How to make it through the holidays when your family drives you nuts.
Family time can be both a blessing and a curse. While we can love and appreciate our relatives, it’s not unusual for us to be completely driven up the wall by them at times.
Their expectations of us can lead to feelings of anger, disappointment or worthlessness. And differences in political, religious or moral worldviews can be a melting pot for heated discussions or unbridled arguments. So how can we mindfully navigate our group family interactions without pouring wine in our uncle’s face or running off to sob uncontrollably in the bathroom?
We asked Indigo Counsellor & Coach, Danielle Hanrahan for some advice…
How do you endure spending time with family when they make you feel like crap?
Let’s be real – even if you consider yourself to be an enlightened person, you’re likely going to be triggered by your family. It happens to the best of us. So, plan for it to happen. Have an idea of what your family might say or how they might make you feel, and rather than only having your reactions to fall back on, set an alternative plan around how you’re going to respond instead. You can then see this plan as a little awareness experiment. This will help to activate the observing part of the mind. Activating the ‘observer’ helps us start to objectively view our thoughts, feelings, and default reactions, rather than engaging with them. This is key in helping us disrupt our unfavourable reactions/behaviours.
The people who trigger us most are also our greatest teachers in self-awareness.
If we can bring a gentle curiosity to what is triggered in the moment, we automatically bring in the observing part of the mind.
How to navigate differences in worldview/morality in family dinner conversations (religious, political, etc.)?
One word – respect. This is the magic word when it comes to communicating, especially communicating differences. “I want to respect myself by sharing my opinions, ideas and worldview while also respecting that others may see my opinions, ideas and worldview in an entirely different way.”
Know there are multiple ways of seeing something, and if you, or someone you are speaking with, is getting aggravated in discussing differences, this might be reflective of an inferiority/superiority complex. If you are becoming aggravated, notice this and later (if you can’t in the moment) reflect on what’s been activated within you.
If you notice this in someone you are speaking with, bring curiosity to what could be sitting behind their need for dominance or to persuade others to be on their side. By being curious about this, we disrupt the emotions that may arise with confrontation.
A lot of us take things personally but if we depersonalise the reactions or comments of others and see their reactions/responses as a reflection of them, not of us, over time we become less emotionally activated..
But don’t forget respect. Respecting ourselves means acknowledging and voicing what we have to say, while also allowing someone else the space to do the same.
What to do when you and a particular family member really clash.
If there is history behind a clash, then all you can do is take personal responsibility for your actions and allow the other person to do the same.
It’s no secret that feeling out-of-control is not something us humans enjoy feeling, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to accept. Sometimes situations or people’s behaviour are out of our control.
…But rather than feeling helpless, focus on the immense power you have.
The power to control your responses to a particular family member or to a situation. And again, that magical word from above, r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
If you’re having trouble navigating family relationships, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Here at Indigo, we have Psychologists that specialise in helping people manage family issues. Check out a few below or Click + WHAT ARE YOU DEALING WITH (in the top right corner right above the Practioner images) and select ‘Family‘ to see our experts.
Thinking about seeing a psychologist? Our founder & head psychologist Mary Hoang explores what you can expect in therapy.
Preparing to see a psychologist can be like a first date. You never really know what to expect until you rock up, and the lead up to the appointment can be anxiety-inducing to say the least. In preparation you might try to calm your nerves by finding information about your future therapist through their webpage or by doing a Google search. Perhaps your therapist has been recommended to you, so you’ve been building a mental picture of them. In the dating game this is akin to some clever Facebook stalking, or getting some goss off a mutual friend.
Regardless of how much you do (or don’t) know about your future date/therapist, both situations can be downright scary.
It’s scary because both situations require vulnerability. You’re expected to share personal information about yourself, and it’s normal to develop your own fears on how people are going to take it, or whether they’ll have the capacity to hold it. Will you be judged? Will you get along? What does the potential for the future hold? Nobody likes feeling vulnerable or exposed, and we humans have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable feelings, so it’s not surprising that people tend to shy away from seeing therapists.
Nobody ever really wants to see a psychologist. I know this, because I am one.
When I meet new people in a social setting, people either avoid me, get nervous because they think I can read their innermost thoughts, or are curious about what I know about them.
Having seen a few psychologists myself, I can tell you firsthand that the experiences have varied from the not-so-helpful to profoundly life-changing. One psychologist I enlisted to help me through a particularly soul-destroying relationship kind of just repeated everything I said, and sessions went nowhere. I had already repeated my story to myself in my head a million times and hearing it outside of me, without any clever leads to something insightful, was frustrating to say the least. If this was a date scenario, having your potential lover repeat what you’ve said back to you, without any engagement in your story, could be a cause for no second date.
On the flip side, when I was battling issues of self-worth and insecurity, a kind and compassionate therapist led me gently (and sometimes very directly) to the cause of my issues, and I felt – for the first time – the feeling of being seen, heard, held and understood. This safe space opened me up to trusting my confidant, and together we examined my fears and found strategies to manage them.
Trusting your psychologist, or feeling like your therapist is there for you, no matter what, is the foundation of therapy and is otherwise known as the “therapeutic alliance”.
It’s the feeling that they ‘get you’, like the kind of great first date that makes you swoon and text your mates as soon as it’s over. This alliance is the best predictor of success in therapy, NOT what TYPE of therapy (e.g Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, ACT Therapy) they use. This has been demonstrated in multiple research studies (1-3). Connection is key. It’s not where you go, or what you do, it’s the sense that your therapist is genuinely interested in you, and shows it.
Like dating, you can get a sense of whether someone ‘gets you’ within the first or second meeting, If you’re not feeling the connection, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the person again. Similarly, if you’re not feeling it with your therapist, change who you see. For something as personal as therapy, it’s important to feel comfortable. (This is why we introduced our Perfect Match Promise here at Indigo).
So although you may be talking about uncomfortable topics, you need to feel comfortable with your psychologist. You want to be able to talk freely in sessions and not feel judged or worse, pitied. Seeing a good psychologist means that you feel relieved after you’ve been there, even if you feel a little raw after exposing your vulnerabilities. Psychologists might not have all the answers for you, but you should have a sense that they’re trying to understand you, and that they’ve got your back, and they should imbue a feeling of hope in you.
At The Indigo Project, I’ve hired therapists based on how ‘real’ they are, and their ability to connect with others, not their University grades or list of accomplishments. Having a therapist who is down-to-earth and ‘real’, is having someone that is authentic, compassionate and non-judgmental and who you know at the end of the day, gives a shit about you. This is what real therapy is, and where real healing can occur. Just like dating, finding someone who really cares, can change your world.
Founder & Head Psychologist, The Indigo Project
If you’re keen to start your therapeutic journey, check out our incredible team of psychologists, counsellors and life coaches. With over 18 practitioners, each with their own specialties, find a therapist who gets you, today.
We can help you get your shit together.
1. Safran, J.D., Muran, J.C., and Proskurov, B. (2009) Alliance, negotiation, and rupture resolution, in Handbook of Evidence Based Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (eds R. Levy and S.J. Ablon), Humana Press, New York, pp. 201-5.
2. Horvath, A.O. and Symonds, B.D. (1991) Relation between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: a meta-anaysis, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38 (2), 139-149.
3. Martin, D., Garske, J., and Davis, M. (2000) Relation of the therapeutic alliance with other outcome and other variables: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 438-450.