Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

pink20and20white - Four ways to manage the excitement and dread of family reunions

photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Do you have a mixture of excitement and apprehension when you are meeting up with family and loved ones from an earlier part of your life?

Does a sense of anxiety and dread come along to tarnish the excitement, because you are going to come face to face with aspects of your past that you worked hard to obliterate?

Your visit doesn’t have to be tarnished by the cloud of dread that suffocates you as the trip draws nearer. It probably feels like a war between the part of you that can hardly wait to see everyone, and the part of you that doesn’t want to move at all. Here is Duncan’s experience as he got ready to attend a friend’s wedding after 10 years of being away.

 Duncan was wracked by an internal war pulling him in two different directions.

Duncan’s impending visit to New Mexico was thrilling when he imagined showing off his children and his new business plans. He was proud of his new life, having settled down into a good stable career, with a mortgage on his own property and opportunities on the horizon for advancement. Yet he was unable to sleep for the two weeks prior to the visit. He became forgetful of routine things and found himself checking and checking again to make sure he hadn’t left things out or done them wrong. Vera helped by making lists he could check off but it didn’t stop him fidgeting, and worrying about the house sitter, the kennel service and getting to the airport on time.

The war inside Duncan was brutal as the day of the flight approached. The clash of old Duncan and new Duncan was now inevitable. The only way to distract himself from having to get in the trenches and fight to win was to take preemptive action.

purple20freesias2 - Four ways to manage the excitement and dread of family reunions

photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Turning the cannons on himself distracted Duncan from facing his prior self

He beat himself up with reproach for forgetting where he put the tickets. He wouldn’t eat with his family while punishing himself for not getting all the photos on his phone for folks back home to drool over. He virtually crucified himself with self-doubt and criticism.

The wedding was fine and Duncan survived. But he didn’t enjoy it. While he was busy fighting his war against the old Duncan that was waiting to shame him and bring back those awful feelings of fear and loneliness, he didn’t let the here and now Duncan savor the good times. Duncan was so afraid that he would be pulled back into feeling like the sad, angry, helpless kid who was needy and glommed onto anyone who gave him a second look, that he cut off his feelings entirely. Only half of Duncan was at the wedding and emotionally available to visit with family and loved ones.


close20up20of20prunus20with20crimson20flowers - Four ways to manage the excitement and dread of family reunions

photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


How can Duncan reunite with his past in a way that doesn’t diminish his new found prestige and standing?

1.    Re-live one memory of the past in the place the event took place, viewing it from the present so that he has control of the narrative and feelings that go with it.

2.    Share that memory with his wife and children so that he isn’t alone in it.

3.    Narrate it from his position as a husband and father, not as a child having an awful experience.

4.    Share that same memory in that same place with a member of his family of origin so that the place and people take on a different tone.

These three strategies take the sting out of the tail of the memories. They help Duncan reclaim his past in an empowering way. He can carry the memories as strengths and fading scars rather than as scorpions that are looking to poison him the minute he sets foot in his childhood home area.


Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.