How To Set Boundaries Around Holiday Triggers

By Krista Resnick, Master Coach-Boundary Expert

Do family gatherings produce feelings of anxiety rather than comfort and joy? It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” so why are there so many holiday triggers?

For anyone reading this that is human (my guess if you are reading this, you are in fact human), I think we can agree that the holidays can be triggering. Throw in demanding stressful jobs, overloaded to-do lists and a family history oozing with wounds and things left unsaid. One minute, we’re taking care of ourselves, setting boundaries and making progress toward our goals and wellbeing… the next we’re drowning in anxiety, disordered eating, excuses, or feelings of helplessness and resentment.

I know these feelings all too well. I’ve often found myself prone to drowning my anxiety and overwhelm in a pan of Great Aunt Vivian’s fudge, mindlessly, resorting to old thinking patterns that I thought I cleared, skipping workouts or any of the hundreds of ways we can ‘sabotage’ ourselves in the name of surviving the holidays.

Years ago, I decided that I simply couldn’t do it anymore. My window of tolerance was shot and I wanted to show up differently. I wanted to move through the holidays with peace, comfort AND joy.

Through my healing journey, I learned that my triggers were a gift. Yes-you read that right-I learned to appreciate my triggers. Triggers are a wonderful opportunity to collect feedback and an invitation to go deeper into our healing.

Triggers give us a window into our unconscious mind – into the limiting, dysfunctional beliefs that we live with on a daily basis. What’s happening behind the scenes with a trigger is that someone says or does something, and one of OUR BELIEFS ABOUT OURSELVES OR THE WORLD gets activated or “triggered” and rises up into our awareness.

And because triggers typically feel bad, we want them to stop or go away. So, we project our anger or pain about how we feel about ourselves onto the person that brought up OUR BELIEF. Of course this causes more chaos, more arguing and more disconnection. It leaves the holidays feeling tumultuous, chaotic and something to dread.

What I have learned through my own healing and coaching practice, is that most often, during these triggering moments, it’s not actually the situation, but it’s that our inner child is activated. The inner child is a psychological reality that lives inside each one of us. And when we are triggered, it typically is a great indicator that the inner child is still carrying a wound from childhood that has never been healed.

When we are triggered, what happens is that we time travel-meaning, something happens outside of us and the next thing we know, we are that little 6 year old girl or boy. Often in that moment-you even know you are not being rational, but it’s as if you cannot stop yourself from reacting in the way you are. This is your inner child taking over and dealing with the situation as a child would, from a child’s perspective, with the tools and wisdom available to a child.

When we are raised by parents who are stressed, irritable, unable to self-regulate or are not attuned to our needs as children, we learn ways to adapt to this environment and get our needs met. Inner child work is essentially the process of connecting with and healing the part of us that were hurt or rejected during our childhood. We have the opportunity to reach back through time, hold our child’s hand, give them a big, reassuring hug and help them integrate their experiences.

When our inner child is showing up as the wounded child, you will feel them as: feeling shame, guilt around boundaries, strong inner critic, throwing tantrums and sulking, being a people pleaser, overachieving, defensiveness, and experiencing high anxiety. When our inner child is showing up as the nurtured child you will feel them as: self compassionate, well boundaried, joyful, trusting of others, creative, and able to resolve conflict in a healthy way.

So how do we nurture the inner child? How do we stop getting triggered not only at the holiday season when Great Uncle Bob brings up politics for the 47th time, but the other 364 days of the year?

Learning to connect with our inner child is a must. By doing this, we gain access to new information about our unhealed wounds, and the needs that may not have been met when we were actually children. I personally have worked with so many different modalities but connection with my inner child has been one of the most empowering and significant relationships I have made. I have learned how to always be there for ME. I don’t need to outsource my need for love, acceptance or approval, because I love, accept and approve of my inner child daily. It is the most important relationship I have ever fostered. This is what eased my triggers and helped me to move through the holidays (and everyday) with more comfort and

Here are three steps to help you begin working with your inner child.

