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With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas fast approaching, some may feel like they have hardly had time to recover from being together with family. Not everyone enjoys gathering with family and the holidays feel anything but joyful. Sometimes family can be hard. Past family trauma can truly cause anxiety when we face having to gather. Today we are going to talk about that.

Is it My Family Causing my Feelings of Anxiety?

Does the thought of attending a family gathering set off stress and anxiety for you? Do you find yourself thinking through who all is going to be there and reeling through thoughts leading up to the gathering? Know that you are not alone. It is a common occurrence to feel anxiety leading up to the expectation that you will spend time with family. When family dynamics are dysfunctional or abusive, it is easy to understand why feelings of dread or anxiety may be present. Do you struggle with the preference of not wanting to spend time with your family? Today I encourage you to be gentle on yourself. There may be valid reasons for those feelings. Below are some circumstances that could point to some early childhood trauma.

  • Are you immediately defensive at the sight of someone?
  • Do you find yourself physically not feeling well when visiting?
  • Are you in a distant place when are with this person, removed?
  • Do you struggle with feelings of not being good enough or have critical self-thoughts?
  • Are you mentally taking notes of everything wrong with everyone during your visit?
  • Do you immediately feel like a child again and that someone is trying to control your decisions?

These are only a few examples that could signify that your family has some dysfunction that is still affecting you today. Recognizing a need for change is a wonderful first step. Below we will talk about why you could feel this way around your family.

Why do I Feel This Way Around My Family?

When we are children and growing physically, mentally and emotionally, we need support to do so in a healthy way. When we don’t receive that support in each area of growth, we have gaps in our ability to handle our thoughts, emotions and decisions in a healthy way. Depending on what circumstances we were raised in, we live out different effects of the trauma we experienced. If we never seek help with dealing with the trauma, we often live out the effects of trauma our whole lives. Unresolved trauma can wreck our minds, our bodies, our relationships and our health. Did you know that over 60% of children experience some sort of childhood trauma? Below are examples of unhealthy environments that could have led to childhood trauma.

  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Emotional, verbal or physical abuse
  • Name calling, criticism or gaslighting
  • Lack of resources for basic needs, moving from place to place

 

These are not the only circumstances that could have led to dysfunctional family relationships. In households where more than one type of trauma existed, therapy can be a great next step to taking back your life and growing toward what you desire.

How Can I Move Forward?

If you find yourself at a place of being ready to step away from the past and into a future where life doesn’t seem like one long stomachache, read ahead, there is hope and you are not alone. When choosing to change and shape your life into healthier relationships and more joyful environment, change will be necessary. We simply can’t achieve change by doing the same things over and over. Will it be hard? Will it dig up old feelings? Could you be stronger by choosing to face it and make the changes? The answer to all of these is Yes. Below are some suggestions that could help you take one step away from the past and one step closer to the future you envision.

  • Identify which of your family members are seeking to become healthy themselves and who isn’t. You can’t have a healthy relationship with someone who isn’t seeking help for themselves.
  • Does someone always choose a topic of discussion that makes you uncomfortable? Ask them to stop asking you about the topic. If they refuse, evaluate if you can still spend time with them. A person who respects others, also will respect what their requests.
  • Learn to detach from unhealthy situations. Avoid subjects that cause deep emotions. Carry out light and positive conversations.
  • Have a planned time for a visit. Know ahead of time your “time to exit topics”. Choose what topics you are willing to discuss and not discuss before arriving. Don’t be afraid to leave, respectfully.
  • Decide for yourself what topics in your life are open for discussion and which ones are private.
  • Learn to say no, even when it is uncomfortable or unexpected.
  • Know that you can not change anyone. They must decide to change themselves.
  •  It is ok to say no to a family gathering if you are not able to attend knowing that it will be detrimental to your own mental health.

Trying to navigate family gatherings after trauma can be very difficult. Often times, help is needed, and that is ok. If you have tried to take some of the above steps but find that either your relationships are not improving or family continues to not respect your boundaries, it may be time meet with a therapist and let them help you. Understanding boundaries and knowing when to cut ties can be hard. If you would like help in moving forward for you and away from childhood trauma, reach out today. We would love to help you.