How I used a secret game of “Family Holiday Bingo” to survive the holidays ….
I was sitting at my parent’s table for a Thanksgiving meal several years ago when my dad made an off-handed comment to me. In an instant, I was five years old again, feeling my face flush and my heart race. I wanted to crawl under the table or run far away from the holiday cheer. Certainly, I wasn’t feeling thankful at all! I am a forty-something year old woman, with three grown children of my own, but I had become a child when my parents criticized me or offered unsolicited advice.
“I am so strong and interesting and FUN” I lamented to my therapist the following week (and yes, therapists have a therapist!). “So why do my parent’s turn me back into a little girl at the hint of a negative comment?”
She gently explained to me that when I get triggered my brain automatically fires up my fight or flight response. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’s that sudden “whoosh” feeling. Sometimes you feel your face burn with heat, or hot all over, or your heart starts racing. Sometimes it feels more like a punch in the gut and you can’t catch your breath.
When you’re triggered, you can feel things physically, but you also feel a strong sense of emotions too. You want to get the hell out of there, start arguing, or just shrink and hide (fight, flight or freeze).
Triggers can really sneak up on you. If you prepare for them in advance, you will have a much better shot at managing those feelings in the moment.
The holiday season is a minefield for these triggers. Partly because our increased expectations for magical moments. Partly because when we are around our family, no matter what age you are, we often revert back to our child-like roles and feelings.
To prepare for these triggers, you need to put the logical part of your brain in charge. That sounds hard, doesn’t it? It is hard to fight off our initial survival-based behavior (arguing, escaping, or hiding) when it is so instinctual. But, take hope — you can do it! Even therapists have to work at it.
The best way to stop our brains from getting triggered is to become an observer.
Simply notice the details of the family interactions. Try not to judge them as good or bad. Instead, act like you are a social researcher. Notice the behaviors of people during the holiday interaction. Be curious. Be open. Just notice. When you do that–you can stay in your logical part of your brain.
Here’s a fun & entertaining game to stop our brains from being triggered: Family Holiday Bingo.
I wish I had invented this, but alas I did not. I can personally testify that it is highly effective. Family Holiday Bingo helped me stay in my logical part of my brain when I was around people that easily trigger me.
Here’s how you do it: Fill in a bingo card with expected, anticipated behaviors from family members. Think about the things your family may do that will really trigger you.
Then, as you go through your holiday, you can enjoy yourself and have fun observing these behaviors. Keep in mind that hidden away in my bedroom (or suitcase) is your bingo card with all the quirky things you expect your family to do. When the day is over, mark the squares to see how accurate you were.
It’s fun to have a partner in crime for this game too, whether it’s a trusted partner, or a friend playing their own “Family Holiday Bingo” game at a different event. Sometimes my dear friend and I just have to text “BINGO” at the end of a stressful holiday and that’s all we need for a smile and laugh.
The point is to swap the upsetting trigger feelings with those of amusement. It helps make the holiday more enjoyable and allows you to connect more with your quirky family.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have all the other, universal stress of the holidays, but at least I don’t have the emotional drain that a day full of triggers brings. In fact, I’d say I’m more pleasant to be with and I certainly enjoy myself more as well. I hope you find it helpful too.
I invite you to find a “Bingo Buddy” and share this with them, so you can have your game plan in place for this Holiday Season!
Cyndi is “trauma certified” by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA). She brings clinical experience from the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center. Cyndi is uniquely equipped to hold a gentle and safe space for clients to heal from difficult or traumatic experiences. In addition, Cyndi helps clients through troublesome childhoods, life transitions, loss, identifying needs, parenting struggles and women’s empowerment.
In her personal life, Cyndi has spent years understanding the impact and affects of ADD/ADHD as well as health concerns, such as Lyme Disease. She is Lyme-literate and knows the challenges parents face today and the importance of treating the whole person. Her personal faith and spiritual journey, also allow her to provide faith-based counseling to clients, upon request.
To schedule a session with Cyndi, click below or contact (847) 919-9096 ext. 1 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Therapist Note: This is a playful, fun and practical tool for handling fairly normal family quirkiness or dysfunction. If you are feeling unsafe in your home, or are witnessing abuse (mentally, physically or sexually), or are struggling with addictions– please seek professional help. You are not alone, and your life can be better. We know that there are so many people who suffer in silence, from the wealthiest families to the ones struggling to make paycheck to paycheck. No one deserves to be mistreated. Please don’t suffer alone. https://www.crisistextline.org/abuse