Nurturing Your Family Dynamics

What do you think of when you hear “Family Dynamics“? Let’s think beyond the obvious and clichéd conversations of what makes a family, and things to do or not do in order to lead a happy family life. These concepts miss the true nature of why exploring and nurturing your family dynamics is viable, healing, and necessary for healthy family structure. 


Something to remember, a healthy family does not necessarily mean being happy and fun-loving all the time. If we’re honest, the dynamic of family can be difficult, confusing, painful and down right hard work at times. This complexity is why we encourage a deep dive into your family’s dynamics, and how they shaped the person you are. 


For some, the benefit of developing your understanding of family dynamics might not be something you prioritize. Sometimes we disconnect, leave, or find other ways to separate from who and what we consider to be “the problem.” But what happens when you fall in love, get married, or commit to a spouse/partner? What about having children, becoming a parent? And there’s also extended family… 


Family, and navigating the dynamics of those relationships is important, and isn’t something we can just leave or walk away from. The connection of family may be a priority for reasons ranging from medical and health concerns, the need of resources, to love and support. Instead of avoiding, or changing what you have, adopting an approach of nurturing your family dynamics may be a better solution.


Family plays a significant role in connecting our dots and learning ways to support these relationships can lead to balance and happiness in our individual choices. The objective is not to change others but to learn how to be healthier in how we decide to engage. Imagine existing in “what is.” Making choices that work, and experiencing positive movement from the reality of “what is”, versus operating from places of “what was”, or “what should/shouldn’t.” Getting in touch with our family dynamics can create this kind of movement, end the perpetuation of negative, unhealthy patterns and enlighten us to how we experience wellness in the family.  


The way we develop family is rooted in culture and tradition. It’s our first introduction to socialization, the beginning of the process of developing our worldview, and structuring our psychological development. So, even if we disconnect or separate from “the problem,” the imprint of family is always there. Although some days of working through the details of family dynamics may be difficult and hard work, it’s worth it! Remember the cliché: anything worth having is worth working for. Working for a better version of self is always worth it.  


Who doesn’t want to experience having better expression, being a better role model, having better conversations, better experiences, outcomes, and best of all, actually experiencing wellness within the family. Healthy attention in this area leads to things being better on so many levels, but best of all, it leads to a better you!


Tonia’s Tip:

Remember, when exploring psycho-social topics through educational workshops, you’ll want to ask yourself some questions to evaluate whether or not the information offered will give you the depth and insight you may be looking for.


Does this information address the actual problem(s)/concern(s) I experience?

Are the recommendations thoroughly explained?

Is the information realistic and applicable to my life?

Do the solutions offered come from evidenced based research or credible sources?


Join Us for Family Dynamics – Thursdays starting February 23rd


We’ll be taking the time to understand your family dynamics, and how they unlock the code to understanding yourself at a deeper level; allowing you to build upon the good behaviors and dismantle those that no longer (or never did) serve you.

This unique group series provides the opportunity to learn from all of our licensed therapists.

Save 10% by signing up for all 6 sessions!




From Dr. Frock’s Desk: Surviving the Holidays

In our new series, From Dr. Frock’s Desk, we sit down with Dr. Frock to gain a psychiatrist’s perspective, anecdotes, and tools on a variety of topics. This month, we are talking about surviving the holidays: how to navigate the stress that the holidays can bring.


What kind of things seem to cause stress around the holidays?

To start, traveling is hard. If you’re part of a big family, you might find yourself spending a lot of time in a confined space with people you don’t have the best relationships with. The obligation to attend large family reunions or gatherings with people you don’t stay in close contact with, and whose values may differ from yours, can bring a lot of dynamics into play and bring up emotional triggers for everyone involved.

In addition, the holidays are a time that most of us associate with family, so it becomes hard not to think about those who aren’t with us anymore. This can raise a lot of grieving emotions on top of what has already been mentioned. 


Over the holidays, it seems that feelings can be magnified for those who are having a hard time.

Absolutely. Think about the habits that make up your baseline that are being disrupted; from traveling, to changes in your sleep patterns, to eating and drinking differently, to not exercising as much as usual. 

In addition to the grief aspect I’ve already mentioned, I also find that folks tend to get a lot of anticipatory anxiety as the holidays approach. We can’t help but think about disagreements that emerged in the past and the likelihood they could happen again. 


Do you have some tips to help cope with all of that during the holidays?

Setting clear boundaries for family gatherings can be a great way to minimize conflict and emotional triggers. Like no politics, religion or money, and being clear about conversations or activities you’re not willing to engage in. We can also set boundaries for ourselves – consciously remembering that we can choose what to get upset about. You know Uncle John is going to say some crazy stuff, but you can choose whether you want to light that fire with him or not.

Also find ways to anchor yourself by taking care of your baseline self-care. If you’re a runner, bring some cold gear with you and make that run happen. 


Can you tell us about S.A.D., what it stands for, what to look out for, and any strategies to help cope with it?

