“Remaining an Empowered Woman when heading home for the Holidays” with Jennifer Ianniello
Just For Women
Alissa Kriteman

Episode 33 - “Remaining an Empowered Woman when heading home for the Holidays” with Jennifer Ianniello

In this enlightening interview with Jennifer Ianniello Somatic Coach, we learn how to be empowered as we head home for the holidays. She gives us great insight as to why we regress to being children a few days into our visits. A very refreshing and timely conversation designed to support us in making choices that give us strength and stability in remaining adults as we return to family dynamics.

Some of the key concepts we cover are:

  1. Ways to be and stay empowered
  2. What is trauma and how to deal with wounding
  3. How to communicate feelings and set boundaries

For anyone getting stressed about going home for the holidays, this interview is FOR YOU! Here’s to your empowerment!



Alissa Kriteman:           Welcome to “Just For Women:  Dating, Relationships and Sex.”  I’m your host, Alissa Kriteman.  This show is designed to empower women with insight and information that will awaken, educate, and inspire the kick-ass woman within.

Jennifer Ianniello:          We have this family system that’s designed, and, of course, it’s an imperfect design - to meet these needs that we all have.  So, here are these four or five beings, or however many, with these needs that are never all going to get met. But, there are these rules and demands we put on each other.

Are you just spinning out because that’s your dynamic or are you back in kind of regressed material?  First thing is just being able to acknowledge it because then once you, once you can have a sort of, an observer-self about what’s happening - not all of you is eaten up by this spin-out.

Everybody’s needs are going to get dropped at some point in a family and the wounds that we carry away from that we, you know, it’s a, it’s a heartache.  It’s a heartbreak that we carry through for the rest of our lives.  And, when we go back, it’s like we’re re-visiting the very site of that initial wound.

Alissa Kriteman:           Welcome to “Just For Women:  Dating, Relationships, and Sex.”  I’m your host, Alissa Kriteman.  Today, I’m so excited to talk with Jennifer Ianniello, who is a Somatic Coach and Psychotherapist Intern.  She’s also a fellow East Coaster.  So, I’m very excited to talk to her today in the raw and frank way that only East Coasters can. 

So, we’re going to talk Jennifer today about trauma, wounding, and how to prepare ourselves for the trips home during the holidays, and, how to stay and be empowered as women.  So, Jennifer - welcome to “Just For Women.”

Jennifer Ianniello:          Thank you.

Alissa Kriteman:  Jennifer - if you don’t know her yet - went to Connecticut College.  That’s where she got her Undergrad.  And, she got her Master’s at CIIS, which is the California Institute of Integral Studies.  And, again, she is a Somatic coach and Psychotherapist Intern. 

So, Jennifer, let’s get to it.    We all know that the majority of people out there came from homes where there might have been stress and trauma and, you know, some kind of big issues.  And, as we head home for the holidays, lots can get stirred up.

So, I wanted to talk to you about how we can stay empowered as women going into the holidays.

Jennifer Ianniello:          I think it’s a great point to, to make.  I think, we don’t realize how much of our younger selves come out when we go home.  We go home.  It’s like, before – even when we buy our plane ticket - we are already regressed.  Part of us is already anticipating what’s going to happen when we get there.  And, we usually regress to not only who we were when we were younger but, who we were in our family dynamics.

So, the family all shows up to this house that we all grew up in and everybody’s in some regressed state.  So, those – that dynamic has implicit rules that are spoken or unspoken and we slowly start to re-emerge as our younger selves and limits – there are limits on our behavior.  Things we feel, things we can’t feel.  As a result of these, this pressure to be in this new dynamic - which is really familiar, but we also chose to leave and grow up out of.  So, it’s vaguely familiar and, also, really limiting.

Alissa Kriteman:           Okay, so, you’re saying, regardless of – n,n,no matter what, w,w,we’re going home and we’re going to regress.  And, this happens across the board.  I, I heard a joke somebody said once, “Four days is the maximum.”  Is that true?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Personally, that’s about my rule of thumb.  After four days, you either get really entrenched and you realize you got to get out of there or you just fully surrender and you end up kind of miserable.

