Updated on 3/2/21
Family is complicated. Relationships among family members are often fraught with mixed emotions, unvoiced hurt, and a longing for support and acceptance that was never often. Sometimes you become aware of these conflicts all at once, and sometimes they hit you little by little over the years.
The holidays — Thanksgiving in particular, when family members from all over are expected to come together — are a prime time to be triggered by your family relationships. Maybe you haven’t spoken to a family member since last Thanksgiving, when you fought over politics. Maybe you came out to them about your sexuality, or shared a core value with them that they staunchly disagreed with or mocked you for.
Maybe your family member has been ignoring you or exhibiting toxic or manipulative behavior over the past few months or years, and the idea of being in the same room with them is extremely unsettling. Maybe other circumstances in your life have caused you to realize that a family member, or your family in general, can’t offer you the kind of love and acceptance you need in your life right now.
You Are Not Alone
Whatever it is, if returning home for Thanksgiving no longer feels comfortable, if you’ve grown apart from your family, or if home doesn’t feel like “home” anymore — you are not alone.
Many of us are in that same place with our families, or have been. Movies, popular culture, and the media romanticize the holidays and what they are supposed to look like for families. But many of us don’t experience the holidays that way at all. Instead, we find the idea of being a room together with our extended family to share a meal incredibly triggering, depressing, or panic-inducing.
Experiencing those feelings is never fun, but pushing them aside is not helpful either. The best thing you can do is own your feelings, practice whatever boundaries you need with your family to stay well, and heap on the self-care and positive affirmations.
6 Tips for Coping During Difficult Holidays
While seeing certain family members might be unavoidable, we’re here to help. Here are some tips to help you get through a difficult Thanksgiving visit with your family:
- Talk it out
Talking to our family about how you are feeling before the event can be helpful. Just an honest sharing of your feelings can “clear the air” and get some things out in the open before meeting again. This is best done over the phone, when possible, as a lot of subtext can get lost over text or email.
- Choose what you share
Not all of us can safely be open with our family members about our feelings, especially if we have been hurt when we tried to express them before. That’s okay too. You get to choose what you want to share with others, even close family members.
- Opt out if you need to
For some of us, canceling our travel plans over Thanksgiving or the holidays is a healthy boundary. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a permanent thing, though it can be. You might just need a break this year.
- Set boundaries
You can have a relationship with your family member and maintain boundaries. For example, if there is a topic you don’t want to talk about, you are allowed to say so, or simply not engage. If your family member is not okay with that, that is on them. You are not responsible for anyone’s feelings but your own.
- Practice self-care
Practicing self-care is possible during big family events like Thanksgiving. You can leave the event early if needed. You can excuse yourself to another room or take a walk outside to breathe, meditate, text a friend, etc. You matter, don’t forget to keep your own feelings and well-being a top priority.
- Remember it’s temporary
It’s important to keep these sorts of event in perspective. This is just a day, you are still you, and you will get back to your normal life very soon.
Accepting What Is
Probably the most difficult aspect of feeling distanced or estranged from family over holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving is that it can be painful to accept that reality. Many of us continue to cling to idealistic notions of what family is supposed to be or what we wish it could be for us.
You might’ve spent a lot of your life wishing your family was different — that your family was a place of warmth and togetherness. Once you realize your family doesn’t meet those expectations, it’s common to mourn or feel anger at what could have been.
Own your feelings. Let yourself feel the loss, the sorrow, the rage. Remember that those feelings are a normal reaction to the situation in which you find yourself. But know, too, that you will be okay. Family isn’t just about the people who raised your or are related to you. It’s a feeling that you can share with anyone who offers you love and kindness — and you deserve that.
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