Who’s in the Driver Seat

By Ken Wells - 11/29/2022


Series Three: Blog Eighty-Three

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Holidays trigger many things. For many, it’s a time to connect with family and friends. It’s a time to engage traditions.  For others, it’s a time to reflect and contemplate where you have been and where you are headed. Holidays always involve stress and strain.

When people who have history with each other intermingle during a holiday, inevitably some kind of conflict arises. Old wounds get re-opened. New wounds trigger old responses and before long feelings get hurt. Folks revert back to old destructive behaviors they engaged when they were a kid. There is a tug and pull for family members to engage roles they played when they were kids. The pressure is strong and the perception is real every time a family gathers for a holiday event.

My family was big, 9 original kids plus 3 more.  My parents raised my oldest sister’s 3 children. My dad was always given a turkey from the AFL/CIO union he belonged to. It was big, about 25 – 30 lbs. It never lasted beyond Thanksgiving. There were no leftovers for the weekend or to make sandwiches for school or work. There were 5 boys. I was the youngest. Thanksgiving always meant  celebrating God, country, turkey and football in our family.

We would always have a touch football game before dinner to help work up an appetite. There were 5 Wells boys and then we would recruit 5 neighborhood kids to round out a game of 5 on 5. It was a pass and catch flag football game. We played in the street on our block. The driveways served as first down markers. On one Thanksgiving day one of my brothers went out for a pass. He caught the ball on the run and pivoted to run down the street to the goal line.  He ran smack into a parked car full speed. He was out for the rest of the game.

Two of my oldest brothers always took the game way too serious. They were always pitted against each other. The older they got, the fatter and the slower they got. One would try to trip the other or cheat in some other way and soon they would be in each other’s face and fighting, even after they were grown men. Kind of put a damper on the game. Then there was dinner. Both were angry sweating and cussing beneath their breath. I don’t think they ever bowed their head for a thanksgiving prayer for the food we were about to devour.

After stuffing ourselves with all the food my mom made, my dad would go for a nap and the brothers would settle in to watch the Detroit Lions play. That was when they had Milt Plum as quarterback and Alex Karras, Lem Barney and Dick LeBeau on defense. They were all good players but as a team the Lions always sucked and seem to always lose.

Holidays are often tough for addicts. They trigger a lot of unresolved relationship pain. Here is a list of considerations to help you get through the holidays and avoid skirmishes when you gather with your family and friends.

  1. Pay attention to who is in the driver seat. Family of origin gatherings during holidays trigger family members to resort back to childish ways. When someone behaves or responds in a way that triggers hurt and anger, make sure that your wise-minded adult is behind the wheel of your thoughts, spoken word and physical actions. There will be millions of fights driven by adults who lost their sense of self and turned the wheel over to their angry rebellious child. More relationship harm will occur within a few minutes because of hurtful words and destructive behavior than can ever be repaired in a life time.  The crash and carnage is the result of your inner child being placed in the driver’s seat. Drive safe and keep your inner child properly secured within the confines of the seat belt.
  2. Picture the kind of relationship life you would like to experience and act as if it were already in existence. For sure, you are unable to control the response of any other family member or friend. The breakdown of connection and communication may be so broken that you may not be able to even be physically present with your loved one. For many, there is that much animosity between family members. Yet, that does not limit you envisioning the relationship you would like that will help you project the positive energy you would like to with family members who may be estranged. Send positive energy from the picture of love and closeness you have created within your mind. It’s a way of you being in the driver seat.
  3. Base your thoughts and actions regarding family of origin relationships on the empowered person you are today and not from the rules that governed your childhood. Relationship decisions and behavior around family of origin is often made unconsciously based on the erratic and unrealistic rules you learned as a child. Break away from the bizarre pull to a surreal past and empower your wise mind adult to demonstrate courageous open hearted words and actions to create the adult relationships you would like in your family of origin. Not everyone will make the same choice but you will be relating from a position of strength and avoid the weeds and entanglement of old rules, immature remarks and and judgments that can linger as a nightmare for months to come.
  4. When family members feel hurt by you from past or present behaviors, you can always validate. Your adult children don’t need from you nearly as much as you think. In family gatherings, if your children want to speak to you about a criticism they have regarding the way you raised them, listen and validate. Validation is not agreeing with someone else’s view. It is recognizing their experience of you. With your children and family, when someone points out an experience with your weakness, validate them and ask them how can you support them now. It has been my experience that adult children only want to experience that your wall of defense is down, feel heard and validated. They can take care of the rest!
  5. Don’t jump to conclusions. Family members or others act the way they do because of what they have going on in their lives. It is easy to personalize and jump to conclusions. Your inner growth about your family of origin will require patience,  tolerance and self-acceptance as you navigate through grief about what could have been with your family of origin but never was. It will demand that you carefully put the wise experienced adult mind in the driver’s seat to remain true to yourself and not get lost in the woods of family dysfunction during this holiday.

Recent Articles

Subscribe and thrive.

Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.

© Psychological Counseling Services