Alissa Kriteman:           Okay, so we’re not crazy when we go home and, inevitably, you know, after day two or three, there’s a fight.  Because what you’re saying is, we’re automatically regressing back to when we were children.  So, tell me a little bit more about that - because that’s really interesting. 

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah, it’s that, um, you know, we all have, we have this family system that is designed and, of course, it’s an imperfect design to meet these needs that we all have these needs that we all have.  So, here are these four or five beings, or however many, with these needs that are all never going to get met. But, there are these rules and demands that we put on each other.


And then, as you know, older - as young adults, most of us leave and we have our own lives that reflect our own values and move towards the relationships that we want to have.  We pick people who are our – quote - “new family” – our deepest friends and partners.

And, then we go back and there’s this tension between who we’ve become.
And, our family, our siblings, our parents still want us to fill those roles for them.  That’s why they raised us in them.  And, they’re no longer serving us.  And, we know that now, having lived more than many years outside in a new value system.

So, we go back and we’re like, “Okay, this is why I left and now I’m back here for five days and here’s that same conversation that pissed me off 10 years ago and 20 years ago and I’m still getting mad and I’m still baying, you know, pi-, buying into it.”
And, you’re having the same fight with my mother and the same fight with my father - over and over again.  You know, like, I can’t believe I’m back here.  Why did I do this?

So, the first thing is really be aware to set your expectation really quickly that’s so normal for that to happen.

And, the second thing is, is that really making the choice that you can choose to go back or not, which is, um, already part of the regression starting to happen.  Now, we don’t realize we actually can choose as adults to simply not go back.  Or, we can go back pre- or post-holiday, when it’s less stressful.  There’s a lower likelihood of getting so triggered.  But, realizing, as adults, just because there’s that implicit demand or just because you’ve celebrated the holiday with the same set of people in the same house for so many years, doesn’t mean it has to be so every year or this year.

Alissa Kriteman:[laughs]            I’m thinking - what family did you come from? - because if I don’t go back for the holidays, there’s going to be hell to pay.  So, okay, good.  No, I like that.  Like, we really do have choice and we don’t have to.

I, I noticed from myself, too.  I’ve learned to, um, work with my family to establish boundaries that were never there before.  So, what are some of the ways that we can actually be empowered as we go back into these dynamics that don’t necessarily nurture and serve us?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah, I mean, first, on the internal level, is realizing that, um, that you have choice.  And, that is a few things, I think it’s even before that – first of all, setting your expectations is that - Okay, my parents are probably not likely to change in the next five weeks.  And, what do I know, given their track record, that they’re going to be, do, or say, that’s going to piss me off?  

And, being prepared and realistic beforehand.   What are the places that trigger me and upset me?  What are the family members?  What are the topics that I know are going to get heated?  And, in the face of that, how do I want to behave?  What’s a realistic way to plan - to be like - Okay, this is the same way that I buy into this year. And, how do I want to be different?  And, what kind of support do I need in doing that?

So, the first is having a realistic expectation of what you are going to be walking into and then remembering that you have choice.  Again, you can – how do I, how do I want to show up to these conversations?  How long do I want to stay?  Um, when do I want to leave?  Who are my allies?

So, really, um, empowering yourself to remain an adult.  And, there’s a lot of things that can support you remaining as much as possible in your adult mindset.  And, that can be things that can help remind you of the life that you’ve built way outside of that family system. 

So, um, like in a real intense situation, I have, um, people make, like, phone dates with their friends.  One day, every day, different friends - that you have them set up before you go.  So every day you have a check-in with someone affirming who you are outside of that system so you’re just that much anchored as an adult.
And, sometimes, those conversations, like - Remind me who I am?  Remind me what’s good about me.  Remind me why you love me - as an adult.  Because the family system is often going to eclipse our own self-awareness of who we are.  And, that’s kind of part of the, the road that we have to go down.  Um, that’s, that’s sort of one thing - having those allies.

And, not only allies - but allies within your family.  You know, who was that favorite aunt or that favorite cousin that you just loved to talk shit with that totally gets you laughing or the cousin who would take you out of the house to go shopping.  Emergency phone call, like, - Pick me up now.  We’re going out. So, building in allies that are both in the family and outside back from where you live.

