How To Avoid The Family Drama This Year


holiday fight
Does your relationship suffer at holiday time due to family tussles?

When Jason married Kelley, the split he felt as a boy when he had to choose between his mom and dad was recreated between his mother and his wife. This split became most apparent during their first holiday season together, when Jason's mom made him feel guilty about how he divided his time, accusing him of abandoning her, and directing hate and blame toward Kelley.

Jason's parents divorced when he was a very young boy. Growing up, when he was at his dad's, his mom called him frequently, asking him if he was OK — even when he was happy — and reassuring him that he had other people (her family) who loved him. She communicated to him in a variety of explicit and implicit ways her hurt and betrayal over his dad, which made Jason feel responsible for taking care of her.


Jason coped by developing a pattern of emotional detachment and blunting his feelings with both parents, so as not to let on that he was having too good of a time with either. He experienced muted enjoyment with his dad in particular, often acting as if he were less excited than he was, especially when his mom phoned him, which was often.

He felt particularly protective of his mom, the abandoned one, often hiding the nature of his relationship with his dad, though it was secretly vital to him. He felt guilty for leaving his mom alone. Jason's father, in turn, took his son's blunted reactions at face value, worrying that Jason did not like him or enjoy their time together, often reacting by pulling back or becoming angry. Put The Kids First: 6 Ways To Tell Them You're Divorcing

Jason was in the dark about how he felt because both parents imposed their own feelings on him. No one helped him understand what was happening or gave him a safe space to experience his own natural reactions, which went underground.

Without help articulating their own and other's states of mind through words and emotional resonance, children do not develop a "sense" of themselves. This self-awareness, or inner wisdom, is needed to guide ourselves. It allows us to gauge what is happening in our relationships and make decisions that are true to ourselves.

In place of authentic experience, Jason developed an adaptation to relationships in which he was detached and "other-directed." His reactions were driven by fear and dread of his mom's unhappiness. When she was angry or hurt, through a process of projective identification, he took on her feelings as if they were his own, experiencing the weight of her depression, and the related feelings of guilt and badness she projected onto him.

Projective identification is an unconscious psychological process occurring in relationships whereby one person's disowned feelings are put into the other. The recipient identifies with these projected feelings as if they were his own and both enter into a shared delusional cycle.

In this case, Jason experienced his mom's rageful accusations of abandonment as an emotional truth, feeling depressed, guilt-ridden, and mad at himself for not looking out for her.3 Paths To Holiday Love

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
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John M. Grohol


Dr. John Grohol is a mental health expert and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992.

Location: Newburyport, MA
Credentials: PsyD
Website: PsychCentral
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