ever learned how to surf? Surfers will tell you it’s about being patient and accepting the ocean just as she is. You have to be present to the moment if you are to be ready. To ride the next wave as it changes energy and crashes to the shore you have to be open to accept what it is, as it is. Today we are looking at how to use self regulation to bring acceptance to the moment you are in, not the one you wish was happening.

Many people I see in my office are able to regulate themselves when things are going good. When things get challenging however … many struggle to maintain practices that keep them focused on what is working. 

Many ask me how they are supposed to maintain hope when things are hard. It is a tricky dance between acceptance of what is and awareness of what is not wanted. Holding this paradigm in balance can help make sure you are focused on what is working and what needs to be changed. This can be a tough balance to find and relies on maintaining enough self regulation to help yourself be present to what is, just as it is.  

An easy way to remember how to care for yourself is the acronym HALT. Are you:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

If you are any of these things you will be more irritable and struggle more relationships and completing daily activities. As you work on taking care of yourself, making sure these areas are covered goes a long way toward helping you handle difficult situations with grace. 

Let’s break down each of the letters into actionable steps. It is here that you have power and control. You may not be able to change the situation you are in, however you can change how you are orienting to it and how you show up. Thus helping yourself accept what is, just as it is.

H – Are you hungry? Then eat. A nice balance of good fats, protein, and carbohydrate goes a long way to help you regulate your emotional experience. In its basic form, this is about taking care of physical needs, however, it can be about much more. If you have enough to eat but still feel hungry, what are you hungry for? What are you feeding yourself? Is it nutritious? Does it fill you? Think about not only the food you eat but the media, music, social experiences, physical spaces you find yourself in. Are they nourishing or do they feel depleted and bland? Take care to feed all of your senses well. Without nourishing intake you will feel empty and life will lose its sweetness. When those things happen we begin eating for reasons other than physical hunger. 

A – How are you with your anger? Many of us were taught that anger is bad or violent. That is not true. Anger is only violent when you act out violently to discharge it. It is only “bad” when the results of your actions have created further complications (guilt and shame) to deal with. When we are suppressing anger it leads to all sorts of issues. 

Anger revs up our inflammation system, thus we feel more body aches, joint pain, have concentration issues, memory problems, and heart stress. It wrecks havoc on many of our tissues because all that extra inflammation has no where to go. It cycles through the body looking for an outlet only to circle through the system again and again. 

Emotionally suppressed anger often leads the despair that underlies depression. When you feel so trapped to influence anything well, the world looks pretty hopeless. I often coach people to feel their anger in little bits. This keeps it manageable,. As noted above may of us have seen and experienced negative outbursts of anger. Anger doesn’t have to be explosive, but it does need to move out. Anger’s job is to help you notice something unjust or when a boundary has been crossed. It is a catalystic emotion, one that makes change happen. It wants something done and feels better once expressed. It is in the expression mistakes of acting out are made in ways we are not proud of.  

Learning how to gather the information and then make decisions based on the most effective expression of those emotions is called emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is something we all learn. Emotions are just here to give us information. Once we get the information and respond to them, rather than impulsively react, they dissipate. 

L – Feeling lonely, even in a crowd. There is a great quote on the poster “How to Build a Community” it says, “no one is silent, though many are not heard”.  Often we feel like no one is listening to us even when they ask for our thoughts. Many of us do not have someone in our lives who can deeply hear us, beyond our words and actions, but really hear what underlies our experiences. Sometimes we can’t even hear ourselves at this level. 

Again on a basic level, if you are feeling lonely reach out to your support system. Get around people where you can smile and feel at least a little connected. Notice how you keep yourself disconnected when you are in a crowd. Do you go to the coffee shop and make no eye contact, wear your headphones, and make sure you are nowhere near another body? You might want to take off your headphones and try to make some eye contact, you can decide how close to stand in line, but paying attention to natural connections in our surroundings is a way to begin to reconnect the world. If you are feeling lonely in a crowd it may be time to start doing therapy to experience the sensations of being deeply heard or to learn skills to be more effective in your communication patterns

T – Tired. This could be truly physical, you didn’t sleep well last night or it could be deeper and more extreme like I am tired in my being. If you are feeling physically tired, work to get better quality sleep by practicing sleep hygiene. If you are feeling tired in your being you might want to look at the emotional load you are carrying. Many of us are unaware of our deep sadness, anger, or fear, it has always been there. It may be something that was handed to us by our families and so we know it well. 