Um, and just kind of making sure to do the things we do here.  Making sure you have access to exercise.  Things you love to do back home.  Make sure to have some kind of access to the mirror in some form.  Making sure to get enough sleep.  Making sure to also - simple things, like, diet.  Like, I know, that my family eats really differently than I do.  So, I make sure to bring things that are going to sustain me that again connect me to how I like to feel with my diet and my nutrition when I go home so I’m not that much more pulled off of my center.  So, those are some kind of like baseline practices.

Alissa Kriteman:           Wow.  That is incredible.  I never even thought about having so much structure because what it sounds like you’re saying is - Set yourself up to win.  Know what you’re going into.  Be aware.  Know you have choice. 

Allies – I love that!  I never even thought of that!  Like, have a phone call, you know, set up, with friends?   You know, back here, I’ll say, you know, yeah!  So, wow!  So, what happens?  Say, we go home, and, um, we’re – we find ourselves in a situation where, we, we’re spinning out, you know.  We’re just in it.  What, what would you recommend we do?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah, it, it depends on the intensity of the experience, like, if you had a family system that was really traumatic.  If there was lots of violent rage or, you know, neglect – that sort of thing.  You want to be able to check back with are you spinning out because your - you and one of your family members have kind of regressed to, um, an old way of relating to each other that might be related to some kind of traumatic experience you had with one another? 

So, you want to be able to check – like, are you just spinning out because that’s your dynamic or are you back into kind of regressed material.  And, either way, you kind of want to start to just name what’s happening.  First thing is acknowledge - Okay, I’m triggered.  I’m spinning out.  I’m off-center.  I’ve lost myself.  First thing is just being able to acknowledge it.  Because then once you, once you can have a observer-self about what’s happening - not all of you is eaten up by this spin-out. 

Um, and, the second thing is, trying to say - Okay I’m, I’m, I’ve spun out.  There’s probably like, a younger part of me here, so, she was a trigger back to an old family memory.  Okay, there’s a younger part of me here.  What does that part of me need right now? 

And, as a baseline as those needs -I need to have a meal because I haven’t eaten in seven hours.  I need to curl up.  I need some physical nurturing contact.   I need to get outside and go for a walk.  It can be really baseline.  Or, it can be I just need to feel safe or I need to be seen or I need to feel heard.

Okay, who can help get those things for me?  So, it’s like a real plan?  Recognizing what’s gone on, naming it, and taking care of those needs.  And then, who can help support me in that?  And, then, trying to come back to center.

And I like to think about re-grounding first in your body, if you can.
So, again like some physical touch, some stretching, some self-massage, a bath.  And then re-grounding kind of in time and space.  Here I am.  It’s this day and I’m in this house, in this room - um, and if it’s really intense - Okay, I’m leaving.  I’m leaving in three days.  I have three days left here and really…

And then, and then, always making an exit strategy.  And then, if things get really bad - and I’m saying I highly recommend doing this before you go – exit strategy.  If things get bad, here’s the taxi number.  Here’s the, here’s the airline information – finding out what your ticket change policy is.  So, you know all this.  So, you have choice.   And, sometimes, I found even planning for the extreme kind of helps me kind of avoid having to take that measure because I feel safe and empowered just knowing that it’s there.

Alissa Kriteman:           Wow.  This is why I love talking with you.  This could really transform somebody’s holiday, you know what I’m saying? And, that is so why I wanted to talk to you.  Because this is amazing stuff, you know?  It’s really about loving yourself and honoring what you need in a situation that might be out of control.

Jennifer Ianniello:          Totally.  I think that’s what’s so heartbreaking for so many of us.  We want to go home for the holidays and be loving, open beings with the people who have raised us and that we really do love.  And then, we get there and, it’s like – car crash, like – Okay, my intentions and what’s actually happening are completely in different corners and, you’re like - how did this happen ?  This wasn’t my intention and I’m totally closed and I hate everybody.  Just realizing what’s actually forming that experience and that it’s not, it’s not just you.  That there’s a whole environment and a whole history and all of your collective histories behind you, um, that make it hard sometimes to show up as loving beings.  But, um, the more, like you said, you, we can realize the power and the choices that we do have to support us.  Remembering who we are - will help us stay and arrive with open hearts.

