Painful Interactions

by Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

The holiday season is quickly approaching. While so many advertisements project this season as a time of family unity and love for all, these gatherings can have a dark side. Family members may harbor long-held grudges that tend to surface during face-to-face interactions. A personality tick that used to be endearing may now provoke irritation. Factions within a family can bond together over a wedge issue (whether it’s who gets the turkey leg or caregiving issues for parents), resulting in situations that make everyone’s holiday miserable. Or a relative may withdraw their affections, refusing to support or even acknowledge others while also isolating themselves.

Many of these types of actions and reactions are often rooted in the individual’s feelings of self-hatred or inadequacy. Understanding that reality can help you come up with a plan to deal with an individual’s unwanted comments and actions. This knowledge also can help you identify and process your own issues caused by negative emotions that can be holding you back.

The Consequences of Keeping Pain Bodies

We all have a pain-body, a term coined by author Eckhart Tolle. This pain body is the detritus of emotional pain that an individual collects over a lifetime. These negative emotions weren’t faced soon after they occurred and now are stored in the body’s cells, causing continued emotional pain.

Unaddressed negative emotions not only can put a damper on the holiday spirit, but also can lead to continued distress and an increased risk of bodily pain and potential illness. “The older the trauma, the more deeply buried that trauma will be,” Dr. Christiane Northrup wrote in her book, “Goddesses Never Age. “We learn to wall off our pain and ‘soldier on,’ and after a few decades most of us are very skilled at this and have a lot of very old emotions stuck in us.”

Taking a Defensive Posture

Negative emotional pain can lead to an individual turning to a variety of defense mechanisms, including:
– Denial, which is the refusal to accept the situation.
– Repression, which results in forgetting the bad experience.
– Regression, which involves reverting to a childlike emotional state.
– Displacement, which transfers the original feelings to a different victim.
– Projection, which projects insecurities onto other people or situations.
– Reaction formation, in which the individual expresses the opposite of his true feelings.

Many of these mechanisms can cause others to feel frustration and distrust, ultimately leading to further damage to the relationship. Therefore it’s important in these situations to maintain your self-control, focus on being proactive instead of reactive, and picking your battles carefully.

It’s also critical to hold the mirror up to view your own actions and reactions. Releasing your own negative emotions can help you avoid falling into sticky emotional traps. Taking a mindful approach each day can help you minimize the chance you’ll add to your pain-bodies based on a loved ones’ behavior, even during the holidays. The best advice is to focus on what you have control over – yourself!

Primary Sources for This Post:
Juline, K. (ND). Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
Ni, P. (2015). Ten Keys to Handling Unreasonable and Difficulty People. Psychology Today.
Northrup, C. (2015). Goddesses Never Age. Hay House.
Whitbourne, S.K. (2011). The Essential Guide to Defense Mechanisms. Psychology Today.