Setting aside religious significance, the holidays season tends to be a time when most adults focus on children and family, in that order. But interestingly enough adults, consciously or not, regress to their younger selves during this extended time with parents and family.
From the Guardian:
In a characteristically serene post at Zen Habits, Leo Babauta points out that holiday family gatherings can be “the ultimate mindfulness training ground”: if you can remain centred and calm in the middle of Christmas dinner, you can presumably do so anywhere.
True, I’m sure. But for any of us heading back to childhood homes in the next few days – or, for that matter, reuniting elsewhere with the people we spent our childhoods with – there’s one huge challenge to be overcome. I’m talking, of course, about the ferocious black hole that sucks adult children, and their parents, back into family roles from years or even decades ago, the moment they’ve reassembled under one roof.
Holiday regression is an experience so universal that even therapists who specialise in this sort of stuff tend to counsel Just Dealing With It. “Expect to regress,” writes one. “Regression can be sweet,” ventures another. Forget all the progress you thought you’d made towards becoming a well-functioning and responsible member of society. For a week or so, you might as well be 13 again.
Actually, the concept of regression, like so many handed down from Freud, is probably best thought of as a poetic metaphor; modern psychology provides no real reason to believe that you’re literally returning to an earlier stage of ego development when you start passive-aggressively point-scoring with your sister over the mulled wine. The crucial point about those old family roles is that they work: they’re time-tested ways that your family discovered, over years, that enabled it to hold together as a family. The roughly 20 years between birth and fleeing the nest, as the therapist Marie Hartwell-Walker points out, is “a whole lot of practice for making the family style and our role in it permanent.”
None of that means it’s always – or even usually – enjoyable to play those roles. But they serve a purpose: the family unit’s purpose, if not necessarily your own.
Much as psychotherapists are drawn to family dynamics when it comes to explaining this sort of thing, however, more mundane psychological factors are surely also at play. We’ve learned lots in recent years about the emotional-eliciting qualities of different environments, and their role in the formation of memories. (There’s even been some interesting work on what, exactly, people are hoping to re-experience when they seek out a lost childhood home.) If you’re sleeping in the bedroom you slept in as a child, how could you avoid taking on some of the characteristics of the child who formerly slept there?
Meanwhile, there’s the particular aroma of the family home. Smell, as Marcel Proust knew and recent research confirms, can be a peculiarly powerful trigger for memories. In short: a trip back home will always be a psychological minefield.
Is there anything to be done? One of the more interesting suggestions borrows from the field of “embodied cognition”, which refers to the way our mental lives are lived through, and are influenced by, our bodies. (For example, clenching a fist has been found to enhance willpower; folding your arms aids perseverance.)
Read the entire article here.