Nember 13, 2000
Traumas of the Thanksgiving visit home from the American Counseling Association
This month will see the beginning of the "holiday visit home" season.
And although the Thanksgiving holiday is still several weeks off, lots of people already have plans for, and, unfortunately, anxieties about that upcoming family gathering around the turkey dinner.
Many of us look forward to these opportunities to renew friendships with our parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, and their families.
We see this as a warm and inclusive environment that is secure and reminiscent of our childhood where, in our innocence, we felt that we "belonged."
But for others of us, there may be mixed feelings about that holiday trip. It may be a time of anxiety or conflict.
We may feel troubled over the warm and happy feelings that we "should" be having about a family visit, and the uncomfortable or nervous feelings, or a sense of dread, that we actually are experiencing.
We've been led to believe by Ozzie and Harriet television images that these occasions are all warm and fuzzy, when the reality of past visits might have been something quite different.
There are a number of reasons why holiday visits can be so traumatic:
There may be old wounds. Perhaps the memories of your childhood or teen years are not very pleasant.
You may not have felt that you belonged with your family as much as you were held captive. A holiday visit can easily rekindle those memories.
You've changed. You've grown intellectually, emotionally and psychologically since you left home.
Yet your parents or other family members may be expecting the same person they knew you to be when you were still younger. They carry with them the remembered image of you as the "good kid" or the "bad kid," but you no longer are that kid. You may feel you are being treated as the child you once were, rather than the responsible adult you've become.
Things have not worked out as expected. Perhaps there has been a divorce, financial problems, or a job that isn't quite working out. Your parents or family may have had expectations for you that are far different from who and what you really are.
You may find it difficult to face the fact that you are not the person they expected you to become. And you may find that they are not able to understand the struggles you have faced or the burdens life has given you to carry.
There can be many reasons why a holiday visit may seem unpleasant, but what can be done to minimize the negative effects?
First, you need to realize that one reason such trips feel uncomfortable is that you're experiencing a normal reaction to stress.
Plan your trip to include activities you know are enjoyable and less stressful. Plan on spending time with a favorite family member, or finding ways to be by yourself.
Perhaps it would help if the trip were a bit shorter. Stay only as long as needed to avoid being rude or insensitive to other family members.
Most importantly, remember not to try and change things over which you have no control. Be sure you are not frustrating yourself by expecting parents or other family members to change in a certain way.
They will have changed, to be sure, but each in his or her own way just as surely as you have changed in yours.
The Counseling Corner is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation's largest organization of counseling professionals. You can learn more about the counseling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.