S.A.D. stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. “Seasonal” is what it sounds like. “Affective” is just a more academic way of speaking about someone’s mood. And then “disorder” implies that it’s a diagnosable condition. 

We go from summer where the light is bright, we’re outside doing active things, to fall where it starts getting cold out, the sun is setting earlier, and you’re getting legitimately less sunlight in the fall and winter months. So it starts in September and builds for a few months, and can become something like an actual condition with symptoms including: like feeling less motivated, changes in appetite (often eating more), being less active and feeling sluggish, and not enjoying things that we used to. 

Nashville is very unique in that it’s the furthest east major metropolitan area in the Central Time zone, so we can really be affected by S.A.D. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that we should be in the Eastern Time zone. In the winter, the sun starts setting before 4pm, which leaves most office workers not getting enough sunlight and it can cause a vitamin D deficiency. This is actually much more significant in Nashville than in other places I’ve worked.

Fortunately, it’s very treatable. There are some medication options, folks can also find some benefit with Vitamin D supplementation, and using a light box from mid-September through February can be helpful for many people. Using the light box can trick out brains into thinking we are actually getting more sunlight than there is outside.  


Key takeaways for surviving the holidays with minimal stress:

  • Try to keep to your routine as much as possible. 
  • Set clear boundaries with yourself and others.
  • Get outside in the sun as much as possible.
  • Know that you’re not the only one struggling.
  • Give yourself some grace.

Building Better Boundaries

A good way to look at boundaries is that boundaries are the space between where you end and another person begins. Setting boundaries can protect you from toxic relationships and stress, while serving as a roadmap for those in your life to understand how you need to be treated – minimizing unnecessary friction in relationships. If left unchecked, a lack of boundaries can lead to tension, misunderstanding, and resentment.

So how do you know if you have a boundary issue? If any of these statements ring true, you could likely benefit from some work on your boundaries:

  • You fall hard and fast for new romantic partners (or friends) – before you’ve really gotten to know them.
  • You feel the need to explain yourself or get defensive – even when you don’t believe you’re at fault.
  • Just like Taylor Swift, you swear you don’t love the drama, but it loves you.
  • You often feel the need to “save” people. (You might refer to it as “helping”.)
  • You often feel taken advantage of, or underappreciated.
  • You seek validation or approval from others, and feel hurt if it isn’t readily given.

Healthy boundaries usually go hand-in-hand with a good sense of self-worth. If you know who you are and what you want, it’s easier to explain it to others. You’ll also be much more comfortable enforcing your boundaries, if you aren’t looking for validation from others.


Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.

Brené Brown


So what does that mean for you, if you have lower self esteem? The great news is, that while the act of setting and communicating your boundaries might make you feel uncomfortable, or guilty at first, with practice, enforcing your boundaries will help build your self-esteem and self-identity. And the stronger your identity, the less likely you’ll be to sacrifice yourself in order to enable others or make them comfortable.


How to begin to set boundaries:

  • Identify your limits, and name them. Journaling is great for this!
  • Pay attention to when you feel hurt or resentment. Chances are a boundary has been crossed.
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly. You’re not required to explain yourself, but when setting new boundaries in an existing relationship, it can be helpful to the other person if you explain your feelings.
  • Give yourself permission to say no, and don’t feel the need to explain it, or make up an excuse.
  • Remove yourself from situations when triggered.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness (this might involve checking in on your inner child – if you need a refresher, check out our blog on re-parenting here)
  • Allow others to be responsible for their own happiness.

Learning to set boundaries is an empowering act of self-care – protecting your time, energy and emotional wellbeing. The tricky thing with boundaries is to remember that they are a two-way street. This means, if you draw a line in the sand that others aren’t allowed to step over, that means it’s best if you don’t step over it either.

You might be good at communicating your needs, and saying “no”. But if you know you have a bit of a people-pleasing streak, be careful not to end up doing the very thing to which you initially said ‘no.’ . This can create gray areas where neither you nor the other person are 100% clear on who is responsible for what. Not only do you begin to lose your sense of identity, but you’re signaling that your boundaries are fluid, which opens up the door for others to disrespect them down the line.

But aren’t relationships about compromise, you ask? Well, yes, when the compromise involves give and take. If you have had a healthy conversation with a loved one about both of your boundaries, and you have both identified places where you’re willing to make sacrifices because you want to, then you can adjust your boundaries. Just make sure you’re adjusting for the right reasons. Fearing that your partner might leave you, or being guilted into something you’re uncomfortable with are red flags.

If someone reacts negatively to you communicating your boundaries, it’s either that they benefited from you not having any before and the relationship was more one-sided than you would have liked to admit, or maybe they just need time to adjust to the new relationship dynamic and the role that they play. We often forget that when we work on ourselves it can feel threatening to those we are close to. Our growth could be shining a light on the areas where they feel stuck, which could make them feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you need to adjust your boundaries – it just means that others aren’t always able to meet you where you are – they might have to do some growth of their own first.