Alissa Kriteman:           Awesome.  Wow.  Well, we’ve got to take a break to support our sponsors.  But, you are just – I’m going to take you with me.  It’d be well worth the plane ticket. 

This is your host, Alissa Kriteman.  You are listening to Just for Women – Dating, Relationships and Sex.  We’re speaking with Jennifer Ianniello.  Amazing, amazing Somatic Coach and Psychotherapist Intern.  I can’t wait until you are a full-fledged psychotherapist because you are good.  And, we’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

Alissa Kriteman:           Welcome back to “Just For Women:  Dating, Relationships, and Sex.”  I’m your host, Alissa Kriteman.  Today, we’re speaking with Jennifer Ianniello,   Somatic Coach and Psychotherapist Intern.  Talking about how to stay empowered during the holidays when we go back into situations with our families that we left 15, 20 years ago, and then, find ourselves regressing ever so easily back into that scenario.

So, Jennifer, before the break, we were talking a lot about how to take care of ourselves - setting expectations, having support, allies, self-care - things that we can do while we’re home to really help ourselves be empowered and have a great visit.  And, one of the things you talked about – you mentioned, uh, if there was trauma in the family.  What do you mean by trauma?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah, well, the main clinical definition of trauma is something you would  ex- something you witness or you experience directly – an event, where you, your physical integrity is threatened.  And, as a result, you experience fear, helplessness or horror.  So, it’s any of those or a combination of those - that’s the clinical definition.

The Somatic piece that I like to include is your physical shape is really affected as a result of trying to live through the event or the ongoing experience.  So, your muscles are going to contract a particular way.   Your breath is going to change.  The way you hold your entire system is going to, um, reflect that this experience was incredibly hard to live through and your body’s kind of prepared for it to happen again at any moment.  Your adrenal system gets real red.  Your cortisol levels are going to get high.  That high level of stress kind of stays with you until – this is kind of a hard place to arrive at – your body feels safe again.

Alissa Kriteman:           That’s interesting.  So, are you saying if we notice how we’re holding ourselves, it actually could be a trigger to -Wake up, like - Wow, we’re regressing back?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Exactly.  Like you’ll notice, I mean, I notice lots of times when I go home, my body will start to contract just like - Oh my god!  I know what war zone I’m entering into.  I know who the players are.  I know who’s going to be there.  My body’s already, eh, preparing for what I’m going to have to be around. 

And, this very thing I chose to remove myself from, I’m going right back into and my body remembers what that’s like and, the body memory for strategies for self-protection comes right back.

Alissa Kriteman:           So, trauma sounds intense.  But, I can get that there’s sort of mild levels of - what would you call it if it’s not a serious trauma?  What is it?   Because I just want women to be aware, uh, of these, uh, triggers, like, the situations that might be available, even if it’s not this clinical trauma, but it’s still really difficult situations.  So, what do you say about that?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Um, I think, you know, like I was saying earlier. Everybody’s needs are going to get dropped at some point in a family.  And, the ruins that we carry away from that we, you know, it’s a heartache.  It’s a heartbreak that we carry through for the rest of our lives.  And, when we go back it’s like we’re re-visiting the very site of that initial wound.  And, it’s painful.  It’s like we have to re-visit the same ways that we got shortchanged and the same ways that the people didn’t live up to our expectations in both directions, - not only them to us, but - us to them. 

It’s like, yeah, you know, I’m not the daughter you wanted me to be and this is who I am but we have to
We’re sitting right down to the table with all of those disappointments a lot of times.
Even if those conversations are not explicit - which often makes them harder to address, like - Well, that’s why I’m so affected by this is because if I’m actually on the level where I could actually respond

Somatic Shaping, it lives in our system.  So, we go home and we’re carrying – we’re having to have intimate conversation about all those collective disappointments we have with each other and the conversations probably haven’t gotten to be so overt.  But, so, it’s harder to actually live through them and heal them because they’re - we have to hold, hold them in our systems instead of having actual conversations about them.

