Mindfulness and Coping with Family During the Holidays

By Jennifer Park, M.S., MFTI

The holidays are among us—a time when some of us experience difficult emotions and are apprehensive about going home to deal with difficult family members. Dealing with difficult relatives can be exhausting. Our relatives can set off triggers that bring up deeply stored pain and childhood wounds that we have so comfortably compartmentalized and tucked away as adults. When old, hurtful memories come to the surface, we end up feeling fragile and unsettled, perhaps thinking to ourselves, “Oh great, here it goes again.”

How do we find our sanity in the midst of chaos and dysfunction? Some deal with their discomfort by grinning and bearing it, knowing that their discomfort will only be for a few hours to a few days. Others focus on how much good food there is and indulge in soothing their feelings with food or drink. Others put on their “happy face,” denying their triggered feelings.

These “solutions” are common avoidance tactics that do not help create confidence but instead keep you stuck with your issues. In fact, instead of healing and releasing your triggered issues, avoidance tactics may be reinforcing the idea that the triggers are too threatening. You may start identifying with the dysfunction and creating unhealthy thought patterns from your negative interactions during the holidays.

So how do you go beyond being stuck in this way during the holidays? How can you deal with your problems in a healthy way that will also build up your confidence? What approach can you take to remain yourself without giving in to your triggers?

This holiday season, if you are triggered by a relative, instead of feeding your negative feelings with thoughts and letting your annoyance grow, try detaching from your destructive feelings, by recognizing them and then releasing them. You may feel resistance at first, but you can have awareness toward the uncomfortable feeling and still continue to let go of the irritation.

Imagine your harmful thoughts like the claws of a cat slowly separating from your favorite sweater and envision letting go of the triggered image or memory. By focusing your attention on moving past the annoyance, you should feel peace, or a feeling of nothingness. Try staying in these wonderful feelings—you may be surprised with your feelings of calm andpeace.

Developing this sense of peace in your body will increase your sense ofwellbeing and confidence. The more you practice, the better you will get at staying connected to your body, even when you are surrounded by chaos and dysfunction.

Jennifer Park, M.S., MFTI is a Newport Beach-based prelicensed mindfulness marriage and family therapist. She incorporates mindfulness practices to her therapy sessions to help people reconnect to their authentic self and find inner peace. www.jenniferparkcounseling.com