Coping With ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’

6 min read

With another holiday season knocking at the door, it can be helpful to understand family-of-origin wounds before sitting down for yet another turbulence-filled family dinner. Since all families are human and no humans are perfect, all families fall on an imperfection spectrum. The spectrum can range from “they did a pretty good job” to extreme trauma. Though it’s tempting to view ourselves through the lens of individuality, the reality is that our families—regardless of whether we remember them, maintain contact with them, or enjoy them—shaped our human experience.

In her groundbreaking book The Origins of You, licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the This Keeps Happening podcast (and curator of the wildly popular social media account @mindfulmft) Vienna Pharaon offers readers profound insight into the genesis of their present-day challenges. She compassionately zooms in on five core wounds—worthiness, belonging, prioritization, trust, and safety—and emphasizes the value in resolving the unresolved pain from the past in order to live and love in the ways we most desire. The holiday season gives us a front-row seat to the pain from the past, but also gives us an opportunity to look more closely and continue our healing journey:

1. Worthiness: The worthiness wound strikes at the heart of self-esteem. The age-old question of whether someone is deserving of love and acceptance often manifests as people-pleasing and perfectionism. Pharaon highlights how parental attitudes and behaviors influence a child’s sense of worthiness, shaping their self-perception well beyond the formative years. To cope with a worthiness wound, Pharaon says, “It’s important that you shift from self-criticism to self-gratitude.” “Researchers have found that self-esteem—defined as a person’s sense of self-worth—is closely associated with well-being and a number of other adaptive outcomes.”

This holiday season, might you notice where your attempts at feeling worthy or valuable get activated? Are you willing to please at all costs? Do you need to show up perfectly to get the validation you crave? Do you over-give at the expense of yourself? See if you can practice some self-gratitude before re-entering a family gathering.

2. Belonging: This wound centers around the innate human need for connection and acceptance, which starts within the family unit. Pharaon skillfully illuminates the intricacies of familial bonds, pulling on the subtle threads of acceptance and rejection that shape an individual’s journey at the individual and relational levels. To cope with a belonging wound, Pharaon asks, “If you were living authentically, what would be different?”

This holiday season might be a beautiful opportunity to lead with authenticity instead of adapting to the system around you in an attempt to fit in. Remember, true belonging can only happen when you give yourself permission to be as you are, even when others don’t understand or accept it.

3. Prioritization: Pharaon writes, “A prioritized child is a child whose needs are seen, understood, and honored.” A prioritization wound can result in self-abandonment, self-betrayal, and profound fear that allowing yourself to have needs will result in rejection. Growing up with caregivers who are perpetually distracted or preoccupied can be detrimental to the development of a stable sense of self. To cope with a prioritization wound, Phaaron encourages readers to “take a moment to acknowledge how your prioritization wound shows up today” and then to find “one opportunity to prioritize yourself and to try to follow through on it.”

This holiday season, notice the ways you’re already hoping to be prioritized. Will your family remember your dietary needs for the holidays? Will they get you a meaningful gift and actually think about what you’d love? What hopes do you carry and might you think of a way to prioritize your needs?

4. Trust: This origin wound forms the bedrock of all relationships. Pharaon’s exploration of trust encompasses the balance between vulnerability and betrayal within the family context. Through real-life stories and clinical insights, she explores how early attachment ruptures in trust can manifest as longstanding emotional scars, influencing a person’s capacity for intimacy in adulthood. To cope with a trust wound, Pharaon writes, “Trust isn’t something that’s easily reestablished. It’s not something you’ll claim back for yourself overnight. But it is something that you can build for yourself, as well as something that you can choose to build with others.”

This holiday season, work on trusting your gut. Follow through on the things that feel aligned for you. Maybe you want to trust a certain family member to be on their best behavior. Maybe you want to trust that your parent isn’t going to make another backhanded comment they swear they won’t do. Know how you’d like to respond ahead of time and honor your plan. No matter how small or large a trust rupture is, one of the most important things you can do in response is to show up for yourself in a way that feels trusting to you.

5. Safety: The fifth wound dissected by Pharaon discusses the human biological need for psychological, emotional, and physical security. “The impact of childhood abuse, neglect, and violence exposure on adult physical and emotional health and behaviors is significant and well documented.” Reclaiming a sense of safety is an essential task at both the relational and individual levels. To cope with a safety wound, Pharaon empathetically notes, “Living in a home environment where safety was lacking took something from you. It changed you. But the ways you responded to feeling unsafe growing up don’t have to be the ways in which you live today.”

Family Dynamics Essential Reads

This holiday season, make a plan for your safety. Maybe you’ll be in the same family home where a lack of safety once existed. Maybe the environment feels uncomfortable for you. Think about the ways you can create physical, emotional, mental, and psychological safety for yourself. Do you need to go on a walk every day? Do you want to decide how many days, if any, you’ll sleep over in that home? Do you have a movement practice that can help ground your body? A meditation you can listen to that is soothing? Or maybe a friend you can call who is validating and supportive?

With a bit of courage and guidance, exploring family-of-origin dynamics can have a tremendous impact on your ability to hold on to choice and power during the holiday season. Understanding how our wounds show up in the present day allows us to regain a sense of autonomy. As the holiday season approaches, acknowledging the impact of worthiness, belonging, prioritization, trust, and safety becomes a non-negotiable. By recognizing shadows from the past, we can begin the transformative journey toward wholeness and well-being. Honoring the imperfections of our origin families allows us to honor the imperfections in ourselves, while simultaneously committing to the process of deeper understanding and change.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours