Dealing with the Splash of Relatives

Dealing with the Splash of Relatives


Holidays can be an enjoyable time but stressful too.

In therapy, holiday time– both before and after– often brings up discussions related to family dynamics.

Sometimes, a client will share about a parent who is highly-regarded in the community for their generosity, wisdom etc, and the children are often told how they have such an amazing person as a parent. But at home, behind closed doors, the parent was very difficult, had some very hurtful character flaws, or the child felt like the parent didn’t provide for their needs appropriately. The client struggles with reconciling who the parent is to the community versus what it is and was like to be this person’s child and live with them.

Here is an analogy that I often use that clients have found helpful:

Imagine you go to SeaWorld (or any dolphin show) and that you’re sitting in the top row. You have the full 360 degree view. You can marvel at the height of the dolphins’ flips and jumps and you can appreciate the splash as well. But there’s distance. For those sitting in the first few rows, they too, can see the action, but being in the front means they have a different perspective. A key difference is that they get splashed on because of their proximity.

People with whom we are intimately connected- parents, relatives, close colleagues- are people whose “splash” we experience from a close distance. For the parent who is seen in one way by the community and in another way at home, both perspectives are real. But the people in the community don’t get splashed on the way those closest to the person do.

I have never met someone– in therapy or not– who does not have family dynamics that can be challenging. But when it takes up so many space in your life and body (we totally carry stress in our bodies!), it’s hard for us to find enjoyment in the positive things in our lives. While we can’t change a family member, we can work on preparing ourselves for the “splash”, how we react, how we respond, and we process the experience altogether.