Or it might be that life has been hard and you are weary of the burdens related to living or losing. In this case, relieving the fatigue is about taking a life inventory and beginning to get rid of that which no longer serves you, grieve what you have lost, and work to build positive experiences into your day no matter how small. Again, this may require the help of a professional and someone who can really support you through your process. 

As you work to help yourself navigate changes in your life with grace, remember it is acceptance of what is that makes all the difference. It does not mean you have to like it, want it, or agree with it … but you do have to accept it is what you are dealing with if you want to shift. 

By taking care of these 4 areas you are already moving toward being able to move through change with less disruption and strife. 

Want to feel more regulated and in control of yourself? Remember: HALT

  • Hungry – feed yourself well. This included nutritious foods as well as everything you consume – media, social experiences, music, art, nature, anything you let into your body.
  • Angry – feel your feelings, notice what boundary needs to be set and take action in a productive way. Work to let it out a little at a time if it feels too big to do at once. Be patient with yourself. This can be difficult. 
  • Lonely – reach out to a member of your support crew. Notice how you keep yourself separate and defend against connecting. Work to engage with your environment and others with more ease. 
  • Tired – get some rest. Even a small break, short walk, or simple breathing exercise will help shift your mood. Get some sunshine. Sunshine is known to help raise energy levels. If you are feeling the heavy burdens of living life, get some support and help to determine what you can let go of and what to keep. Then learn new skills to cope with in more healthy ways that leave you feeling energetic not depleted.  

Upcoming Programs:

Social Distancing While Parenting and Being a Social Worker

How many of us are feeling the effects of trying to balance our lives while social distancing? In this post a good friend of mine outlines her experience parenting, while working from home, while worrying about the effects of the global pandemic on her children. I think many of us can relate on all sorts of levels – parents or not.

Guest Post By: Megan Murphy, LCSW

I begin writing some scattered thoughts after the third night of tossing and turning and waking up with a sore jaw and neck, from all of the things my brain must be trying to work out at night.  I notice that mornings, I tend to feel strong and hopeful.  I am noticing that afternoons are really hard, and my mind truly wishes it could download or shut down, sleep or reset.

I am familiar with anxiety and depression.  I have dealt with these emotions at many different times in my life, and overall, I have been able to overcome them, or at least survive, cope with, and accept them in my life. 

This has been a very confusing time for my mind, like it is, for so many others.  My career as a Social Worker, who works with many vulnerable populations, including the severely and persistently mentally ill, has given me more strength and hope than I could ever explain in words.  I have seen people survive and thrive in circumstances, I am quite sure I would never survive.  I’ve seen the communities of the homeless, helping one another, and caring for one another.  I’ve seen families doing their best to support their own, with limited resources, sometimes limited intellectual capacities, and very often, with judgment from the outside world.  My career has taught me so much about resilience.  I am so grateful for these clients and to so many people I have worked with along the way, who put their hearts, souls, and brains into this work.  I have no doubt that the clients I work with, have taught me so much more than I could ever teach them.  I THANK them to no end!

It has been heartbreaking not to be able to support these people face to face, to help get them the resources that they need now more than ever.  However, I am grateful for a job that knows that keeping all of us (clients included) healthy in the short term, will only help, not hurt our mission, to help them in the long term.  Or, as a wise man (thanks Dad) told me, “sometimes you have to stay in the fight, to win the fight”. 

Parenting has been a whole different level of anxiety, acceptance, and resilience during this time.  I have two sons, ages 14 and 9.  We are beginning to work on schooling from home.  I have so many worries about this time in life for them.  For my 14-year-old, I worry about this time in his life.  He is supposed to be working on independence, separating himself from his parents and working on finding himself.  Peers are also such a huge part of learning and growing at his age.  It’s so hard to tell him that we don’t have answers about when life may be “normal” again.  It is so hard to say “no” to so many requests.  I am so proud of him.  I can tell he is frustrated and worried.  It always seems that right when it’s needed, he invites his brother into his room to play games with him.  He is an amazing human being.  I worry about my skills to work and teach him from home, while also paying attention to emotional needs.  

