Coming to grips with Bowen Family Systems Theory in a collaborative learning environment.

Holiday preparation: “Remember to stay in your own skin.”

Blog post by Jenny Brown.

Christmas for Christians is a time of peace, exemplified by God’s grace shown through the gift of Jesus. For many who are of different faiths or without a faith, it is a time to share the fruits of the Christmas tradition (and coinciding festivals such as Hanukah), of relationships, family gatherings, gift giving and holiday feasting.

Alongside the good in all these things is inevitable varying degrees of  stress from relationship tensions, financial burdens and sensitivities about gifts and exhaustion from those who take on an uneven share of the work of preparation.

As I’ve paused to reflect on managing myself wisely during this potentially stressful terrain I think of the useful expression: “Remember to stay in your own skin” (a way of describing differentiation of self).

For me this means:

  • Not over stepping other’s boundaries with too much intensity
  • Not trying hard to create happy togetherness on behalf of those I’m sensitive to
  • Not taking personally other people’s reactions. Accepting that they are dealing with their own sensitivities and my effort is to be calmly present amongst others.—without withdrawing.
  • Not overdoing any tasks that can be either left or shared around.


In order to bring my best and stay within my own parameters during the Christmas season I need to take care to contain my own stress levels… including positive, excitable, happy stress! As my family have arrived to fill our home and extended family are negotiating who brings what, and when and where to meet, I’m making sure I take good walks, breathe well and prepare myself for reasonable sleep each night.

Recently a client spoke about his progress in his marriage as his increased capacity to not take his wife’s responses to him personally. He said:

“My reactions are still there but they’re not as strong. I have more of a sense of self so I’m less beaten down by our arguments. I don’t have to take on board the upsets…they are just upsets and not to be taken personally.”


This reflection expresses the effort to stay within one’s own skin and reduce the effect of anxious fusion in blurring our sense of what is ours and what belongs to the other.

Perhaps this holiday season it is an opportunity to see other family members intensity (anger, sulking, distancing, intruding) as predicable expressions of anxiety—not something that needs to impinge on how each of us manages ourselves. Even small steps towards this can change the climate of holiday gatherings for us and enable us to contribute a calmer presence to the group.

As final reflections for this holiday blog, two psychologists from our core programs at the family Systems Institute have written their useful reminders for self in their holiday interactions:

Vinity Gill’s reminder to self of her “work out” these holidays:

“To function autonomously in a relationship I will sit with the anxiety of being sensitive to approval and rejection.”


Charlie Ellis reminds herself at this compassion fatigue end of year to:

“Top oneself up so that one can be generous to others.”


Heather Bray reflects on a Christmas carol and holiday cocktail that provides her with a recipe to have and to practice:

“ Preparing myself as a well-chilled container, fully present. A good strong shot of self-reflection followed by another of self-regulation, all infused with pure observation (my contribution)..then gently stirred (inevitable) defiantly not shaken if possible! Enjoyed with acceptance and mirth.”


Wishing all friends of the FSI a peaceful, merry and growth enhancing holiday season!




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