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5 Reasons You’re Dreading Seeing Family This Thanksgiving & How to Combat Family Anxiety

Do you find yourself mentally and emotionally preparing to see your family over the holidays?


There are several possible reasons you may be feeling this way, ranging from a lack of boundaries, to childhood trauma, to differences in opinions and beliefs.


These are the most common reasons people experience anxiety about seeing their families during the holidays:

  • Lack of or Disregard for Boundaries

  • Unsolicited Advice/ Criticism

  • Alcoholic Family Member(s)

  • Unhealed Trauma

  • Conflict Avoidance


 

LACK OF OR DISREGARD FOR BOUNDARIES

One of the most common issues within families is having a lack of or complete disregard for boundaries.


Certain families who are tightly connected have a complete lack of boundaries and therefore rely heavily on each other in ways that are unhealthy and dysfunctional. These families are called “enmeshed” families. In an enmeshed family, family members overshare information, have needy relationships with each other, have a lack of privacy, rely too heavily on each other for emotional support, or have a “helicopter” parenting style. In some cases parents are so emotionally invested in their child’s sports, activities, and achievements that they are actively living through their child. Family members are connected by unhealthy emotions generally rooted in trauma or mental illness.


Families that do have boundaries but have members who do not respect them and continually disregard them are also dysfunctional. Oftentimes the majority of the family abides by societal expectations and personal boundaries, but one or two family members lack self-awareness and violate those boundaries whether they realize it or not.


This behavior can make family gatherings extremely tense and uncomfortable. Topics such as religion, politics, and family drama that are usually frowned-upon at the dinner table may arise from a family member who feels the need to voice their opinions or give unsolicited advice. Heated arguments or debates can ensue and fill the air with tension and discomfort.


The good news: It is not too late to ask for help! People who grew up in enmeshed families or families who ignore boundaries benefit from coaching because they are able to learn how their family relationships affect their emotional well-being, confidence, and other relationships. Coaching also helps people become aware of the unhealthy patterns in their daily lives, which is the first step to change.

One of the best ways to make progress with your family is to establish your boundaries, make sure family members are aware of them, and stand your ground when boundaries are crossed.


I suggest writing a list of each thing that makes you uncomfortable when you are with family, then create a reasonable boundary that would serve as a solution for each uncomfortable situation. If you commit to these new boundaries you will not only begin to eliminate those uncomfortable occurrences, but build independence, feel empowered, break unhealthy habits, and improve your self-esteem.


With my innovative approach to coaching which is based in Brain Science and Emotional Intelligence, I can help you discover the tools, techniques, and solutions that are most effective for you and your unique situation so you can establish strong boundaries in your relationships.


UNSOLICITED ADVICE/ CRITICISM

Although constructive criticism is essential to success and emotional growth, receiving unsolicited criticism from family members, especially those distant aunts and uncles who rarely see you, is something many of us dread at family gatherings.


Maybe your parents have high expectations and bring you down when you don’t meet those expectations or maybe your more distant relatives feel the need to offer unsolicited advice and judgment every chance they get.


It is no secret that criticism, especially from loved ones whose opinions we value, can have negative impacts on our self esteem. If your parents have always been over-critical, you may be struggling with the long-term effects such as feelings of worthlessness, perfectionism, people pleasing, and negative self-beliefs.


If you are dreading the judgment and criticism this holiday season, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Other people’s perceptions of you are simply a reflection of them, and the sooner you can accept that, the sooner you’ll find peace and stop letting their opinions affect you.

  2. The person criticizing may not realize they are making you upset or uncomfortable. They may have good intentions and even think they are helping you. You can respectfully let them know that you appreciate their perspective and their concern but you would rather discuss the topic at a later time.

  3. The only thing you can control in a situation is your own reaction. This holiday season practice managing your expectations and having level-headed reactions instead of letting your emotions control you.

ALCOHOLIC FAMILY MEMBER(S)

Having an alcoholic family member or close friend can cause a lot of emotional pain like anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame. In addition, it can make family gatherings much more difficult and complicated. Unfortunately, there are so many people experiencing the negative impacts alcoholism has on families.


Alcohol disrupts critical thinking skills and lowers a person’s self-control, contributing to a general lack of constructive decision making and communication within a family. When there is already underlying trauma and other issues within the family, adding alcohol to the mix can make matters drastically worse.


