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How Not to Get Triggered by Family

Posted: September 21, 2016 by David Hanna

The summer is coming to an end and fall is almost here. Many of us have spent some time this summer with family and my guess is it wasn’t always easy. Time with family can be complex and challenging for many. Old patterns are forced upon us and triggering memories arise out of nowhere. This reminds me of Ram Dass’ quote, “If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.”

We all have some relationship with our family - even if we have chosen to rarely see them. For most of us, when we’re around family things get complicated. The closer in proximity or emotionally we are to our parents or siblings, the more our feelings get triggered. We have to manage our own feelings while relating to the feelings of our family members.

Of course on some level, we all want the best for each and every one of our sisters, brothers, parents, cousins, etc. But being around our family often triggers anger, anxiety, belonging (or not-belonging), happiness, confusion, stress, annoyances, fear, and love - maybe all at once. As an adult, we must make the decision to put our own needs and feelings first, while still considering the needs, wants and feelings of our family. Unfortunately for most of us, this is an ongoing challenge.

What happens when our needs and our family's needs are different? How does our family system deal with conflict and stress? Some of us shut down, while other’s get controlling. Some deny the problem or challenge, while others try to fix the problem. And others yet may choose to leave the situation altogether or manage it with distance. Whichever style we use when things get stressful is often related to our role in the family, our personality, and the way we’ve managed conflict and stress since childhood.

After a family visit, feelings of unease can linger. It’s important to not let those moments decide your future moments.

During your next family visit, take care of yourself and your needs first. If you’re able, remind yourself that what’s going on with others and how people treat you has very little to do with you. In other words, don’t take it personally. Look for ways to lower your heart rate and relax, whether it’s taking deep breaths, taking a break or just checking in with the feelings that are coming up and reminding yourself that you’re ok and you're going to get through this. Feelings, like summer, are temporary and something different is coming around the corner. Your options are your own reactions and choices - this is where your power lies. Make choices that honor your needs and work on acting in ways that can make you proud of yourself. Others may continue to be a mystery to you. The world and others aren’t necessarily going to make sense. Things aren’t always easy or smooth, but focusing on your actions and honoring yourself while staying open to others is a worthwhile goal. Then be easy on yourself and make it through.

For many of us being around family is a big challenge, remember we’re all doing our best and we all deserve a break and a hug.

Tags: mood and feelings, relationship and family

David Hanna (he/him)

Licensed Professional Counselor


I specialize in helping people build meaningful, fun relationships. Contact me to move together towards a more connected & integrated life.

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Anxiety, Family Conflict, LGBTQ Issues, Men's Issues, Relationship / Marriage Issues