Again, that’s even more reason to be, like – Okay, what do I need to know?  This is painful for me to go.  What’s changeable?  What’s not changeable?  And, what are the main wounds that I’m still carrying with my, with my parents and my siblings and what might get stirred up as a result?  Are there conversations that I want to have and need to have to continue towards completion with some of the issues?

Alissa Kriteman:           This is great.  Can we do a little role-play?  Because I think it’s really important to take a stab at this, you know.  So, how would it, how would it be?  If you were going to complete something in your family or establish a boundary, when something’s coming up where you don’t feel comfortable.  That dynamic’s happening again.  Maybe we’re feeling a little bit out of control.  Let’s – can we practice, uh, some kind of communication technique?  Would…?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Sure.  I think that’s great.

Alissa Kriteman:           So, who am I and who are you?  How about this?  I’ll be your mother.  Is she like most-triggering?  Most mothers are.  Um, okay, so, I’ll be your mother.

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah.  I would say, you know, most things that are triggers in the family that when there’s requests that are brought to us in the same way they were - they’ve been brought to us for so long.  And that particular tone – that particular style - and, parents know just how to get us in that moment.  It’s just our soft point.  And they know it, you know?

Um, so, it’s often something that as children we just bought right into.  Yes, we’re going to do that.  And, as adults, we’re like, you know, I don’t actually want to do that.  But, it’s lingering in that moment of choice that’s often hard to know how to actually verbalize and making a different choice now. 

So, it can be, you know, you can just bring any request to me and, you know, I can, I can speak from that place of like - I don’t actually want to do this, but I’m really tempted because it’s really easy and familiar and you’re expecting to just say yes.

Alissa Kriteman:           Whew, this is good!  What’s something that would trigger me with -  that my mother would say?  Um, so, Lisa, when are you going to get married?  No, let me, let me, say you.  So, Jennifer, when are you going to get married?


Jennifer Ianniello:          So, um, I a big believer in letting myself have my actual experience.  Like, not get so clinically shutdown.  So, I would probably express some frustration. 

But, um, something that I’ve found especially helpful is to reflect what I think my  mother – what my mother may be feeling.  Wow, mom.  I’m guessing that it’s frustrating for you that you don’t have grandkids yet. Or, that you really want a son or a son-in-law in your life.  Or, that you know you just really want to know that I’m going to be taken care of and happy and that my romantic fulfillment is, is here.  And, um, I really appreciate that you want that for me.  And, I totally want that for myself and, um, where I’m at in my life it’s like, I can do what I can do.
And, um, wouldn’t you rather have me not settle than to put pressure on myself and my potential partner to rush towards something that is out of time?

Alissa Kriteman:           Well, now that you put it that way.  That is so good.  So, it’s almost as though you hear what they say but, you also hear the love that’s inevitably there…

Jennifer Ianniello:          Exactly.

Alissa Krieteman:          … behind the words.

Jennifer Ianniello:          And, I would probably go on to – if, if it feels - if you’re feeling ballsy - to let her know the impact.  That, that question – that tone of question, or the, the la-, the, um, the continual questioning has on you.  You know, Mom, I really want that to.  And, and, when you ask me like that, every time I come home, it makes me really sad, or it makes me angry, or whatever.  Whatever’s true.

But, if you came from a heart-centered place - reflect back that it actually impacts you because when people ask you questions like that they’re really just trying to take care of their own needs and blindly can’t see that it actually hurts.  And, to clear the air like that, um, it’s again one less thing to have to deal with because you feel like you don’t want to go home because you feel like you have to avoid those kinds of conversations.  You kind of just diffuse it by saying, you know what?  It impacts me this way and that’s really hard for me.

Alissa Kriteman:           Powerful.  Powerful.  I wanted to go back before we end here and, and just get a little bit more, uh, information about staying centered and grounded.  You mentioned, stretching, doing massage… What else do you have for us around staying grounded throughout – say, you’re there for a week?

