Thanksgiving Skills

It’s Thanksgiving and if your gathering is like mine, family members are applying their Thanksgiving skills to our holiday in a delightful way.  What is a Thanksgiving skill, you ask? Well, I have an emerging theory that those individuals who do not regularly actually host the dinner, do well to develop a Thanksgiving skill: one thing they can make with confidence that contributes to the traditional meal. In my family, my husband makes the pies, my stepfather makes the whipping cream and some kind of traditional Southern greens, my brother-in-law makes the gravy. If you do not already have a Thanksgiving skill, I suggest you choose wisely. You will have this job every year for the rest of your life.

If everyone plays their part appropriately, what develops is a smooth, well-functioning, and meaningful family celebration machine, right? But why is it that so many of our family celebrations are neither smooth, well-functioning, nor meaningful? Perhaps its because most of us have developed an additional Thanksgiving skill; sliding right back into our emotional automatic pilot. Whatever growth and maturity has come to us in our adult years, however we’ve learned new ways to relate in our years of psychotherapy, most of us regress to our silliest, most rebellious inner teenager when family holidays come. It is a type of turkey-induced trance and it is most difficult to WAKE UP out of it when we are with our family.

Skills can be functional and helpful, but they can also be defensive and protective. When we “go home” we tend to guard up against old hurts that may or may not need protecting any more. But intentional effort to stay out of the trance is usually required to do anything but revert to our lifelong Thanksgiving skills.

In my years of working with college students, and now as a therapist, I often ask, “When you are with your family, what of the new things in your life do your want your family to see?” Then we make a plan about how to show those things. It’s a way to be intentional about STAYING AWAKE and avoiding the trance of the inner teenager.

So, when you’re mashing those potatoes, will your family get to see your new, growing, adult self this holiday season? How are you trying to stay awake this Thanksgiving?

One comment


  • TTH

    Hmm… wish I’d read this before the weekend… ah well. At least Christmas is just around the corner to apply what you wrote about, Janice!

    November 25, 2012

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