11/22/2016 08:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mindful Holidays

If you think you're enlightened go spend a week with your family! ~ Ram Dass

Although Americans enjoy more privileges and freedoms than people in many other countries, growing up in such a highly competitive society where children are constantly pushed to get good grades and "achieve" various goals on daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly bases, whoever pushed us - usually our family members - wounded us by subconsciously informing us that whatever we did was "not good enough." Even positive statements like "You'll do better next time" we may have heard as telling us that we were failing or failures in some way. All of that (totally unintentional) wounding from our childhoods adds up to adult low self-worth, low self-esteem, feeling unlovable or only conditionally lovable - because we "do" certain things or look a certain way or have attained certain goals or a certain status.

Ram Dass' famous quote is particularly poignant during the holiday season because that is when our childhood or core wounds often get reopened. If I get emergency phone calls from patients over Thanksgiving or Christmas I often tell them that "That fight you're having with your mother/father/sister/brother isn't about what you think it's about" and then we discuss things that happened in childhood - abandonments, betrayals, violations, humiliations, frustrations, not feeling heard, being sick of told what to do and who to be, etc. - and figure out what is really going on.

Mindfulness is by far the greatest tool for these situations because it TEACHS US TO CULTIVATE NON-REACTIVITY. NOT-reacting to a dynamic that was established 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years ago is definitely the best way to change it.

And then you can make healthier, more compassionate long terms decisions that bode favorably for peace and harmony .

I like to give patients phrases such as, "Wow... isn't that interesting! All of my mommy/abandonment/trust (whatever the core issue is) buttons are being pushed right now! I thought I had gotten over that a long time ago! So interesting!" And then they can decide to take a walk or doing something healthy instead of exacerbating the situation.

In particular, I LOVE all observing thoughts meditations. Most of our thoughts are redundant and negative and unwittingly maladaptive - most of our reactions do not help us get our emotional and psychological needs met. Let's take sarcasm as an example. Sarcasm, to me, has the intention of drawing someone closer for a laugh, for something witty; but subconsciously it pushes people away because they become wary of eventually becoming the brunt of the sarcasm.

To prepare for the holidays I suggest going onto youtube and doing a few minutes of observing your thoughts meditations every day. Think of it as exercising a muscle, going to a gym for your mind.

Once you can sit and observe how your mind operates, then when you are in situations that normally trigger you, you can make healthy choices - like choosing just to observe the triggers and being proud for not reacting.

I'll give an example: let's say your mother or father forgets something for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and asks you to drive them to the store. Everything is going well until you have to park and your parent starts looking around nervously, then telling you "More to the left, no now to the right - I said more left... no, more to the right." They're trying to help you parallel park but the wounded child in you might hear "I can never do anything right." So mindfulness helps you be present, be in the present moment, and not listen to those negative voices that stem for your childhood.

Happy mindful holidays!