For my 9-year-old, I worry about his enthusiastic, open view of the world and an absolute need to connect, move, and be excited about life!  Lately, he has denied every request to go outside on a walk.  At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed he is anxious about it.  “Is it safe”, “what if I see a friend on a walk”, “Can we talk to each other”, “am I sick”, “are you sick”, “will we all get sick”.  “Are we safe”.  While my husband and I do our best to reassure him, we don’t have the answers.  He seems to feel best when saying, “family first, right mom”?  

While these things worry me, I am reminded of how much gratitude I have.  I do not have to parent without a partner.  We are able to do this as a team and take turns when the other is feeling overwhelmed.  So many do not have this and they are HEROES!  Sometimes, I get frustrated with my own anxieties and worries because I am SO aware of the hard times others have and are experiencing.  My life has been so easy overall.  I have never needed for a thing, and have always had an abundance of love in my life.  I feel guilty and ashamed sometimes that I have so much fear. 

I have parents who give me strength.  My father, a Vietnam marine, has this way of saying just the right things, to keep me focused and strong, during hard times.  My mom, an independent woman, who has been a caretaker of many kinds, keeps me sane with love and constant communication and ideas of ways to keep myself busy.  My brothers are both amazing and show me love and support, and I hope I do the same for them.

I have an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, who check-in, send me love, and inspire me.  

I have friends that keep me grounded, strong, and grateful.  Each of them gives me something so special and unique and I cannot imagine life, or this crisis, without them.  We send each other videos, love, and ideas.  Let me tell you, these are amazing women!

The lack of answers is what continues to be the hardest.  I told my friend Jamie the other day, that while I am so aware that I am not alone, I “feel” alone.  She said, “yes, we are trying to accept and process something we have no answers to, and only fear.  We feel alone because we are not allowed to be around others”.  That felt so validating.  

So, for the moment, I plan to give myself grace.  I plan to accept that some moments I will feel strong, and others I may not.  I will do my best to show up for my family, friends, children, husband, and clients, with love, and understanding, that they too, will have good moments and not so good moments.

Upcoming Programs:

How Not To Take Things Personally. Your Guide To Managing Your Emotions.

Understanding and owning your emotional experience is key to staying grounded in a variety of relationship patterns. From getting swept away with actions that may not be best for you to getting in fights and prematurely (or waiting too long) to end relationships, understanding impact and influence versus handing over your emotional power is key. Many of us avoid feeling our vulnerability in relationships by blaming the other person for “making me feel this way” instead of taking our power back and recognizing our control in our responses. The fears of being hurt and the feelings of vulnerability associated with disempowerment are scary. It is natural to work on avoiding them. However, if you can take ownership of your emotional responsibility and own your role in your feelings you do not have to fear hurt and vulnerability.

I meet with a lot of people who feel that it is someone else’s responsibility to make them happy. They are easily knocked off course when negative things happen because they have put their emotional experience in another’s hands. They often feel out of control and play games in relationships – “I’ll hurt you before you hurt me” kind of mentalities. Getting hurt is a matter of life. We love people and they leave us. We want something and we do not get it. We work really hard and we still fail. We want to feel good enough, but we don’t. In each of these situations, acceptance is the key to navigating the difficult emotions. By accepting what is in this moment just as it is we have an opportunity to objectively examine what is happening. From this place, we can determine what worked, what did not and where we can learn more about what to do next for a better chance at success. 

Understanding Impact and Influence

We are not responsible for another’s feelings. This means I cannot make you mad, happy or sad. And you cannot make me mad, happy or sad. We cannot “make someone feel something”. They are 100% responsible for their feelings and actions. I am completely in control of my emotional experiences and you are in control of yours. Many want to feel the good sensations that come from “making someone happy” and work to avoid feelings of “I made you sad”. In reality, you did neither. You cannot make someone happy or sad because you cannot control how they are internally reacting to your actions. I have no control over how you experience what I say. I might be able to influence you but I cannot control you. Your experience of what I do gets filtered through your past experiences and is based on how you are feeling at a particular moment. I cannot control if you are hungry, annoyed with something else or overwhelmed by another situation. Therefore I cannot control how you will receive my actions (actions include statements, behaviors, and even emotions). As a result, I cannot control how you will react to me.   

