A recent poll conducted by OnePoll concluded that 75% of Americans admit they need to escape family during the holidays. With the added contention surrounding COVID and political discourse, we reached out to mental health counselor, hypnotherapist and certified integrative medicine practitioner, Nicole Sublette, who has been featured on NHPR, WMUR, the New Hampshire Business Show, and the Is that Soo, podcast to provide sound advice on surviving the holidays.
CC: Nicole, what is your background?
I am a licensed mental health counselor in the state of New Hampshire and private practice. I’m also a certified hypnotherapist and certified in integrative medicine. That’s using holistic medicine such as herbalism, and foods in various modalities to help mental well-being and create homeostasis. Also, I’m a doctoral candidate for a degree in Bioenergetic medicine.
CC: Let’s get into what’s happening right now with the holidays coming. We already know that a lot of people don’t like getting together with their family. Is there some sort of instruction that you can offer?
NS: When we think about our families of origin, they’re bound to trigger us because they are our family. Our caregivers tend to be the root of a lot of our childhood triggers and trauma. However, our differences with those we identify as family are actually a greater call to start to fully understand ourselves, especially when we are triggered by our family members, and explore aspects of ourselves that need to be healed. It can be an opportunity to heal the relationship with ourselves and also the relationships with our family. We often believe that we become disempowered to anyone who inherently triggers us. We’re saying, oh, because of how you are, I’m this way. When we blame people for our actions, reactions, and reactivity we are giving our power away. We always have our power within us to choose how we respond and feel. When we blame others for how we act, we are actively making the choice to give our power away. When we can differentiate from our families and stand in our sovereignty, we can recognize our own power. When we lean into our own strengths (knowing that we don’t have to internalize the criticism or actions of others) we can actually be compassionate towards our family members. Even with different political beliefs and ideologies, we can lean into practicing more compassion. Practicing compassion we end up being kinder toward ourselves and others. We can walk in any space and be okay.
CC: What do we say to the person who feels, I know I’m going to go to my mother’s house. I know she’s going to talk about this particular trigger. She takes that knife and she just digs it in. That person who knows there’s a fight coming and is getting ready for the fight not in the best way.
NS: I think it depends on every level of relationship. I think it is honoring our family members where they are at. Sometimes it can help to be more objective, recognizing that our family members sometimes may not be the most pleasant. However, if we can see what made them the way they are, perhaps they too are struggling with their own triggers. When we view people more objectively, we can take them less personally. This does not mean accepting abuse. I don’t recommend walking into an abusive situation. You don’t have to take on an overly critical person. You don’t have to internalize what someone is saying. If you come in armed and ready to engage in conflict, you’re going to engage in conflict. But, if you can say you know what, as dysfunctional as my family is, at least I have a family and I can spend some quality time with my family no matter how it looks like, and, I can welcome the holidays to connect with my family.
CC: When do we say no?
NS: When we’ve established boundaries and they are being crossed and we are not feeling safe or protected and it’s not good for our energy. People can say no to their families.
CC: Can you speak to the level of guilt that people carry with them when they say no to their family?
NS: Guilt is actually not an emotion it is what is called a secondary emotion. So when we actually break down guilt, guilt is self-judgment, and so it’s like we’re feeding that fire (of self-judgment) indefinitely. So when we’re experiencing guilt we have to examine what we’re actually saying to ourselves and how we’re feeding that fire, because we can change that dialogue. We can change that internal voice around and make it a more empowered voice. I am not going because this is for my highest, my best fulfillment. We feel better, or I can treat myself better or I’m doing better for my children. To create freedom and happiness we actually have to reevaluate and deprogram from the conditioning our parents set forth for us and at some point, it becomes a choice.
CC: How do we deal with relatives that have opposing political/social views?
Try not to engage in incendiary or controversial conversations. Instead, stick to topics that don’t encourage debates or arguing. Maintain an attitude of neutrality. Focus instead on enjoying the holidays with loved ones. If someone attempts to engage you in a conversation that could start an argument, politely decline or change the subject.
CC: What actionable steps can someone take?
NS: Check in with yourself. How do you feel? Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling depressed? Are you being triggered when visiting family? Is there actual trauma and are you having a PTSD response? Check-in with yourself and it might really be necessary to get additional support. Maybe it’s professional health or in their community. Also if going to a family’s house is too painful, there are other things that people can do, like go to a church function, engage with friends, and find other ways to celebrate the holidays. If going to a family’s home is not possible, find other ways to create and make meaning and community.
Nicole Sublette conducts a free no obligation consultation, offering holistic support for: Depression, anxiety, trauma, Panic Attacks, PTSD, mood disorders, relationship issues, multicultural issues, parenting, family therapy, stress-management, women’s issues, body issues, self-empowerment, assertiveness, relationship dynamics, prenatal and postnatal counseling.