1. Connect

This part can feel a bit abstract. Connecting with the inner child isn’t something we are taught. But I promise- the little one inside is waiting for you. All you really need to do is increase the awareness of who you were as a child. My absolute favorite way is to look at a photograph from when I was a little girl. I love to look into her eyes as I am reminded of her joy, her sweetness and her vibrancy. It can also be really helpful to do an inner child meditation. (I will be offering this at my holiday triggers and trip ups workshop). Writing letters can be very powerful for some people as well. The trick is to write as an adult with your dominant hand and
write from your inner child with your non-dominant hand. The point is that you acknowledge him or her. What is it that they need to hear? Tell that to your child, either out loud or in your mind. Be that loving parent to the little one inside. Speak to them with kindness and compassion. Your inner child loves hearing things such as “I love you,” or “I see you.” What we are reaching for here is to give that child the feelings of validation and affirmation that were absent for so long.

Your inner child is listening. What you say has the power to free it from its wounds.

2. Discover Your Unmet Needs

My favorite quote is, “The unmet needs of our inner child are what create havoc in our adult life.” When we have an unmet need from the inner child-we try to get it met as an adult.

Example: Let’s say you grew up in a really abusive household and have always wanted and craved that feeling of safety. However, you keep attracting chaos in your life, because there’s still an inner child in there who needs to learn how to feel safe in chaos. So as much as you don’t want to repeat the cycle of abuse and you don’t want to live in chaos, you keep attracting chaos into your life, or you go the other extreme and really isolate yourself to avoid any remnant of what you think is chaos.

The inner child drives our emotions, reactions and behavior. The other way to say it is, the inner child is constantly, subconsciously trying to get our attention. Therefore the more we can do this work, the easier it is to be an adult.

Slowing down to bring awareness to the daily triggers we encounter is essential. We want to start paying attention to what behaviors or interactions bring up childhood wounds. This is also where seeking out support from a trauma informed coach or therapist can be extraordinarily helpful. In sessions, your support person can assist you in working through your relationships with caregivers and any trauma that took place which in turn impacted your wounded child. By identifying what is at the root of your triggers and is causing you pain, you can start to
understand how your inner child feels and resolve your unmet needs.

Often as we do inner child work, we will have understanding of behaviors, choices, habit or patterns where we recognize “Hey…I actually am not attracted to him or I actually really don’t want to do that for a job, or I actually really don’t enjoy people pleasing…That’s just what my inner child thought he or she needed to do in order to feel safe, receive love, and be validated.”

3. Nourish

This part really involves having strong boundaries to protect and nurture your little one inside. This is one of the most important steps in creating worthiness for yourself. Because if your own inner child isn’t worthy of protecting and taking care of, why would that core part of you feel worthy to be taken care of and loved on by anyone else? Checking in daily with your IC and tending to their requests across all domains of your life is an essential practice to truly taking care of yourself.

What non-negotiable needs does your inner child have to feel loved, seen, protected and taken care of?

Reminding your inner child that he or she is safe, protected and loved is a beautiful way to begin connecting with he or she. When you start building a relationship with your inner child by creating trust and safety, you will realize that you no longer begin to feel as easily triggered by Uncle Charlie’s rude comments around the Thanksgiving table or your mother in law’s 96th time asking when you are going to get married and give her grandchildren.

Connecting with your inner child and giving that little one inside what he or she needs is an essential part of healing. Once the inner child has your attention, and feels safe and loved by you, it will be more open to you.

This holiday you don’t have to be so tripped up and triggered. By connecting with your inner child, you can offer yourself what you need and feel nourished even when everyone else might have their tinsel in a tangle.

Krista Resnick, Master Life Coach-Boundary Expert. Join Krista’s Holiday Triggers and Trip Ups Live Coaching/Workshop on November 9th. Move through the holidays with more peace, comfort and joy:

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