Good Holiday to you!
Have you ever wondered why you suddenly feel like a sulky, awkward nine-year-old when you go home? You can’t seem to stop this pattern no matter how much thinking and preparing you do. What if there are parts of this dynamic that you haven’t yet realized?
From your perspective…
As the holidays approach, you’re determined to return home as your funny, creative, and sensitive self. You decide that this year, you’ll be in control and not allow yourself to get sucked into the family drama.
An hour after walking through the front door, you realize that no one is interested in your kettle-bell workout, the rare art exhibit you attended, your ‘green’ politics, or your career success. Your desire to have a different experience is overcome by powerful, eerily-familiar emotions, and suddenly your nine-year-old self is sitting at the table.
Welcome to the Family Trance!
Every family has a “default” setting, and as a child you were conditioned to play your role. The routines, subtle tensions, old traumas, beliefs, pains and suffering, and conflicts seem to sting now, but back then it all felt normal.
Love and positivity can also be shaped in the family, but it’s difficult to embrace these moments when stress run high. Unresolved traumas create tension, and difficult events can awaken a deep family wound. Throw in the brain’s bias toward negativity, and the good stuff can stay buried for years or be forgotten entirely.
Here’s the biggest shocker:
Have you ever met someone who knows a family member, maybe a parent or sibling, and they gush about their kindness, generosity, and traits that are foreign to you? You think, "Who are these people?"
If you behave differently returning home, what if it’s also true for other members of the family? What if they also regress to a younger version of themselves in the family dynamic? Pretty crazy thought, huh?
It’s possible that you trigger the family to regress, just like they do to you. Your parents also have ‘inner child’ wounds, and they’ve been conditioned by previous generations just as you are. This child(you)-to-child(family) trance is volatile, needy, and can be punishing.
We all go in and out of trance every day. Trance holds problems together, and pains and conflict become shared. This occurs in all families to some degree.
Stephen Wolinsky, PhD, author of “Trances People Live”, says that feeling younger is the cornerstone of the wounded child. When an experience subconsciously resembles an aspect of our younger days, such as an emotional pattern or memory, the inner child self takes over and you lose your cool, centered self. In other words, you’re looking into the present through the eyes of the child using the limited resources you had back in the day. Present time becomes past time.
The reinforced patterns of the past helped you (and other family members) cope with events that were overwhelming, stressful or traumatic. In other words, they were useful and maybe even necessary for survival when you were younger. They easily get triggered when gathering.
As an adult, it’s your responsibility to heal the wounds that belong to you. The more you look for your parents to change or to try to fix them, the more the wound festers. We may not realize that we still want something, such as, to be seen and heard, an apology, and confession, the truth, etc. These subconscious patterns run deep and are very much a part of you.
Therein lies the rub.
So here’s a question:
Can you use this experience as an opportunity to become conscious of this pattern, or will you continue to succumb to the emotional drama?
Here are some things to consider:
1) You can’t heal, fix, or change any person or situation. The more you try, the more your wound festers. As an adult, you are only responsible for healing the wounds that belong to you. Seek out audio programs, retreats, or professional services that help you become conscious of your wounds and work them out.
2) Recognize when your inner child coping pattern hijacks your adult self. Step back from the situation and breathe deeply to stay present. Ask yourself what you really need. To be seen? To please? To feel smart? Look for hidden motivations and take care of yourself or set boundaries around it before you go home. Don’t look to others to build your self-worth or to do something that they can't do or maybe don't even realize you need a certain response from them.
3) Commit to going open-hearted and compassionate. It’s easy to think it’s all about you, it is not. Your parents and siblings are also in the family trance. Maybe they are triggered for their own reasons by the holidays, too. Maybe they are also “different people” when you’re not around. Maintaining a compassionate stance will help you stay out of the push-and-pull of family drama.
I hope you benefit from this larger perspective, even if you opt to not change a thing. Recognizing the family trance and choosing how to respond will strengthen you…so whether you return home and stay to your life, you can learn to leave some of the “old stuff” behind you for another time.
Albert Einstein once said that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” You may not know exactly how to handle your family, but doing something new and returning home with a kinder, more open-hearted approach just might create a little holiday magic!