Navigating Triggers: A Compassionate Approach for Adult Children of Dysfunction During the Holidays

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The holiday season, often synonymous with family gatherings, can evoke a mix of joy and suffering for adult children of dysfunction. Past wounds may resurface, and triggers linked to family dynamics might cast shadows over the festivities. Below are a few key strategies for managing triggers during holidays and fostering resilience and grace in the face of emotional turbulence with a focus on incorporating our Catholic faith.

Understanding Triggers and Cultivating Self-Awareness

Triggers that are deeply rooted in past traumatic experiences can turn holiday gatherings into emotionally-charged events for adult children of dysfunction. Recognizing these triggers is the first step toward navigating the complexities of family interactions during the season. When we spend time in prayer and reflection, seeking God’s guidance to unearth and understand these triggers, it can help us heal from the wounds of our childhood. Journaling our thoughts and feelings is another way we can become more aware of these triggers, especially as we bring them to God in prayer for healing.

Developing self-awareness involves reflecting on past experiences and recognizing patterns that trigger emotional responses. Practicing the Twelve Steps and integrating reflection into our prayer lives can be profoundly transformative.

Setting Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is crucial for protecting our emotional well-being during family gatherings. Clearly communicating our limits to family members, and expressing what we’re comfortable with and what may be triggering is a great start. In our prayers, we can ask for strength and wisdom to uphold these boundaries with grace. We can also reflect on biblical teachings about boundaries and use them as a guide in prayer, seeking the guidance of Our Lord and the Saints in maintaining healthy limits.

Prioritizing Self-Care & Creating New Traditions

Amidst family gatherings, we can prioritize activities that bring us joy and peace. We can also incorporate prayer and meditation into our self-care routine. A beautiful way of doing this is to attend Mass regularly, where we can find solace and strength in the Eucharist. We can always set aside moments for personal prayer, connecting with God in gratitude and seeking His guidance. Finally, establishing a routine of morning or evening prayer can create a spiritual anchor during the holiday season.

As adult children, we can find ways of introducing new traditions that align with our values and promote positive experiences. For example, attending daily Mass as a family, or incorporating prayer into our celebrations. Lighting candles and offering prayers of gratitude can be beautiful new traditions that foster a sense of peace. There are many ways to engage our families in the process, making it a collaborative and spiritually enriching experience for everyone involved.

Connecting with Our Support Systems

Reaching out to friends or our ACDH support groups who understand our journey is a good practice throughout the year, yet even more so during the holidays. We can also attend group prayer sessions or consider joining a parish support group. Sharing our feelings with those who share our faith can deepen our sense of connection and understanding. Incorporating communal prayer into our support network activities also fosters a shared spiritual journey.

Practicing Catholic Mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques can help us stay in the present moment and manage overwhelming emotions. Simple practices like deep breathing or grounding exercises can anchor us in the present. Coupling these practices with Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and seeking spiritual guidance can be powerful tools for healing and serenity. 

During mindfulness exercises, we can incorporate prayers for inner peace and strength, inviting God’s presence into the quiet spaces of our minds. Catholic Psychologist Dr. Greg Bottaro has some excellent resources for practicing Catholic mindfulness.

Navigating triggers during holidays as an adult child of dysfunction requires a thoughtful and compassionate approach, and integrating Catholic practices can deepen this process. By focusing on these strategies—cultivating self-awareness, setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, creating new traditions, connecting with support systems, practicing mindfulness, and incorporating the sacraments—we equip ourselves with a comprehensive toolkit to navigate the emotional landscape of family gatherings.

Remember, our journey is unique, and healing is a gradual process. As we approach the holidays, let’s do so with self-compassion, acknowledging the progress we’ve made. May these strategies, intertwined with our Catholic faith, serve as a guide helping us navigate triggers with resilience and grace, fostering understanding, and potentially creating new positive holiday memories. In this holistic approach, may the integration of faith and practical strategies lead us to a season of peace and spiritual renewal.

Born and raised Catholic, Chloe is an adult child of alcoholics who recently rediscovered the beauty of 12-step recovery through attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Catholic in Recovery meetings. For many years, Chloe was an Evangelical Christian before the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the witness of a dear friend eventually drew her back to the Catholic faith.