“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference” – Reinhold Niebuhr

This Holiday season many of us will be traveling to places near and far to spend some quality time with our family and friends. We’ll leave or open our homes with the hope and intention to have a great time catching up on changes that have occurred throughout the year, or envision creating new memories or fondly remembering old ones when we get together with our loved ones.

Unfortunately, some of us may encounter the exact opposite in our Holiday experience. Unfortunately, we may encounter moments where unresolved, distressing or sometimes downright nasty family memories and issues get brought up as if they happened only minutes ago. These unwanted family experiences trigger our brain and body to vividly remember sensations and feelings of discomfort, embarrassment, anxiety or shame associated with events we thought we had left decades ago.

If your Holiday experience has any of the distressing traits mentioned in the second paragraph, then it is quite possible that you have taken an unwanted trip on what I call the “Drama Train.” The Drama Train shows up faster than the blink of your eye, and whether you are a victim or a volunteer for the ride, it transports you faster than a speeding bullet back to a “child-like” ego state where you are tempted to view and respond to the undesired but predictable family drama experience as if you were 2, 5, 9, 12 or 14 years-old.

Many of us have taken unplanned trips on this train that sometimes seems to show up with calculated precision at our Holiday events. Sometimes we have anticipated its arrival, and even though we know that the final destination is not a place we wish to go (marked by disruption and frustration), somehow we stepped on board and became a willing participant even after making a promise to ourself that we would never get caught up in fiascoes like this again.

For some of us, we feel like we get ushered onto the Drama Train when some family member or friend takes it upon himself or herself to act like a Conductor, encouraging us to join them in a familiar round of rehearsing the old dysfunctional family themes, rules and roles that caused drama, hurt, pain, anger or frustration in our collective past. If we take the bait, er, ride on the drama train, it’s as if we got up from our seat on the platform (where we were grounded and minding our own business), and were transported to that younger state in the blink of an eye, where we find ourselves saying and doing things that our therapy, faith, recovery and other spiritually mindful strategies helped us to gain independence from since our last family encounter.

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So when the train arrives in your station, and some unwitting family member waves a “free” ticket and beckons you to join them for an excursion to the familiar, predictable but unwanted destination stops know as  Passive-Aggressive Pass, Criticism Cove, Manipulation Manor, Abusive Avenue, Bossy Blvd., Judgmental Junction, Condescension Creek, Finding Fault Way, Rescue Me Parkway, Gotcha Grove, Resentment Trail, Sulking Heights or Immature Court, I encourage you to stay seated on the platform and remind yourself there is always a hidden price to pay for taking a trip like this. If you sense that one of those “All Aboard” moments is about to occur, here’s a few suggestions for you to consider…

Practical Strategies for Avoiding Holiday Drama

Before you leave the house…

  1. First of all, remember that you have a Choice!  Remembering that you have made choices to live in the “Healthy Middle Ground” of life marked by the healthy values that you have chosen to live by is very empowering and could help you to refuse to take a trip on the Drama Train.
  2. Remember to pack the tools that help you to remain anchored, mindful and conscious (Breakout session #2) of the physical, emotional, talking, listening and financial boundaries that facilitate sanity, serenity and self-protection within yourself.
  3. Remember to review the “communication maps” before you leave your home (The A-B-C’s of Conflict Resolution, Effective Use of Time-Outs and Tool Belt Tips) to ensure you won’t get on the wrong train.
  4. Remember to arrive and depart with only the “baggage” that you brought with you. Be aware of what “stuff” is yours and what unresolved issues belong to others. Don’t pack up, accept or get saddled with something that you didn’t intend to address or depart with.  Be mindful about why you are there, what you want to accomplish and by all means don’t feel you have to take in or “stuff yourself” with unnecessary and unhealthy offerings, simply because it is passed your way.
  5. To that point, make sure you review how to effectively deal with troubling emotions like Guilt, Shame, Anger and Fear, which may surface at some time or another. Having a constructive way to manage these emotions puts you in the solid and empowering place to respond to challenges from your Adult Ego state.
  6. Remember to practice the principles of the Equality/Empowerment Triangle (# 13) and any of the other “Empowering E’s” that affirm and remind you about the Adult that you are and the  precious “inner child” that you are responsible for protecting (that’s you!).
  7. Do remember to pack your gifts!  Remember, your value system may guide you to impart blessings to others, even when they have an agenda they want to advance at your expense. You know the old days of being treated like a doormat are over and you won’t let this happen to you.  However, could you see yourself “loving your enemy, praying for the one that persecutes you, and doing good to the one who mistreats you?”  I encourage you to practice behaviors that you are comfortable with and that are a part of your value system.

By implementing some of the suggestions listed above or by relying on your own “tool-kit,” hopefully you’ll notice that you have created calm, serenity and safety for yourself, especially when you breathe, pray, say your affirmations and by practicing the values that you have chosen to live by.

Although you can’t control the behavior of others, refraining from engaging in drama and practicing such behavior ensures your you’ll create safety for yourself and it positions you to not fall victim to nor volunteer to go to a familiar but always regrettable place that you didn’t have any intention of going to this holiday season or in any season in your life.

Finally, my hope is that as a result of being mindful and prepared for any possible drama trains that you may encounter unexpectedly, you will notice that your preparation has helped you to avoid multiple arrivals and departures of the drama train without you taking any unwanted trips on it!  Be proud of yourself for your accomplishments!

Take good care and season’s greetings!

Thanks for visiting and please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Dr Ken McGill’s blog and Daily Bread for Life for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.

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About Dr Ken McGill

Dr. Ken McGill is an ordained minister and has been involved in counseling for more than 25 years. Dr. McGill holds a Bachelor's degree in Religion from Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University), a Certificate of Completion in the Alcohol and Drug Studies/Counseling Program from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University. Dr. McGill received his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Family Psychology from Azusa Pacific University in May, 2003. Dr. McGill's dissertation focused on the development of an integrated treatment program for the sexually addicted homeless population, and Ken was "personally mentored" by dissertation committee member Dr. Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the field of sex addiction work. Dr. McGill authored a chapter in the text The Clinical Management of Sex Addiction, with his chapter addressing the homeless and sex addiction. Dr. McGill is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the States of Texas and California and Mississippi, and is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, through the International Institute for Trauma and Addictive Professionals (IITAP). Dr. McGill had a private practice in Glendora, CA (Aspen Counseling Center), Inglewood, CA (Faithful Central Bible Church), and Hattiesburg, MS (River of Life Church), specializing in the following areas with individuals, couples, families, groups and psychoeducational training: addictions and recovery, pre-marital, marital and family counseling, issues related to traumatization and abuse, as well as depression, grief, loss, anger management and men's and women's issues. Dr. McGill also provided psychotherapeutic treatment with Student-Athletes on the University of Southern Mississippi Football and Men's Basketball teams. Dr. McGill served as the Director of the Gentle Path Program, which is a seven-week residential program, for people who are challenged with sexual addiction, sexual anorexia, and relationship issues. Dr. McGill also supervised Doctoral students in the Southern Mississippi Psychology Internship Consortium with the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. McGill was inducted into the Azusa Pacific University Academic Hall of Honor, School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences, in October, 2010. Dr. McGill currently works as a Private practice clinician with an office in Plano, Texas, providing treatment with people who are challenged in the areas mentioned above.

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