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Pastiche Family Portal HomeWho's Going Home For The Holidays? Is it YOU . . . OR YOUR INNER BRAT?

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.

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

Copyright Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. 2003. All rights reserved - reprinted with permission of the author

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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.

About the Author

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

© 2003 Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.


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