Journaling to Cope with Family During the Holidays

The holidays are a season where pain from our childhood can be triggered by spending time with relatives. As an intervention, you can try journaling about thoughts you have when your triggers arise. Simply notice what thoughts go through your head as the trigger begins and write these down.

Example: Dad starts showing his detachment from the family, only talking about his own distant pastimes—ultimately revealing once again his hallmark narcissistic behavior that has always left you feeling disgusted and unloved. When he does this, you immediately notice yourself say inwardly, Can’t stand it. I hate when he does this. He only cares about himself, he doesn’t love me. He should never have had kids!

Write this down and then think of how you can balance these thoughts or replace them with an alternative thought. For the personalization part of your thought, He only cares about himself, he doesn’t love me, reassess the situation. Your father is not acting this way because of you; rather, it’s because of himself and his own healing that he has not done. He is projecting his built-up pain onto the rest of the family by making you all feel lesser and himself more important.

For the overgeneralization part of your thought, He should never have had kids!, perhaps you truly believe this sometimes, but maybe not all the time. Be honest with yourself and use language that reflects how you truly feel. Perhaps write, Sometimes I feel like he never should have had kids, and elaborate if you feel to. Or on the other hand, if you feel this could apply to your situation and family dynamics, you can use compassion and write about the positive things he has done as your father.

This journaling tip is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique, where you can reform your thoughts to reshape your reality. It is also derived from the teaching from the great yoga master, Paramhansa Yogananda, that thoughts are things, meaning they become your reality—so be aware of your thoughts and realize that you have the power to change them, which will also change your life.

For further reading on CBT: Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods & Your Life, A workbook of cognitive behavioral techniques by Matthew McKay, PhD, Martha David, PhD, and Patrick Fanning

You can check out a satirical (yet very accurate) portrayal of families during the holidays in this video.