Love your family but finding they bring out the Scrooge in you?

By Erin Del Toro, ACHE Licensed Clinical Hypnotherapist

The holidays bring celebrations, excitement, joy, good food, and sometimes…the ups and downs of family gatherings. Most family events are happy times, but many are also sprinkled with upsets big and small, and when they add up, they can take a toll on emotions. There is an actual cause to the anxiety, sadness or irritation that creeps in if you are one of the 3 in 5 Americans who reports feeling shifted off-kilter to one degree or another when they spend extra time with family around this season.

For some families, the negative spindown happens all in an instant, just like the movies – a dinner with hopeful expectations suddenly flips on its head into an explosive argument. For other families, the style is more quiet – gatherings become a brewing spot for passive aggressive behavior, hurt feelings, irritation, judgement and quiet resentments before the party has even begun. For many, it’s a combination. However your family deals with friction, it probably has its own unique style that affects you in a unique way.

Leo Tolstoy so keenly wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

For thousands of years, it’s been undeniable that there ARE family patterns. Alcoholism, abuse, unhealthy ways of fighting…we see these patterns in families generationally. Unless you grew up in a family with serious issues (and even if you unfortunately did), it’s likely you weren’t fully clued in to the reality of the issues you and your family may have been genetically and environmentally predetermined toward.

It’s easier to see patterns more clearly as we observe other people’s families. We may notice unhealthy cycles as you get to know families of friends, significant others, neighbors, etc. Its easier to pick up on what needs to be improved in their environments readily because we come from different environments and aren’t involved. An example of this is getting a strong whiff of someone who has just come from camping…they smell pungently of campfire smoke, but they don’t really smell it on themselves.

When it comes to our family cycles, we have a hard time smelling ourselves, so to speak. Not only have we been so entrenched in them that the patterns become very challenging to distinguish from our true identities, we also generally don’t understand the roles we subconsciously upkeep to keep the family pattern in play.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, once we leave our family homes, we often start work with experiences that help us to separate from family dynamics. As we become more aware of different types of communication styles, belief systems and states of being, our brains evolve with new neural pathways, becoming more dominant the more that we use them. Building new pathways does not erase old ones, so the old remain, though they may be more dormant than they were before.

Here’s where we feel the rub: Even though we’ve developed in new ways, as we spend more time than usual with our families, those old neural pathways light up again as our defenses wear down, swinging us closer to the emotions, habits and vulnerabilities we experienced when we were younger. We may think that we have put our family complications behind us, but without our families in close contact, we don’t generally take the opportunity to practice training our emotions on what to do when the triggers start popping.

There is a way to shrink those pathways, and when you do the work, the old neural pathways which direct your feelings and emotions to go negative with certain situations or people can be lessened and then redirected to new positive neural pathways instead.

So what does the path to a less-reactive mind look like? Here’s a quick bullet-point guide:

  1. Identify the family issues that hold you back. This is tricky because you are likely participating in them unknowingly, or differently than you think you are, but with determination and the right therapy work, whether with a professional or self-guided, the problems will start to unfold and become more clear.
  2. Begin healing work on those subjects, reframing them with your more mature understandings, shrinking the old negative neural pathways.
  3. With the new understandings as a foundation, focus on forming positive, new ways of thinking, which begins the formation of new neural pathways.
  4. Practice. Train your brain to switch to these new ways of thinking whenever you come across a new trigger, which strengthens the new neural pathways and the “transfer” of where feelings, and emotions should go when a trigger hits. Make a plan of action about how you will feel and think and react and make a commitment to put effort into making the switch.

If you want to fully take back your power and disconnect from negative family cycles, this process can be daunting to tackle on your own, but there is help available. There are some fast ways to solve the predicaments of old neural pathways and some slow ones.

  • Clinical hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy allows you to quickly access those old pathways by using your subconscious to point you to the root of the problem associated with your unwanted feelings and emotions and resolve them while in a deep state of consciousness, allowing faster change for the pathways. New positive pathways are then restructured, reinforced and the person in therapy is able to “practice” using their newly developed positive pathways, even while being triggered. A behavioral therapist can work with you and your hypnotherapist to help process and talk through the work done in hypnotherapy, a combination which is even more effective.
  • Experimental psychedelic and MDMA drugs are being studied successfully by scientists at prominent universities across the country. Like hypnotherapy, these drugs allow quick access to the root of the negative pathway issues. When combined with the help of a professional therapist, deep levels of consciousness afford a rapid change of pathways, resulting in a similar result as hypnosis, but the drugs may further deepen what hypnotherapy can do physiologically. You can get connected with these studies by checking them out online, but they are challenging to get in to.
  • Behavioral therapists will help you sort out what needs to be corrected and they help to reframe and rebuild pathways, but because those conversations happen in your conscious waking state, you are not as open to your subconscious feelings and it might take a little time to get to the meat of the problem. Behavioral therapists often work with EMDR, which is an effective way to shrink those neural pathways quickly once they have been identified.
  • You can also meditate and focus on your own. This may be a long path, but it is better to slowly improve than to not improve at all. Dedication will make all the difference.

However you choose to tackle it, you’ll feel more balanced, more peace, more happiness and more joy with yourself and everyone else once the work has been done.

If you are looking to learn more about hypnotherapy or would like to make an appointment, visit, call or text Erin at 435-429-2560 or email

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