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Surviving Family Holiday Gatherings

December 3, 2013

Normal Rockwell Dinner

Normal Rockwell

The holiday season brings with it the ups and downs of family interactions. Even if we live 500 miles away from parents or siblings, and feel quite comfortable in the skin we’re in, coming back together over the holidays, or any time of year, is likely to stir the pot of unfinished business in these relationships.

As very small children we formed opinions about ourselves and the world in the context of our family. We took in information day by day, bit by bit, through our feelings, physical sensations, intuition and thoughts. During the pre-verbal years we could not put language to our experiences and many of those feelings and early formed beliefs may yet lay buried within our psyche. In order to process them fully, we must bring them into conscious thought.

It is, at least in part, for this reason that family members stir up such intense emotions and reactions within us. We find ourselves angry and hurt in situations that would not ordinarily bother us. We struggle to understand our reactions or to find words to put to our feelings in particular and the family dynamic in general. To complicate matters, our family members carry similar “baggage” and react to us through the same blur of non-verbal emotions and beliefs.

One of the primary benefits of “talk” therapy is that through this process we are able to begin to put feelings and intuitions into words and then begin to make sense of things.  For some people, journaling is an even more beneficial process, and may, in fact, provide a more direct access to the pre-verbal area of our psyche.

Taking time to sit down and write about family issues provides an excellent opportunity to diffuse emotional energy before, during and after, family encounters and helps us come to terms with the unfinished business of childhood.

© Dorothy Sander 2013

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2013 7:55 pm

    Norman Rockwell’s work helped to scupt my ideas about what a family should be. It looks like there is no unfinshed business in this piece. If it only was so!

  2. December 3, 2013 8:20 pm

    So true. And, nicely stated. It is such a challenge navigating the real experiences of today with the gobble-de-gook of yesteryear. There is a great book that really helps separate out the emotion of these hot exchanges called As We Speak. My fav. chapter is titled ‘Courageous Conversations’. Thanks again, Dorothy for another poignant piece.

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