Then there is a high potential for re-wounding and re-traumatization, especially if healing on individual and/or family levels has not been completed yet. Does it mean that we need to spend holidays alone or with a tight circle of close and trusted friends? Not necessarily.
But what it means is that we need to tend to our vulnerable young parts before, during, and after the family visit. Here are some ideas of how you can protect and care for your parts during the dysfunctional family gathering (or in any emotionally unfriendly environment):
· Before the visit:
o Have an internal conversation with any parts of you that are worried about seeing the family. Ask them what they need during the visit and discuss what you can provide.
o Follow through on what you promised. It is really important for the maintenance of internal harmony and trust to follow through on your promises and commitments, just like it is important to actually do what you promised in interpersonal relationships.
o If there is a part or several that do not want to participate in a family visit or a specific activity, you can accommodate such a request through a creation of an internal safe place (see below for specific instructions on how to do it). Once a part has a safe place to go to, just remind it before the visit or an activity that it is time to go to a safe place and then let the part know when it is safe to come out. This technique may feel strange and even uncomfortable at first; however, when done consistently, parts often come to appreciate such an option for safety. Please, be aware that it is not a magic wand though and your parts may still get triggered by things happening around you. This technique just reduces probability and intensity of such triggering.
o Create a plan of how to leave dysfunctional interactions, as well as overall exit plan. It is good to be prepared. Ideas for graciously leaving unwanted conversations: excusing yourself to go to the bathroom, changing a topic to something fun (have ideas ready), inviting a safe(r) person nearby to join your group. When you are asked a question that you are not comfortable responding to, remember that you don’t have to. You can always say that you would rather not talk about it or that it is a topic for a different time and different place. If things at the gathering develop in a negative direction for you, remember that you can always excuse yourself and leave. It is good to have a plan prepared beforehand for such a possibility, which includes having an independent means of transportation and a place to stay. For transportation, if you don’t have your own car at hand, you can always rent a car, call a cab (have a local number on hand) or use a Lyft (have an app downloaded and ready to go beforehand). In regards to the place to stay, have an alternative arrangement researched and ready to go, such as a friend, who is willing to host you if needed or information about nearby hotels and their rates/availability.
· During the visit:
o Remember your rights and exercise them as needed during the visit, such as: a) to say ”NO” to anything you are not comfortable with; b) to set the boundaries that are healthy for you; c) to leave the situation that makes you feel hurt, violated, or overwhelmed; d) to care for yourself and your parts.
o Set, Re-set, and Maintain boundaries. Very often our family members have to be reminded in gentle and firm ways about our boundaries. For example, my mother tends to forget that I do not like being asked questions like “Are you happy?”. So, when she does it again, I say something like: “Mom, remember we talked about it before? I do not like questions like that and I do not answer them. So, can I tell you about this really fun movie I watched last week instead?” When your boundaries have been violated more than once, remind the “offender” what your consequences are. This is an important part of teaching people to respect your boundaries. Consequences often center around disruption of connection and maybe things like not talking for certain period of time, leaving the situation for a short period of time, or leaving the gathering all together. So, when you re-set the boundaries with a person, who you know is likely to disrespect them, let that person know what will happen if they cross your boundary again. For example: “Uncle Bob, I told you multiple times that I do not appreciate hugs from you. If you attempt to hug me again, I am going to turn around a walk away and I am not going to talk to you for the next half an hour”.
· After the visit:
o Spend time with your parts, especially the ones that were triggered during the visit. Once you are in your own space and alone, spend at least 15-30 min with your parts, asking them about their experiences during this latest visit with the family and listening to them from the place of compassion and care. Journal. Care for them in the ways that they ask to be cared for.
o If a part was hurt, ask it to tell you both about the present hurt and about the past hurts that she was reminded of and perhaps relived as a result. Be gentle. Ask the part how you can help it heal the hurt. Do what the part requests. Ask for forgiveness, if you were not able to properly protect the part from being re-wounded.
o If a part hurt someone else, ask the part what it was trying to protect you from. Listen and acknowledge parts reasons for acting the way it did. When the part feels heard and understood by you, ask it if it know how its behavior affected other people. If the part does not know, tell it. Discuss with the part ways to remedy the situation and repair with those that were hurt. Forgive the part, it had a positive intention of protecting your system.
How to create a safe place to contain and protect the part that is likely to get hurt?
When we visit with our family of origin, very often the parts that are at most risk, are the wounded young parts. So, when we talk with them about the upcoming visit, it is important to hear their concerns and to assess whether they are healed enough to participate 100% in the family visit. If in the process of talking to the part we determine and the part agrees that protection is important. Then we can offer the part an idea of an internal virtual safe place.If the part is open to the idea, ask it to show you an image of a real, imaginary, or combination place, where part would feel protected and relaxed. Ask the part to not choose a place that has any negative memories attached to it. Once the part shows you the image or gives you the description, see how safe and protected this place seems to you. If you have doubts about the place, voice them and discuss with the part. If it appears to be a good enough place, proceed telling the part that it can have anything it needs to make her stay at that spot enjoyable, for example, comfortable furniture, blankets, toys, books, pets, food, etc. Encourage the part to make that imaginary place as safe and comfortable as possible. Inform the part that No One is allowed into that place without the part’s permission. Once the place is ready, in your mind’s eye invite the part go to that place and give it some time to stay there and see how it feels. If the part feels good and comfortable, the place is ready for the future use. If the part feels uncomfortable ask the part what needs to be changed or added in order to increase safety and continue working with the part on modifying the place until part feels good about it.