5 Steps to Helping Your Inner-Child During the Holidays
You have an inner child. I have an inner child. We all do. Your “inner child” is a part of your subconscious that has been picking up messages way before it was able to fully process what was going on (mentally and emotionally). It holds emotions, memories and beliefs from the past as well as hopes and dreams for the future.
Have you ever noticed how going home for the holidays can bring out the most wounded, difficult version of your inner wounded child?
You more than likely don’t walk around wondering what your inner-child is doing or feeling, but I promise you, it is there and it governs a huge part of our life…especially when we are around family.
You may have been out of the house as an adult for years, but the minute you walk back through the doors of your childhood home, you revert back to some younger version of yourself with old stories and resentments and wounds pulling your strings, triggering feelings, and dictating your actions and responses as if you are an oversized puppet.
You react to your older sister’s latest success story and how much money she has made with all the jealousy of a younger sibling who’s been denied entry into the coveted perfect child cocoon she has always seemed to be surrounded in.
You respond to your younger brother’s story of his families most recent vacation with the resentment of an older sibling watching the youngest get away with things that your parents denied you at the same age.
You interact with your parents with the same deep down simmering rage of a teenager who’s convinced they are keeping her from truly enjoying life with their rules, restrictions and limitations.
The stories, wounds, and arguments from decades ago parade through your mind in living, vivid color, dragging your emotions and reactions along with them on the all too familiar roller-coaster of feelings you thought you buried long ago.
What do you do when the wounded past hijacks your present-day life? You know, the feelings you thought you left in your childhood home because you are now grown and have moved on.
1. Recognize what’s happening
The first step is simply recognizing what is happening within you.
Awareness, identification, and ownership of these feelings is significant in experiencing a happy productive holiday season.
It significantly defuses the present moment when you recognize that what you are feeling has very little to do with the latest extravagant purchase you sister made and is really all about leftover resentment about how she got the gift you had wanted so badly on that long ago Christmas instead of you.
When you acknowledge the presence of these stories from the past yanking your strings and dictating your emotions, you take away much of their power to control you.
This does not mean you find a step-stool, stand on it and speak on this to a captive audience. It also does not mean you corner your sister in the bathroom and beat her ass. You acknowledge the triggers so you can take control of them instead of them controlling you.
2. Find the story beneath the story
It’s seldom the actual story from the past that really has so much power over you. It’s usually the meaning you give to the events (the story beneath the story) that is still causing you pain.
After all, you are no longer truly longing for the cool pink Barbie Corvette; you’re too big to ride it anyway. What still hurts is the conviction that your parents love your brother more than you because sister got one and you didn’t. This is a perception from a child but as a child, the perception is real.
Identifying these deeper stories gives you an opening into dealing with the real wound in a productive way instead of rehearsing old stories that just adds more intense heat to the fire burning deep down inside.
3. Come back to the present
As strong as the shadow of the past may be, the present moment is still all we can change and control. Resentment robs us of moving forward with a open heart.
Once we’ve clearly identified what it is from our past that is yanking our strings, we can come back to the present moment more under our own control.
We can still acknowledge and recognize the old emotions that flare up, but we have a greater ability to choose not to act on them in this moment.
That doesn’t mean that we stifle our emotions or deny them in any way. We just give ourselves enough space to choose not to be controlled by them.
We can still choose to deal with the wounds and the deeper stories at another time when we are less triggered, and we can still honor what we are feeling and experiencing even as we choose to respond to others from a different place.
4. Be kind to yourself
Recognizing these old wounds and challenges they are creating for being the person you want to be in the present moment opens the door to self-compassion in place of self-condemnation. Feeling anger and resentment feeds right into the “not good enough” too familiar place many have lived with since childhood.
Even if you find yourself getting sucked into old reactions time and time again, this is not a place for beating yourself up. Wake-up once again, come back to the present, change your mindset, and choose differently. Change your mindset until you don’t have to change it anymore. For 99 percent of people…this is an ongoing lifelong skill. Repeat as many times as you need to.
You can also choose to give yourself mini-breaks to regain your emotional equilibrium. Volunteer to run that errand to the store to pick up what was forgotten. Take a solo walk around the block. Even hiding in the bathroom now and then is a great way to come back to yourself in the now. You are in charge of you and acting a fool at a family gathering only allows the elephant in the room to point to you, and you only.
Rather than dwelling on perceived (or real) snubs from family members (past or present), keep reminding yourself of who you are, what you have accomplished, and the life you have built for yourself. Focus on your wins and the person you are becoming. Those are reasons for self-appreciation, whether they agree with that assessment or not. They are not you and believe it or not, you do not need their approval to be happy and successful in life.
Reach out for support from loving friends, as needed during your visit. Friends who will remind you of how loved and appreciated you truly are when you lose sight of that reality. Pull closer to your spouse and discuss your feelings prior to the event. Share with them your hesitations, feelings, fears, and triggers. Come up with a plan. An escape route or ways to deal with whatever is going on in the moment. This offers you support and also sets the stage for success without assumptions.
5. Give your family a break
Keep in mind that your family members are likely reacting to you from the wounds of their pasts just as much as you are. People don’t tend to change and if they are wearing an adult mask, the inner childhood stuff is still there when triggered. Know that they are who they are and you can’t change them. Acceptance does not mean you agree with them, it means you meet them where they are and exit when you can.
They are most likely not bringing their best selves to the moment if they are being pulled about by the strings of their version of stories from the past (and the stories beneath them). We all tend to revert right back to the childhood dynamics we lived in when we all congregate. Look at it as if you have a big bag of popcorn in your lap and you are watching a movie.
This doesn’t justify any unkindness in the present moment, but it does make it a little more understandable and many times, humorous. This can make it easier not to take any of it personally since they aren’t reacting to the present moment anyway.
Hang on tightly to the things you genuinely appreciate about them, and let their more challenging traits not be the focus. There’s a lot of freedom in letting that crap go. Appreciate you don’t have to be around them 24/7 and can try to enjoy the times you do spend with them.
This reversion to our wounded inner children during holiday visits may be an automatic reaction, but that doesn’t mean that we have to let it control us. We can still choose to be the person we want to be in the present moment despite those old strings trying to pull us off-balance.
How do you deal with this reversion to the past in your family gatherings?
What have you found to be helpful for staying in the present when the ghosts of the past arise?
We all are our families. We all bring our inner-child to relationships. We bring issues; good and bad. We bring our experiences to the table. We can choose how we deal with these experiences as adults.
Interested in more? I would love to meet to you! Email or call anytime to schedule an in-person or virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.