Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Who is in shock that there are less than two months left in 2018? Well, I am! This year seems to have gone by so fast!! Thanksgiving is only two weeks away! I know this is a time when many of us feel more anxious and vulnerable, and as this hectic time of year approaches, I thought the most helpful use for this month’s blog would be to open up a conversation about how we can sustain our personal individuation during the holidays.
I believe that the holidays are a time for us to spend with those who love and support us. This is also a time to take an inventory of our gratitude, and it is a time for self-reflection. As idealistic as it may seem, I truly believe that Thanksgiving is a time that can bring us together.
But through my own personal experiences as well as my experience working as a psychotherapist for the past 7 years, I acknowledge that Thanksgiving and other major holidays can also be a time of heightened anxiety, tension, and emotional triggers for many.
Although the way we feel around family this time of year varies from person to person, I try to see time spent with family over the holidays as time for us to take notice of our resilience while continuing our individuation work.
What Is Individuation?
When explaining individuation and the work it involves, I love using one of my many, many therapeutic metaphors. Bear with me, it’s a GOOD ONE!
When we are born, we are born into a family that already has a dance floor. We inherently become a part of this dance floor, and its overall system and values. As younger children we often don’t have much of a say in the way this dance floor operates. But as we transition into adulthood, we have the opportunity to create our own individual dance floor where we exercise and negotiate our individuation process, on our terms.
So, when we essentially leave our family of origin, we have the ability to become the owners and managers of our OWN dance floors. Unlike the way things may have been on our previous dance floor, when we individuate we make a conscious choice to create OUR dance floor that is aligned with what we value.
When we are the creators of our own dance floors, it is us running the show. We get to decide what music is played, who is invited, and what the overall vibe is that we want to exude.
When we return home or visit with our families, what we often see is that families can be antagonistic when responding to the ways we have created our own dance floor. The way some family members respond to us choosing to prioritize ourselves and what we hold true may be triggering. But it is important for us not to diminish the hard work we have put into creating this individual dance floor.
Knowing the power we hold in acknowledging and claiming our dance floor is the perfect antidote to the experience of being around others, including family, who may not understand how we choose to individuate. Although it can be frustrating and triggering, it is vital that we stay close to our dance floors, even when revisiting past dance floors that are not under our control.
As an adult, you have done a lot to create your own life, on your terms. Knowing the foundation of your own dance floor and what that looks like can help to keep codependent relationships that might have been linked to former dance floors at bay. Remembering that you have your own ways in which you have individuated will again leave you feeling empowered, so that the comments and others opinions don't affect you as greatly.
How Can I Honor My Individuation When Being Emotionally Triggered By Family?
Incorporating self-care, which is hopefully already an established practice within your daily life, can be your secret weapon in keeping calm, cool, and collected over the holidays. When a family member triggers you in any way, whether it be a snarky remark about what you’re wearing or possibly a comment about who you voted for, you can choose to respond from a place of non-reactivity.
A strong self-care routine preserves us, while also validating our individual ways of taking care of ourselves. As stressful as the holidays can be, we have to remember to take care of ourselves first and foremost. It is not realistic to expect that everyone in your family will understand or appreciate what you are cultivating. Again, we can choose to see their limitations as their own, and not ours. All we can do is to stick to what works best for us, knowing that we are capable of nurturing ourselves, and that is more than ENOUGH..
In preparing for time with family, I suggest thinking about what boundaries you need to have and what may trigger you, as a preventive exercise. This will also help you to be able to immediately implement the self-care coping skills that work best for you, if need be. This may mean going for a walk, or actively choosing not to engage in conversations when you are feeling gaslighted. Deciding to see everything you are doing as a loving act of self-care will allow you to let go of things more easily, which will reduce overall stress and anxiety.
I encourage you to think about what your possible triggers may be in order to be prepared to cope, and to remember the things that make you feel purposeful and empowered.
Bringing Your Light To Thanksgiving Dinner
It is my hope that everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving and chooses to see it as a great opportunity to observe how not only resilient we are, but also how we can meet our families in different places while still prioritizing ourselves and our mental wellbeing.
Some family systems are not going to change, and it’s important to surrender to that. For once you start to surrender to this reality, you can stop wasting energy on the things that aren’t changing, and direct that energy towards the things that you can change, and that are working on YOUR dance floor.
No family is perfect. There will always be underlying issues, and things we wish we could say to make our families understand us better. Knowing that we can continue to move forward without being cookie cutter molds of our former dance floor selves is both liberating and exciting.
We have the choice to live the way we see fit, while not being triggered by family members who simply won’t get it no matter how brightly our individuation is shining. Instead of being frustrated or angry, try practicing compassion, while continuing to shine your light.
So, instead of being stressed and triggered by former dance floors, FOCUS on yours. Your dance floor travels where you travel, and you are the sole owner. You are the one who has the power and control to change the music, review the guest list, and set the intention for what you want your dance floor to represent.
Individuation is a process, and it isn’t built in a day, similar to Rome. Be kind, and nurture yourself and the things that matter most to you on your dance floor. The clearer you are about your dance floor, the easier it will be to execute and preserve it.
Lastly, remember again that this is your dance floor, and if you don’t protect it, you’ll likely be redirected back to other dance floors that don’t truly serve you. So get out on your dance floor and have FUN!
Till next month,