When we spend an extended period of time with people from our past a funny little (actually quite robust) psychological mechanism known as regression can take hold. The holidays are high season for regression. You know how it goes: the thirty year old son starts mouthing off like a fifteen year old, grown siblings petulantly compete for parental attention, parents re assume an authority no longer appropriate. With old friends we might find ourselves stumbling anxiously like insecure teenagers trying to win the approval of the “cool kids.” We can be amazed and even disheartened at how quickly we regress, despite our psychological maturity and adult accomplishments. It’s as though we are all actors in a repertory theater ensemble; when we reunite we can instantaneously assume our old parts and play out our old stories. It can be difficult to revisit old relationships as new people, and it is a challenging transition for all families to move from adult-child relationships to adult-adult interaction. Here are some tips to keep your adult center when you feel yourself slipping into a younger or less powerful mode this holiday season.
1.) Know your triggers: Whether it’s your mother’s comments about your relationship status, or your Uncle’s liberal tossing back of eggnog, identify activating triggers ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard, and can steer clear if possible. Avoid volatile conversation subjects you know cause friction, usually these include: politics, gossip, and giving unsolicited advice.
2.) Know your boundaries: Have some strategies in place to parry any zingers you might be anticipating. Humor, deep breaths, mantras, and limiting the amount of time spent with certain people are all helpful practices to keep both the inner and outer peace. When conversation starts to veer into volatile territory try a neutralizing phrase like: “lets not, it’s Christmas”.
3.) Stand up for yourself-literally: It might seem strange, but when we regress we quite literally get smaller. Commit to an adult posture: Sit up tall, plant your feet on the floor, notice when you start to shrink. Also, become aware if your voice starts to regress into a childlike tone. Gently catch yourself, breathe into your center, and speak your truth with adult resonance.
4.) What are you still after? If you notice yourself continually feeling and presenting as younger with family and old friends, take the opportunity to reflect on what needs you are still trying to satisfy. Whose approval are you still hungry for? How old do you feel? Pay attention to regression as a possible symptom of unresolved emotional and family issues.
5.) Expect to Regress: Preparing yourself for this very common phenomenon can actually work as a preventative measure. Stay awake to your feelings and behavior so you don’t go unconscious and time travel back to being 12—- but also remember a little regression is not a bad thing. Enjoy your mother’s home cooked meals, the playfulness of youthful dynamics, the comfort of nostalgia. Practice mindfulness so you can reign in the regression if necessary, and so your relationships have the opportunity to evolve.