I have a 48-hour serenity limit when I’m with my parents. After two days, it’s like an alarm sounds inside me and sends me right back to 1999. I’m a petulant teenager again with a bad attitude, and everything my mother says, no matter how innocuous, inspires the response, “Ugh, Mom, stop nagging me!”
This unstoppable regression, which has been going on since I left for college, felt worse once I became a parent myself. I am an extremely grown woman now, I thought. I am beyond this. But, like clockwork, by the third day of exposure to my mom and dad, I’d be back in the ’90s, scowling and blasting the Breeders in a borrowed Honda.
I am far from alone in this. Psychologists even have a term to describe the way we fall back into predictable, maddening behavior patterns when we’re with our family of origin. It’s called family systems theory — the notion that families have an equilibrium, and each person has a fixed role that “is in service of keeping the family system intact,” said Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences. So whatever your established role is — whether you’re the appeaser, or the family clown, or the petulant one — you’re going to be thrown right back there the second you walk through the door of your childhood home.
在这个问题上，我可不是孤例。心理学家甚至有一个术语来描述回到原生家庭时，我们身上出现的可预测的、令人抓狂的退化行为模式。这个术语叫做家庭系统理论，乔治·华盛顿大学(George Washington University)医学与健康科学学院的精神病学临床助理教授普贾·拉克什明(Pooja Lakshmin)博士说，家庭都有各自的平衡，每个人在“维持家庭系统完好的过程中”都扮演着固定的角色。所以，不管你的既定角色是什么——安抚者、小丑或是脾气暴躁的人——当踏进童年时代家庭大门的一刻，你就会重新回到那个角色之中。
Kira Birditt, Ph.D., a research associate professor at the University of Michigan who has studied tension between adult children and their parents, said that 94 percent of respondents in her study on the topic reported some kind of strife in their relationships. Research also shows that the connection between mothers and adult daughters is especially fraught; Dr. Birditt described it as “the closest and most irritating” of almost all relationships. (One of the most life-changing episodes of my early adulthood was noticing my own mother get sulky at something her mother said.)
密歇根大学(University of Michigan)的研究副教授基拉·伯迪特(Kira Birditt)博士一直在研究成年子女及父母之间的紧张关系，她表示，在她关于这一主题的研究中，94%的受访者声称他们的关系存在某种冲突。研究还表明，母亲和成年女儿之间的关系尤其紧张。伯迪特称这几乎是所有人际关系中“最亲密也最气人的”。（在我刚成年的时候发生的改变我人生的事之一，就是注意到自己的母亲会对她母亲所说的话生气。）
So, how do you get through the holidays with your folks without losing your damn mind? Here’s some sanity-preserving advice.
Prepare for your inevitable regression. It’s not a question of if the regression is going to happen, it’s when. Dr. Lakshmin advised that you do some mental work before visiting your family so that you can avoid triggering your worst behaviors. Ask yourself: Are there particular topics of conversation or physical places that tend to send your family into a tizzy? And then try to avoid those topics and places. Even changing scenery can help jog you out of old patterns, so if the family dinner table always devolves into chaos, try going out to eat one night and see if it improves relations.
Try to find empathy. The most typical negative mother-daughter interaction involves this dynamic: Adult daughters feel criticized by their mothers, and mothers feel their daughters are being too sensitive, said Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of “You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation.” How the grandchildren are being raised is a major trigger for this dynamic, Dr. Tannen said: “Many women told me that they could take criticism about anything except their mothering skills.”
试着找到同理心。乔治敦大学(Georgetown University)语言学教授、《你穿这个？用对话理解母女》(You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation)一书的作者黛博拉·坦南(Deborah Tannen)博士表示，最典型的负面母女互动总包含这样一种动态：成年女儿觉得受到了母亲的批评，而母亲又觉得女儿太过敏感。如何抚育孙辈是引发这一动态的主要因素，坦南博士说：“很多女性告诉我，除了育儿技能，她们基本什么批评都可以接受。”
Dr. Tannen’s advice for grandparents: Bite your tongue, because even the most benign (to you) suggestion may be perceived as criticism. Her advice for adult daughters is, “try to remind yourself that it feels like criticism, but it is an expression of caring.” Your mother just wants everything to go well for you, and she’s trying to help (even if it makes you want to scream into a pillow).
Make space for yourself. You will need an escape hatch from time to time. “Whether this means hiding out in the bathroom for 10 minutes to cool down, structuring the length of visits or springing for a hotel rather than staying in your parents’ guest room,” make sure you’re somehow creating a space where you can get some emotional distance from your family, said Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of “The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships.” I always make sure I can exercise in the morning when I’m with family — it gives me a break from them and also is a good conduit for ambient rage.
给自己留点空间。你有时会需要一个逃生出口。临床心理学家、《愤怒之舞：改变亲密关系模式的女性指南》(The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships)一书作者哈丽雅特·莱纳(Harriet Lerner)博士说，“不管这意味着要在浴室里躲10分钟冷静一下、安排好拜访的时间长短，还是花钱住旅馆而不是住在父母家的客房”，你都要确保自己能创造一个可以与家人产生一定情感距离的空间。当我和家人在一起时，总要确保自己能进行晨练——这让我从他们之中解脱出来，同时也是发泄对周遭环境愤怒的好渠道。
Don’t expect change. The last thing to remember is that there won’t be a magical solution to your family trauma over the holidays, Dr. Lakshmin said. December is a stressful time — mental health professionals say it’s particularly hard on their patients — and it’s not the time to bring up old baggage and expect to work through it.