Monday, November 12, 2007

'Tis (almost) the Season

We're quickly coming up on that time of year when thoughts go to gatherings. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the occasions when many of us will focus on getting together with family and friends. And for many this is a joyous, even if a bit stressful, season.

For some others the stress isn't just from trying to match perfect gifts for great people, or schedule in the whirlwind of social hours. For those from abusive families, this is the occasion to remember, and sometimes re-live, those nightmare moments. Much violence happens within the supposed security of families, and I hear too often that the victim does not find support (indeed, often experiences overt hostility) from those closest.

If you are among the walking wounded and know you will find yourself (again!) in the familiar midst of the family dynamics holiday minefield , please keep a few things forefront in your mind.

Recognize that you cannot make someone else change. To change your family dynamics, think of how to change your responses to old triggers. You do not have to continually reproduce bad old patterns. Keep in mind that many in your family are truly frightened of seeing you change, especially if you grow out of your ascribed victim status. If they are comfortable with you in that role, they may be scared and try to take you down a notch or two. Remember that you are better than their expectations for you.

Second, you do not have to accept every challenge to engage with a past abusive family member. Recognize what buttons can get pushed, and do some advance thinking of better ways to respond. Planning is key to your safety, emotional as much as physical.

Finally, make time for yourself. Take walks, phone supportive friends, read a good book. If you have an exercise or meditation practice, continue them. Self-care is a critical element of self-defense, particularly in families where some members are challenged by personal boundaries. Much as you may love your family members, you need to also love yourself.

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