WHO'S GOING HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS? IS IT YOU . . . OR YOUR
INNER BRAT?

By Pauline Wallin, Ph.D Author of "Taming Your Inner Brat: A
Guide for Transforming Self-defeating Behavior"

Word count: 890

Copyright Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. 2003. All rights reserved

When you go home for the holidays this year, leave your
inner brat behind. The inner brat -- that part of your
personality that's still a two-year-old -- is responsible
for much of the conflict that we see at family gatherings,
especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's your inner
brat that makes a big deal out of simple (but annoying)
questions that your mother asks over and over. It's your
inner brat that feels so wounded because your sister
neglected to thank you for the pictures you sent her. It's
your inner brat that urges you to have 3 desserts when you
don't even have room for one.

No matter how old you are, or how professional and
sophisticated you may appear to others, when you go home you
often regress into a petulant or oppositional child. You may
never behave this way except when you are with family.

This is because situational cues (i.e., the presence of the
people you grew up with) evoke certain feelings and
responses from you. These responses originated in your
childhood, and were repeated over the years. Now, when you
walk through the door to your family's home, these same
responses are triggered again.

Situational cues have even more of a hold on you when the
family home that you now visit was the one you grew up in.
Not only do you react to the words and behaviors of the
people, but you also react to the surroundings: familiar
smells, the creak on the steps, the food in the cupboards,
etc. When you encounter these familiar cues, you react in
old familiar ways -- some of which may be quite immature. In
other words, these cues can trigger your inner brat.

Everyone has an inner brat, left over from early childhood.
It's the part of us that feels entitled to have what it
wants when it wants it (just like an infant does.) It also
has very little tolerance for frustration, and when things
go wrong it blames the situation or other people. Since the
inner brat is the immature part of ourselves that is
associated with early childhood, and since current family
encounters evoke childhood memories and behaviors, then it
follows that current family encounters will also trigger our
inner brat.

Old sibling rivalries, unresolved feelings of anger or
resentment toward parents, and buried insecurities are all
closer to the surface when you're back in the family home.
Thus, you're not only reacting to family members in the
present, but you're also reacting to past tensions. And your
inner brat makes things worse.

You'll know that your inner brat has taken over when you
start getting angry at the slightest provocation, or when
you complain about things not being fair. You'll also
recognize its presence when you eat, drink or smoke more
than you you know is good for you.

For example, when your mother asks, "Why haven't you called
your grandmother?" your inner brat might snap back, "Why are
you always picking on me?! Why don't you ever ask my brother
why he doesn't call Grandma?" Or, when you've resolved to
control your drinking over the holidays, you end up downing
a quart of spiked egg nog, with your inner brat in the
background rationalizing that it's OK because the alcohol is
diluted.

If you want to stay calm and have more fun with your family
this holiday season, keep your inner brat under control.
Here are some tips:

1. Check your expectations: If you begin grumbling to
yourself about various family members weeks before the
get-together, you're giving your inner brat a head start. By
the time the event actually happens, you will be full of old
resentments and anxieties. On the other hand, if you tell
yourself that you are voluntarily attending this event, and
that it may not be perfect but at least it's time-limited,
you will be more relaxed.

2. Prior to visiting your family, practice some simple
relaxation skills such as slow, deep breathing or pleasant
visualization. If you find yourself getting tense at the
event, take a short time-out to relax and get yourself
centered again.

3. When family members act idiotic, mean or critical toward
you, remind yourself that such behavior reveals more about
them than about you. The very behavior that irks you is
probably coming from their inner brats.

4. Mentally detach yourself from conflict. Imagine that this
is a movie of your family and that you are watching it on a
big screen. This will keep your inner brat out of the
conflict.

5. Use humorous exaggeration. For example, say to yourself,
"This moment is the absolute worst thing that ever happened
to anybody." By noting the absurdity of your statement,
you'll see things in a more realistic perspective.

6. Don't give into your inner brat's demands for more food
or alcohol. Just because it wants it doesn't mean it MUST
have it. Remember, you're in charge, not your inner brat.

© 2003 Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.

Author's Bio: 

Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Camp Hill, PA. She is author of Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide to Transforming Self-defeating Behavior, (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Visit http://www.innerbrat.com for more information, and subscribe to her free, monthly Inner Brat Newsletter.