In our relationships, we often “take things personally” when the other person does something that impacts us. As I am impacted I have a reaction. I may feel sad, hurt or angry. This response may be based on similar past experiences. My reaction to another’s action(s) may be based on an expectation I had about the situation. When I am impacted it is hard to remember that what they do is about who they are, not about me. How they speak to me, the words they use, the actions they do are all about how they orient to the world. I am only responsible for how I orient to the world and how I react. I am in control of my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. 

What other people do and say reflects the experiences of the other person. However, we tend to interpret what they do as a reflection of us. This misguided interpretation leaves us dealing with our own core wounds and struggles. We feel unsafe, unheard, negated, less than, etc rather than full in our experience of being. As a result of the negative impact, we are experiencing we respond as though what is happening is happening to us rather than just impacting us at the moment. We control our response to everything that impacts us and do not have to be knocked off a positive track just because we were negatively impacted by someone else’s behaviors. 

What to focus on so you don’t take people’s actions personally

To help ourselves maintain focus on our goals we need to be able to recognize what is happening. When we slow down and recognize that their actions are about them we can take control of our reaction. We recognize we can feel our full selves just because we exist. We no longer need anyone else to tell us otherwise. We can embrace our full experience and decide how to deal with it – especially when we do not like it. 

In order to do this well, we have to be willing to take responsibility for our own experience and our own actions. You have to decide how you want to be in the world. What are your goals for your experiences, expectations for yourself and what do you want to accomplish? We have to look at how we speak to others, the word choices we use, the body language we project, and the actions we do or do not do. We have to take ownership of how we have hurt others. We have to notice when we are triggered back to early wounds and experiences that hurt us so we do not perpetuate the hurt. And we have to take responsibility for our own healing. This is hard work. Many people want to say – “there is nothing wrong with me, it’s so and so’s fault. I am fine and good and right”. This way we protect ourselves from our own experiences of feeling less than. 

Healing

If we can take responsibility for our own experiences we can determine how to heal them. We can take our power back and find ourselves strong in our sense of worth. We can embrace being good enough, smart enough, wanted, needed, etc. We can own our individual gifts while allowing others to own theirs. We do not need to tear them down so we feel big anymore. We can allow them to be who they are, doing what they do without getting caught in our own story, old hurts and core wounds. We can choose to set boundaries, choose to engage with them or not. We can decide how we want to react and who we want to be without worry about what anyone else is doing. 

Easier said than done, I know. One way to make sure you are moving in a positive direction is by helping yourself focus on what you can do. Find a daily routine that helps you feel grounded. Maybe it is a morning meditation, reading, and reflection or movement plan. Your job is to focus on what you want, your goals for your future, and what helps keep you moving toward them. It might be building new behaviors or letting go of old ones. Sometimes actions needed will be clear and other times it will not be clear. Sometimes this will be small and sometimes it will be big changes in your life. 

Your job is to stop and pay attention to you. What do you need in this moment? What do you need to do right now – not what you want the other person to do, or say or be. What would help you take care of you? Put your attention where you want it to go … on creating the life you want to live. 

Ready to Make a Change?

And as always, if you are struggling you can schedule a 15 min Q&A appointment to see if it’s time to give yourself the gift of therapy. When else can you talk about yourself for an hour with someone trained to deeply listen to your core, not just the story you tell yourself. 

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How to Handle Holiday Let Down

Holidays are full of positives and negatives for most of us. We might enjoy the excitement, schedule changes, time with family or not, but when they are over many of us feel a let down in one way or another. We might be depleted and tired, pocketbooks less full, or we might be feeling down and sad because our holiday season is full of loss, grief, past hurts, trauma, and disappointments. If you are someone who feels mood shifts during the holiday season, read on for reasons why and what to do about the holiday let down.

