We are told every year that Christmas is a time for family. But what if family time brings about challenging dynamics that activate all your triggers and learned behaviours? Daiga Osina, a clinical hypnotherapist from our Bristol centre, suggests some ways to support yourself during difficult social situations…
Let me start with a saying that everyone has said at least once in their lifetime: “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
I have noticed the saying often pops up in conversations as sort of defence mechanism when we are thinking and reasoning in the middle of crisis with a family member. And yet we don’t ever focus on the latter part of the saying: “….they are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” (Desmond Tutu)
Sometimes, our family can have qualities we don't like, and it can be hard to deal with them. Other times, we're unsure whether we live in a toxic family situation or not. While secure or insecure attachments and the dynamics of previous generations can have a huge impact. Family dynamics have a strong influence on the way you form other relationships, behaviours and maintain your wellbeing. Right now, there are even more bumps on the road, financial difficulties and rising inflation with screaming headlines on every corner. It doesn't really matter if you're in a traditional or non-traditional family - problems are inevitable.
Working as therapist, I see those clients who want support in dealing with a difficult family relationship, even if the family member in question doesn’t themselves think there is an issue. Supporting yourself through this comes down to self-awareness and understanding that you cannot support your family member effectively if you are not also taking care of yourself.
It can be a challenge to balance your own needs with being there for them. So, how do we continue the positive mental attitude and drag the family along? What can we do differently? What strategies we have? I most certainly find these useful:
Identifying toxic family dynamics is the first step to gaining control and establishing healthy family practices. The next step is to learn how to implement new ways of communicating and acting toward one another.
After talking about concerns, undoubtly one step toward a healthy family dynamic is setting boundaries for what behaviour is acceptable within the family and what is not. For example, if one spouse is always criticizing the way the other one performs a task, he should be given the option to do the task himself or accept that it is being done by someone else and show appreciation. Be assertive but don’t attack someone’s identity (overgeneralization negatively about that person).
The next step is to start learning how to put energy into right things. While no one wants to think about cutting communication with a loved one, when emotional and physical well-being is at risk, it may be a necessary step. It is very common for people to engage with toxic relationships and destructive life styles as a result of not being able to take a step back when feeling overwhelmed. It’s difficult to identify your needs but it can be done by observing: Look at what is happening both around you and within you. Who is involved? Gather the relevant facts to understand what is going on and what you need.
Proceeding mindfully is another coping strategy and in reality it means asking enough questions: What do I need from this situation? What is my subconscious mind/inner gut trying to tell me? What decision or behaviour would make this situation better or worse?
Using hypnosis and mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises, guided meditation, progressive relaxation, journaling, visualization and self-awareness, you learn lifelong skills to take personal and social responsibility for your health, happiness and success while also being compassionate, empathetic and inclusive of others.
Because coping involves self-regulation and conscious volitional efforts, individuals who are mindful and attuned to themselves and their environments are likely better able to make accurate appraisals and respond adaptively under stress than those who are unconscious and reactive.
Guided hypnosis or self-hypnosis, meditation and other contemplative practices can enhance relaxation and positive emotions and it is something that can be learned and improved through training or intervention (therapies). Therapists also can help you to understand more fully how to judge what is within your control.
If none of those strategies apply to you, then you can start with few very easy steps – take some time out on busy days to go for a 20 minute walk and give yourself a few moments to focus on other people that are important to you and things you appreciate in life. Perhaps book a treat for a couple of months’ time. It’s good to have a glow on the horizon to look forward to.
Also remember - “A family doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to be united.”