Psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls it the “missing zygote theory”—the idea that you were born into the wrong household. The stork was supposed to drop you off to the family down the street: those cool, enlightened, or highly harmonious people that you can, like, totally relate to. But in a twist of karma, you got plunked with some lovely (but cuh-razy-in-their-own way) strangers.

So here you are, a full-fledged grown up, feeling like a child at your family function. How can this be?! You have your VERY OWN LIFE. You’re someone’s boss. You dress yourself. Your friends think you’re wise and hilarious and together. But no one can pull your emotional triggers or wipe out years of good therapy like yer kinfolk can.

My fellow grown up, let’s get you centered in your truth and prepped for gatherings… so you don’t end up in the bathroom drunk-dialing your therapist, or your highschool sweetheart (who’s now married with 3 kids).

You have the inner resources. Acceptance! Self respect! Compassion! And so much LOVE! Here are some ideas for staying sane (and ideally: being your most loving self) even if you want to get the hell out of there.

“What would Love do?”

Love isn’t in denial. And Love isn’t blind. She isn’t a pushover. When you Love yourself first, you can balance the scales. When you make Love the first priority, you’re taking your place in true power.

Love knows what harmony feels like, and doesn’t care so much what it looks like on the outside, or to others.

Love is centered and inclusive, AND she has boundaries. He is gentle and strong. Love may make demands. Love may melt into an apology, love may weep with humility and grace. Love may walk away.

Love knows what’s best for every situation.
Love transcends tradition and history.
Love innovates.
Love is always accessible.

Set up a therapy or coaching appointment one to two weeks before your family visit.

This way your shrink can remind you that you’re sane and everyone else is totally fucking nuts (because that’s what you pay them for). But really…

Things to cover with your mental health cheerleader(s)… 

Ask for validation of your worth and your strengths. This is a primal and profound request. And you’re going to carry those positive affirmations with you like smelling salts in case you get clouded with criticism or self-doubt. It can go like this: So, tell me why I’m an incredible high-functioning person who’s up to good stuff in the world? Or… Remind me again why my opinion matters? Or… Can you sum up for me how far I’ve come? 

Ask for a reminder of your sensitive spots. It’s wise to name the wounds so you know where to protect yourself. Of course you already know your sensitive spots—you’ve been working to heal them for a long time. But this is like a pep-talk-reality-check to review your mental health basics. You are sensitive to not feeling heard. You get activated when your parent tells you how to parent. You want to be attuned to… 

Ask your sanity professional to help you MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF OTHERS. This may be the most important request of all. Just because you’ve spent thousands of dollars on workshops and mysticism and have evolved into a Buddhist-sympathetic Light Worker activist environmentalist, doesn’t mean that your clan will appreciate how illuminated and superior you are to them. Some people change. Some people really… don’t. So do this: Apply your enlightenment to simply being more… loving. Nothing fancy. Just give everyone a break. You don’t need them to recognize your radiance. It would be wonderful if they did, and it may hurt that they don’t. But your hard-earned light is inextinguishable. You know it: you ARE LOVE. This is where you put your truth to the test.

Text the besties.
Warn/agree with your best friends that you’ll be texting for sanity check-ins and to diffuse the crazy-making with memes of hope and despair. Hiding in the guestroom texting about the bizarre stuff your uncle said can be great medicine. Your friend can remind you that you’re sexy and competent and you can get back in there to serve up dessert.

Post-family-function therapy may be in order.
Preempt any meltdowns and schedule an appointment for a few days after you get home. Sooner is better so emotions don’t calcify. And while you’re feeling all triggered over turkey dinner, knowing you have a therapy or coaching session coming up might help you keep your cool during political discussions, or help you manage feelings of utter annihilation and invisibility. Help is on the way.

Easy on the sugar.
Going into an emotionally-charged situation jacked up on refined sugar and bloated on gluten… just don’t. Eat clean in advance, because God knows you’ll be dive-bombing for the brownies the first time you feel your abandonment issues flare up.

Just… breathe.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) helps balance the right and left energy channels or the masculine and the feminine channels/nadis. With that balance comes harmony, equanimity, and alignment of the Higher and lower aspects of Self. This works great for family get-togethers, best done while hiding in the bathroom. (And it’s way better than sneaking out for a smoke.)

What reminds you of… YOU? For me, it’s always music. Make a playlist to remind you that you’re a really fucking cool human being.

Power phrases: come up with 3 simple statements you can say to yourself.
I matter. I attract and receive love. My life is full of beauty. I am safe and loved. I am guided by Life in all I say and do… 

Keep a love note in your wallet. Put a bunch of #truthbombs on your phone. If you’re travelling without your significant other, sleep with their underwear tightly gripped in your hand and think of how they’re the only person who really gets your sense of humour.

For calming the mind and boosting immunity (all that familial stress can take a toll on your nervous system), try the Gayatri Mantra, from Deva Premal.

Say Thank You.
Send thank you messages for whatever you can genuinely be thankful for—and there is always so much to appreciate. Even if you fought in the kitchen. Even if your shit got all activated. You are a loving creature and we’re all hungry for the same thing: to know we are loved. Let it flow.

A Light Practice.
We want to let the good love in, but keep the negative stuff out. So simple: picture a great Light above your head shining down on you, or visualize yourself in an egg of light, or just ask your angels to keep you safely held and nourished.

So you survived! Sweet release…
After a few intense hours together, you’ll likely have lots of fodder for a few Why can’t they just be BETTER? rants. Here’s an idea that may help you let that shtuff go.

Your family members are going to be who they are most of the time. In character, not out of character. Yes, we all change and evolve. Breakthroughs happen. But… people are—for better or for worse—generally predictable. An old gentleman friend used to say to me, “Well, what do you expect from a pig, but a grunt?” Oink. Point taken.

It’s useful to analyze the stuff of people’s character. Judgment is inevitable, it’s part of conscious discernment—but sometimes, it makes us an overly judgmental jerk.

There’s so much sanity to just letting yourself flow with someone else’s predictability—their norm, their nature. Accept it. Forgive it. Just tolerate it; or peace out if you don’t want it in your life. But don’t waste too much time wishing you could change it. You know, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” Tall order. You can do it. Focus on your own gorgeous heart and neurotic ways—God knows your family gave you a lifetime of love and insanity to work with. Hommmme. Ommmm.

With Love,