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5 Ways to Cope with Holiday Drama

Photo of amaryllis. © Katherine Broadway

Holidays may be a great time to see family and friends. They are also a time when we return to old patterns and behaviors. When we go back “home,” we revert to the relationships we had growing up, instead of acting as the grownups that we now are.

These are the same relationships and patterns that formed our views of ourselves and our outlooks on life. Along with this, unconscious conflicts may come to the surface, which will cause us to end up in a three-sided behavior pattern.

We’ve referred to these patterns as Drama Triangles. They usually happen on an unconscious level and come from behaviors learned early in life. When we were children, it served us well in a time of need. They helped us cope.

Unfortunately, because it is unconscious, it continues far beyond its usefulness and we don’t see it. This is a cycle designed to keep us from feeling our true feelings.


These behavior patterns can lead to some of the conflict we experience around the holidays. Being aware of their existence is the first step, but it is even more effective to work to change our own patterns. That change comes from each voice in the Triangle learning new statements and specific lessons:

The Rescuer needs to transform the message of “I can’t stand it” to an acknowledgement of “I can face life, it will not kill me.” The Rescuer needs to develop a message inside that says, “I have the power and strength to feel what I feel, and know what I know. I have the resources both internally and externally to grow”.

The Persecutor needs to transform self-critical statements into new messages of compassion and hope. The critical messages internalized years ago are no longer helpful in current adult life. These messages were developed at a young age to create the illusion that the unmanageable could be managed.

The Victim needs to transform passivity and helplessness into responsibility and learn they have the power to change and manage life. Living in pain and helplessness does not offer protection. No one is going to step in and save the proverbial “damsel in distress.” Inaction and ineffectual action does nothing but keep the victim paralyzed in the current situation, and that is neither safe nor healthy. It keeps them stuck in a never-ending cycle of pain and victimization, waiting for the rescue that never comes.

When you do the work to make these transformations, you move to a position of empowerment in your life. We’ll talk more about the empowerment triangle and how to get there later in 2016. For right now, let’s talk about how to get through the holidays.


1. When you begin to feel difficult or overwhelming feelings, pause and remind yourself your feelings will not kill you. Ask yourself, are the feelings true for your current situation or do they come from something in your past?

2. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. What was the trigger?

3. Don’t believe all the messages in your head. Many of them were developed when you were very young. Your circumstances are very different now.

4. Refocus. When you find yourself repeating the same thoughts over and over, change something physical. Find someone with whom you can talk. Find something to do. If nothing else use, the “broken record” technique and remind yourself this uncomfortable feeling will go away.

5. Develop positive self-talk. A good place to start is to ask yourself, “What I would say right now to a friend or a child in this situation?” We are usually kinder to others than ourselves.

These steps can help you through that holiday dinner or family visit, but if you need more, give me a call at (919) 881-2001. I’m here to help.

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