1. Check in with your “adult self.”
Sometimes when we visit our family-of-origin over the holidays or over the summer, some of the same family issues, dramas and traumas may resurface. It can feel like we’ve regressed to acting the way we did as a child when facing similar family issues. This is a trauma response when faced with familiar stress. Our childhood trauma responses may have worked for us in the past (e.g. shutting down emotionally – the “freeze” response), but may not necessarily work for us in the present. Checking in with our “adult self” can help us realize that we've learned healthier coping skills over the years, and that we have more power now as an adult versus when we were a child. It also taps into the logical part of our brain that fully developed in adulthood.
2. Plan to have a space where you can have time alone when you’re feeling overstimulated or need to breathe. This space can be a nearby park, a certain part of the house or living space where you won’t be bothered, or a destination you can walk or travel to (e.g. corner store, or a friend’s house nearby.)
3. Bring work (i.e. laptop, books, etc.) or other objects from your home as “transition objects” that serve as reminders of your adult self and the knowledge and life experiences you’ve gained since moving out of your family-of-origin or parents’ home.
4. Practice boundaries and communicate using “I” statements.
Types of boundaries and examples:
Time – “I feel anxious about planning all of these activities without time to myself. I will need to pass on attending this time, but please check in with me again in the future.”
Space – “I feel upset right now and need time alone to get some fresh air. I will talk with you more at a later time, but right now I need some space to think and breathe.”
Financial – “I feel uncomfortable lending you this large amount of money. I would be comfortable giving you this smaller amount for now, or helping you in some other way.”
5. Have a list of trusted friends or crisis lines you can contact if needed.
Just knowing that we have a list helps us feel less trapped by reminding us that there are people and resources outside of our family bubble who care about our safety and well-being. [Note: if you're struggling and need to contact a crisis line, the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Line is 800-273-8255.]