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah.  I have a rule that I use that I don’t leave the bedroom that I’m sleeping in, in the morning, until I’ve spent at least 5 minutes doing something. 
That’s going to be grounding and centering
Once I leave that safe zone, you know, all bets are off and I won’t be able to return to centeredness.  So, it’s like, I don’t leave until I’ve had that and I force myself and it’s really good. 

Um, so, I, I’ll start with, you know, a little bit of meditation.  Where am I?  what did I wake up with?  What’s lingering from the night before?  What do I think’s going on downstairs right now that I might have to be walking into in a few minutes? 

Um, I try to do some grounding kind of, um, - grounding and centering.  I kind of ground into my body.  Just some key points - I always feel into feeling my feet –feeling my connection to the earth - something that’s kind of stable and solid and consistent. 
Um, I feel into my back, my spine so, I, um, I’m less likely to kind of collapse, if I can feel that sort of structure of support behind me.  Um, I like to feel into my bones.  It’s again a solid structure so, if I get all emotional it’s like - No there’s this solid structure that is pretty much unaffected by what ever emotion I’m feeling that there’s this solidity, um, you know - internally.  Um, breathing – I like to use, um, the power of the exhale is so good for letting go of just shit that you just – you’re carrying over and you’re like, I’m ready to get, just get rid of it. 

Any breathing cycle that has a longer exhale than inhale.  You know, some people like the Inhale for 2 - I mean, Inhale for 4, Hold for 2, Exhale for 6 counts.  Anything that has a long exhale and just really focusing to a - if you want to bring it to a more, you know, woo-woo level.  You know, like, what am I letting go of, you know, what emotions?  What altercations?  What, what, what do I want to be done with before I walk downstairs for a whole new day of this?

Alissa Kriteman:           I love that.  I love that woo-woo because I do breathing exercises all the time.  But, we’re from the East and anything that’s, you know, spiritual is a little woo-woo.  And we, you know, it takes a minute, so…

Oh, you’ve been fantastic.  Thank you so much.  This is so going to help women everywhere.  And, men, too.  Um, be empowered as we go into these holidays, you know.  It’s so much stress and really what you’ve contribute can really help change how it’s going to go.  So, thank you so much for being here.

Jennifer Ianniello:          You’re so welcome.  Thank you so much for having me.

Alissa Kriteman:           What are you?  We have to find out where to find you and what’s your web site and tell us more.  You know, I did want to ask you.  Uh, Somatic, you said - is really about the body, you know, and, and how we hold things in our body.  So, just tell us a little bit about the work that you do.

Jennifer Ianniello:          Yeah, well, Somatics really looks at, you know, as our body as our history shaped us.  They use the term Psychobiology.  So, it’s the way our bodies have moved through our history and our history now lives in our bodies.  So, for wanting to change we have to look at what’s the history that shaped us and that, that soma, that body now, um, may be limited if we’re wanting something that our history didn’t provide.

So, um, I, I work right in the body.  So I do standing practices with people to help them in Ground and Center.  I do mat work with clients to really help them release those places of core contractions that have just built up over time.  So, it’s like okay, now, that I’m actually out of my family system - I can actually hold myself in a different way so that I can be whatever it is – open, vulnerable.  You actually have to change that stuff in the body because that’s where that form and that’s where the belief that we still need to hold it that way – it’s still living. 

So, um, yeah, I combine those things with Talk Psychotherapy and I work with men and, um, women.  And, a lot are trauma survivors and neglect that our body really holds the wounding from those experiences so directly, so it’s kind of the level we have to work on to get a profound shift of recovery.

Alissa Kriteman:           You’re awesome.  Where do we find you?

Jennifer Ianniello:          You can find me, uh, email - [email protected].  And, my voicemail is 263-0561 - area code 415.

Alissa Kriteman:           Awesome.  Awesome.  Awesome.  Jennifer, thank you so much for being here.  I hope you have fantastic holidays.  Are you going home?

Jennifer Ianniello:          I am going home.

Alissa Kriteman:           We’ll have her back when she comes back and we’ll get the lowdown.  But, again, thank you.  Thank you for being here.  That’s really fantastic.

I’m your host, Alissa Kriteman - signing off.  You’ve been listening to “Just For Women:  Dating, Relationships and Sex.”  Always here to empower you.  See you next time.

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