I worked very hard at my fierce independence entering adulthood. My childhood had some (well, a lot) of tumultuous times and I couldn’t wait to be on my own after high school. I was out of the house by age 17, barely glimpsing back at my hometown. I returned to live there a few times off and on, but eventually I made Philadelphia my home for 32 years. (I can’t believe it’s been 32 years!) I have settled down in my quest to live in every major city in the US, and I am quite happy with my life I’ve created. So, what is the issue, you ask?
My family visited me last weekend. So, WHY is it that when I’m with my family, I turn into a surly child or a bitchy teen, and say things and act differently than I do in my everyday life? What is it about family that presses emotional (hot) buttons? It’s like my brain switches gears when I’m with them. I am aware that when a family member says something a certain way, or gives me a “look,” the inner critic that was born and festered in my childhood comes out, screaming at me. Well, of course I deserve being told that I don’t need that extra bite of dessert! And then you start agreeing with them and certainly, you aren’t worthy and you would look better if you didn’t have that bite, and so on.
It’s a known fact that family relationships can beat you down more than any other relationship. What happens when we have family visits is the communication you have developed with each other takes on its own history. One flash of a disapproving look can obliterate everything you’ve worked for, all the while feeling undermined, and you just crumble.
So how do you prevent this same disintegration into self-loathing at the Thanksgiving table?
Without spending years in therapy, there may be a few steps you can do to take control back in your own hands, and not give the power to your inner critic.
As always, I ask that you write your answers down. That way they are concrete, right in front of you. And if you start to doubt yourself, you can look at it to be reminded by your own words.
Start by thinking about a recent time when your inner critic was speaking (or yelling) after one of your family members pressed a button. What were your reactions?
Think about if there is another way to look at this. Maybe step in their shoes. (Their buttons may have been pushed too, and so their defense mechanism is to attack back by pressing their sibling’s or adult child’s buttons.)
Ask yourself, and be honest, are you really deserving of this behavior?
And finally, either change the subject, thereby taking control of the situation, or calmly remove yourself physically from the scene. Go to the bathroom. Take a deep breath. Discharge yourself from emotions.
These are just a few ways to take hold of your reactions and be the mature adult you know you are, beyond thanksgiving.