If the alcoholic family member is a leader in your family, you may even be recreating the unhealthy lifestyle modeled by that person and unintentionally continuing the destructive cycle. You may also be ignoring your own needs, wants, and desires because you are used to tailoring your life to make the alcoholic person more comfortable. This is a common tactic to avoid unnecessary confrontation with an alcoholic family member.


If you are dealing with a family member who is intoxicated, it is often best to do so in an empathetic manner and without judgment. Limiting your own alcohol usage so you can remain in control of your reactions can also help. Again, only they can control their behavior so do your best to focus on yourself, your peace, and your responses.


UNHEALED TRAUMA

Many people experience a traumatic event before the age of 18 and the trauma often stems from within a family. Experiencing trauma as a child significantly impacts an adult in their relationships with not only their family, but friends, romantic partners, and colleagues.


When left unaddressed, trauma can cause you to live in survival mode and can lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and relationship issues.


Children look to their parents and other trusted adults to help them form ideas about the world. All of the information they observe makes an impression and contributes to their understanding of belonging, ability to trust others, and beliefs about love and relationships. This can create unhealthy attachment styles that last through adolescence and adulthood.


Key features that define attachment styles include communication, how we handle separations, how we handle arguments, and our tendencies towards intimacy, so it is crucial to our happiness and success to have a positive and healthy attachment style.


Although we cannot change what happened to us as children, we do have the power to change our negative attachment styles as adults through personal reflection, coaching, and support from others.


Because trauma can be rooted in things you remember vividly or hardly at all, coaching is an incredible solution to tap into those subconscious thoughts, beliefs, and memories and begin the healing process. I have helped hundreds of clients overcome trauma with my innovative and Brain Science-based approach to coaching. Read more about my Coaching Programs here.


CONFLICT AVOIDANCE

Are there topics your family simply does not ever discuss? Emotions, long standing issues or problems in the family, differences in opinion and lifestyle, etc? This is known as conflict avoidance.


Conflict avoidance occurs when one person intentionally ignores a problem, sweeping it under the rug as “no big deal” in order to circumvent a potential argument.


For example, if a significant trauma has occurred within the family, it can be so uncomfortable to discuss that families will go decades without addressing it.


Most often, people do this with the intention to ensure harmony in their relationships.


However, avoiding issues that are important in order to keep the peace in the moment can cause a build up of resentment, anger, and frustration that explodes when the topics inevitably do arise.


It’s important to note that discussing politics for example is not always necessary and is different from discussing specific issues within the family that have long been ignored.


Interestingly, research suggests that romantic couples who are willing to change benefit greatly from confrontation because it forces honest communication and resolution, leading to a deeper understanding of each other. The same likely applies to non-romantic relationships. Read more about this here.


One of the best methods to counteract conflict avoidance is to reframe the stories you tell yourself about conflict.


How we deal with things everyday is all about the stories we tell ourselves and the things we believe. If you believe that conflict is a problem and that it will tear your family apart, you aren’t going to deal with it when it arises. If you believe that conflict is a normal part of life and view it as an opportunity to explain how you feel, understand other perspectives, connect with others, and resolve issues, then you will be more likely to tackle it head on.


This can be difficult at first, but the more you are able to do it, the easier it will get and the more confidence you will build. Remember that avoiding a small problem in the beginning often leads to a larger argument in the end.


IN CONCLUSION

The best approach to dealing with stress and anxiety caused by family members is to do your best in having honest and open communication.


Voice your concerns, set your boundaries, and remember that you can only control your own behavior and that others’ behavior is only within their control.


It is also important to remember that any issues or trauma you experienced as a child was not and is not your fault. These things happened to you, not because of you. It is now your responsibility as an adult to heal from those issues and end the generational cycle. The good news is that with the right help, it is fully within your power to make the changes necessary to heal and overcome trauma.


My Coaching Programs consist of eight 1-on-1 sessions that are each 1.5 to 2 hours long. I combine the most effective methods based in Brain Science, Emotional Intelligence, and the Psychology of Happiness to help my clients achieve rapid, sustainable results.


My approach is innovative and fully customizable to your unique needs. Get started today by scheduling a Complimentary 30-Minute Discovery Call and together, we will Unlock Bold Change™ in your life!



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