Wholeness Healing Today

Be Aware of Triggers During the Holidays

It is that time of year when gatherings are happening that bring us back in contact with people we might not see all year. Often it is time for family-of-origin gatherings where we come together with our parents, siblings, and extended family.  These gatherings may even be in our old home place where history, routine and memories abound the minute we walk in. People may have their claimed bedrooms and claimed seat at the table.  We might also find that it doesn’t take much when we step into the old home environment, laced with the interactive family dynamics of our extended family, to move us into old patterns. Maybe these are even patterns we have worked hard to say good-bye to and we don’t need to have them resurface during stressful holiday times.

It is good to be prepared and realize that we can be triggered by our external environment. Being triggered means that we find intense feelings surfacing when we aren’t expecting it. As we walk into the old home place for the holiday meal, we might be greeted with the aroma of the food cooking or the smell of the Christmas tree.  Without even realizing it, we can be triggered back to another time. Smells (as do sounds) spark emotional memories as the olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system which is the emotional center of the brain.  So before hardly enter the gathering, we could be triggered emotionally without even realizing what is going on.  If holidays in our past were hard, then the smells may set that up immediately.

Other triggers may be the interactions with your extended family that put you back into your old family dynamics that you worked so hard to play out in another way. Sitting at the table you may find your role being replayed as it used to be when you were a child. External triggers are people, places or things.  So there can be many external things that can bring up emotional feelings in you when you least expect it.

We can also be triggered internally. Internal triggers would be the feelings that trigger you.  Do you get emotional when you experience someone not listening to you or acknowledging you?  Perhaps feeling invisible would then be your trigger. Rejection and abandonment may be old themes that trigger you. Identify what feelings can really feel overwhelming and hard to manage when they come up during these situations. These would be your internal triggers.

So the first step in this process is to be aware that you may be triggered.  If you find yourself feeling powerless, overwhelmed or upset beyond the scope of the situation, you have probably been triggered.  Often times I suggest that that you ask yourself, “How old do I feel right now?”  Have you been teleported back to a young age when this was an issue?  If so, step back into your adult self.  Reassure your young self that you have it handled, that all is safe and manageable.  Realize that you have been triggered.

Observe the dynamics which allow you to move back from it. Describe it in your mind.  Identify the feeling.  Validate it.  Accept it.  Be non-judging.  Don’t label it or critique it.  Sit with it.  It is just a feeling.  Let it come.  Let it go. Take the moment to do some breathing and pause as you do this. This is an opportunity to slay the dragon from the past by taking the power back and staying in the present.  Keep your peace.  Realize right away when you are giving your peace and your power away if you respond to the overwhelming feelings coming up.  It will be very rewarding and very empowering to stay in your peace. Realizing you have been triggered will obviously give you “one-up” in this process.  Having a plan for managing the feelings will help you succeed in a way that keeps your relationships intact and you leave feeling good about managing the day and your relationships. You will survive the holidays just fine and what’s more, you will heal a piece from the past as you find some peace in the now.





  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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