For many of us, coming off a holiday weekend can be tough. Maybe things went really well and we enjoyed family, maybe we hosted the best gathering yet, or maybe we finally figured out what to enjoy and ignored all the annoying parts of being together

It is also possible that it did not go well for us. Many of us struggle to engage with family and friends in positive ways. We continue to revisit past issues and get stuck in old patterns of behaving and thinking. Ever ended a weekend with your family only to wonder why you feel like you are 10 again? 

For some, family hurts and trauma are so great that being together is one big trigger or family gathering is no longer an option. For some of us, the fun happy memories of childhood shadow the reality of our adulthood and we keep looking for ways to go back to the “good old days”. 

No matter which camp you are in, the ending of a holiday usually leaves us feeling tired, sad, and a bit flat. Here are some reasons for those feelings and what to do about them. 

The Gatherings That Went Well

Let’s start with the gatherings that went well. If this was your experience and you enjoyed your family and friends over the holiday, it is possible that you are feeling a bit sad to be going back to your routines. It can be hard letting go of closeness and shared experiences like cooking, eating together, or playing games with each other. Maybe you have fun traditions and foods that you enjoy, they help you feel like you belong to a group and add excitement to your regular activities. 

It can be really hard to leave our family home or groups of people we enjoy and want to be with more. Especially if you have to travel, you may be feeling loss at leaving to go back to your house. It does not have to be a far commute to create sadness and sense of loss. There is often so much excitement looking forward to the holiday, time off, and living outside routine, it can be a let down when it ends. After the fun of the holiday, when you are looking forward to the mundane and regular routines of life, you may be feeling less than enthused about heading back into your world. 

You might also be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. For many of us, we enjoy the excitement of the holiday and we work hard to make it happen. We spend weeks planning the food, prepping the food, the day of making it, serving it, and cleaning up after the meal is done. We spend countless hours decorating, getting the right presentation, and shopping for supplies. During this time, we are running from work to the store and back home to put it all together, often with quite a few repetitions of this trip. 

Add in any traveling and other holiday shopping and you might be a bit overstimulated in the days following the holiday. Although it is all fun, just extra trips to stores where things are crafted to engage all your senses and market to your emotions, where there are more people out making the store more crowded, energy higher, parking lots more full, and aisles harder to get through it can wear you out without even realizing it. The sights, smells, sounds, extra people to navigate and talk to, parking and walking more, and hauling supplies in, out the dishes, linens, roasting pans, etc. becomes quite a bit of work. Add in the overindulgence(s) and your body may be feeling really tired right now. 

What can help

To help yourself it is time to rest. You may need a few days of clean eating, get back on your workout path, meditation, and normal sleep timing. You might need a few days to detox from any substances you may have partaken in. Give your body a break by drinking good water, resting, and making sure your diet is supportive of your health rather than adding more it has to cleanse through.

Honor your sad feelings, loneliness, and sense of loss. Grief and loss help us recognize what is important in our lives and give focus toward what we need to pay attention to. 

As you recognize what you are missing, how can you speak to, tell the person, and gather more of that thing into your life on a regular basis? What can you do to make it something you have more contact with? It can be something simple like making a commitment to call more often or learn how to FaceTime.  If part of your grief is about the loss of easy mornings and your regular routine is difficult, how can you shift your daily habits to create more ease in everyday mornings? It can be about re-evaluating your life and how you spend your time. You might find that you want to give up some commitments to have more time with family and friends. 

As you work to honor the sense of ending you have an opportunity to shift your life focus to enjoy more of the things that matter to you every day.

The So – So Gathering

Now let’s talk about family and friends we like (or not), but do not engage with much. When we get together with them, it feels like work. We might find that we dread making the trip to visit or we fear that we will run out of endurance to stay in connection with them because they are difficult to be around, say things that violate our values, or their behaviors remind us what we have grown away from … for a reason. 

When I work with individuals stuck in this group, they often feel so violated by a parent’s off-color joke or put down by a comment their sibling always makes. Yet it happens. By the time they get to the actual event they are already tired because they know it is going to happen. Read on, next time you connect with this crew you will be able to let go a little more and relax into the event rather than brace for it. 

As this group ends the holiday they often feel put down, despair, and a lack of belonging – like who are these people and how did they birth me? At the same time, they are not ready to cut all ties and walk away from their culture of origin. This leads to some confusing and conflicting emotions and ideas. 

