BY CARMEN M. HUBBARD
Home for the holidays makes for warm and fuzzy thoughts. Being surrounded by parents, brothers and sisters; reminiscing about the old neighborhood; sharing stories and a confessing about throwing a wild teenage party the weekend your folks were out of town. It’s a good time until reality sets in. Those good memories are now outweighed by sibling rivalry, shyness and feelings of inadequacy as soon as you see your family.
Whether it’s for a few hours or a few days, spending time with family to celebrate Hanukah or Christmas creates familial roles that can make you go from fabulously 50 to not-so-sweet 16.
Not sure of your role in the family? Here’s a breakdown from Robert Burney, who is a counselor and pioneer in the field of inner child healing and codependency recovery.
Responsible Child or Family Hero: This child takes over the parent role at a very young age, becoming very responsible and self-sufficient. They give the family self-worth because they look good on the outside. They are good students, sports stars, and prom queens. The parents look to this child to prove that they are good parents and good people.
As an adult, the Family Hero is rigid, controlling, and extremely judgmental (although perhaps very subtle about it) of others and secretly of themselves. They achieve “success” on the outside and get lots of positive attention but are cut off from their inner emotional life, from their True Self. They are compulsive and driven as adults because deep inside they feel inadequate and insecure.
Acting Out Child or Scapegoat: This is the child that the family feels ashamed of and is the most emotionally honest child in the family. He or she acts out the tension and anger the family ignores. This child provides distraction from the real issues in the family. The scapegoat usually has trouble in school because they get attention the only way they know how: through bad behavior. As an adult, they tend to repeat these patterns, drawing negative attention instinctively, even though they are often not not the cause of conflict. Often these are the first of the family members to seek out recovery.
Placater, Mascot or Caretaker: This child takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family. They become the family’s “social director” and/or clown, diverting the family’s attention from pain and anger.
As an adult, this child becomes valued for his or her kind heart, generosity, and ability to listen to others. Their whole self-definition is centered on others and they don’t know how to get their own needs met. They become adults who cannot receive love, only give it.
Adjuster or Lost Child: This child escapes by attempting to be invisible. They daydream, fantasize, read a lot of books or watch a lot of TV. They deal with reality by withdrawing from it.
These children grow up to be adults who find themselves unable to feel and suffer very low self-esteem. They are terrified of intimacy and often have relationship phobia. They are very withdrawn and shy and become socially isolated because that is the only way they know to be safe from being hurt.
“It is important to note that we adapt the roles that are best suited to our personalities. We are, of course, born with a certain personality,” Burney said. “What happens with the roles we adapt in our family dynamic is that we get a twisted, distorted view of who we are as a result of our personality melding with the roles. This is dysfunctional because it causes us to not be able to see ourselves clearly.”
Burney is the author of “Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls.”
“As long as we are still reacting to our childhood wounding and old tapes then we cannot get in touch clearly with who we really are,” he added.
If you’re counting down the days to make your annual appearance, it’s best to have a plan of action to help deal with your relatives and stand your ground.
Psychotherapist Serina Harvey advises taking stock and appreciate your “annoying” family.
“Most of us don’t realize how wonderful it is to even have family that drives us crazy,” she said. “Learn to appreciate your relatives and keep telling yourself that you only have to deal with them for a few days.”
When dealing with rude comments from family, Harvey says, “take a chill pill.”
“It’s not easy to let people’s rude remarks just slide off your back, especially when family always knows exactly which buttons to push. Take a time out,” Harvey added. “If you don’t engage in an argument, then many times the person will get the message that you’re not interested and they may start acting more politely.”
Harvey suggests finding an empty room for quiet escape, take a walk or volunteer to run a last-minute errand to the grocery store.
If you’ve been hesitant around family, there’s no better time than the present to assert yourself.
Experts from the Mayo Clinic say assertiveness is based on mutual respect and define it as an effective and diplomatic communication style.
Being assertive shows that you respect yourself, because you’re willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings, experts said.
It also demonstrates that you’re aware of the rights of others and are willing to work on resolving conflicts. If you communicate in a way that’s too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to your delivery. In essence, when you’re too passive, you give others the license to disregard your wants and needs.
If all else fails, it might be time evaluate if your relative is annoying or downright toxic.
“These people try to purposely hurt you and tear down your self-esteem. They’re not just annoying or difficult to get along with, they are the people that when you leave them you feel like you’ve been put through the ringer,” Harvey said. “Each visit makes you feel worse about yourself and makes you doubt your own worth. If a relative is toxic, you may need to cut that person out of your life, but do this with caution.”
Here’s to Emotionally Healthy Holidays!
Carmen M. Hubbard is an award-winning newspaper journalist turned freelance writer from Cincinnati. She believes being 50 is more than a number, it’s an attitude and a lifestyle. In between writing features for FiftyisthenewFifty.com, she helps women get their sexy back as a Zumba® Fitness instructor.