What can help

It is important to work on acceptance. Full-on 100% acceptance of your family and friends even when they annoy you or say uncomfortable things. With full acceptance, it does not mean you have to like it, want it, approve of it, or agree with it. All it means is you can clearly see them for who they are right now, in this moment without judgment of what you would rather see. 

As you work on accepting them, you begin accepting yourself too. You will be able to reconcile the gaps in feeling secure in some of your old culture while also rejecting the parts that no longer work for you. You will not feel such a sense of “needing to get them to agree” with your worldview now. You can let them be them, set boundaries and call out hurtful things effectively ways while recognizing you do not have to fight every battle. You will be able to be selective to make shifts while using the strength of the relationship to make it successful.

Another key piece to participating in systems like this is to make sure you manage your time well. For some, they feel so suffocated by family and friends which impacts the enjoyment they have with them when they do see them. The more they feel suffocated, the more aloof they appear to said family, and the more the family and friends vie for time and energy, thus creating a tighter circle of suffocation. 

If your views and values no longer match your family’s, work on accepting them as they are. This is the way they have always been. Say a silent gratitude for their work raising you and showing you want you no longer want in your life. Then allow yourself to take breaks from them. Maybe you need to offer to make a dish or bring a side you know will be healthy for you, maybe you need to bring a good book and take time to read it instead of staying planted in front of the TV that’s constantly on. Maybe you make a trip to the coffee shop, grocery store, or build in walks so you get some downtime. 

It is important to stay true to activities that keep you balanced. Work on fitting in your workouts, look up classes and locations ahead of your trip, pack your rubber tubbing or yoga mat, and commit to making your movement practices happen while you are outside your regular routine. Stick as close to your sleep schedule and eat as clean as you can, while allowing yourself an opportunity to participate in late-night games, togetherness, and activities. Eat the foods you love, even if you wouldn’t make them for yourself. Remember the 80/20 rule to help you stay on track while being present to the festivities. Stick to your goals despite how differently your family and friends may be living while also honoring that they are different and do not need to approve of your lifestyle now. 

It is also helpful to remember, you do not spend lots of time with these people and you are not going to change their mind during one trip. You do not have to work hard to make them see your way of life. Learn some statements you can make that help you set a gentle boundary while honoring your personal values, and let it go. Accept them as they are, and allow them to be who they are. This gives you space to be who you are. 

Hard or Non-Existent Gatherings

Finally, let’s talk about family systems you are no longer participating in. For some, this means that their family is not available. Maybe it is through death or distance, maybe disease or illness, maybe financial patterns or living spaces have shifted and there is no way to go back to what was. 

What can help

With these situations there is a lot of loss during the holiday season. For many, this creates great sadness, loneliness, and even anger at this time of year. It is important to honor what was, while keeping an eye on what is. Just like noted above, you do not have to like it or want it, but it is what has happened and things have changed. By honoring the changes you have a better chance of enjoying what you can. Again, by accepting what is, you have an opportunity to re-create a sense of what you are missing while allowing for the changes that have already been done. In this recreating you are not working to have an exact replica of the past, in fact that will keep you stuck, it is more about saying “this part was good” and looking for ways to make it new for you and those you are spending time with now. 

It is also important to spend time working on your own healing. For some of us, the activities and experiences we had during the holiday times were traumatic, scary, overwhelming, depressing, or disappointing. If you are stuck revisiting old traumas and hurts it is time to get some help. These experiences get stuck in your nervous system and create what we call “loops” in the therapy world. Without help clearing these loops you will get sucked back into old thoughts, behaviors, and emotional states because the body and brain and not clear on accurate timing. They are trying to keep you from experiencing those things again, but have not recognized the distance you have from those past events. It keeps looping as though it is happening or going to happen again, right now. To heal them we must reset the nervous system and give space between your past and your present. Seek a qualified trauma therapist to help you get your work done.

It does not matter which end of the spectrum your holiday gathering was on – amazing or awful, as we end a holiday gathering session we all feel a sense of loss in some way or another. It is important to honor your feelings and allow yourself space to grieve, reflect, and grow from those experiences.