Despite how television ads depict the holiday season, for many people this can be a time of great ambivalence and emotional overwhelm. There is a universal expectation and cultural push to spend the holidays with family, and to be happy about it. We need to normalize for clients, friends, and loved ones that this time of year can activate unique and difficult triggers including: feelings of loss and grief; resentment; guilt; anger; anxiety; the re-emergence of unprocessed past trauma, and even dread.
A deeply held desire to uphold familial loyalty and the fear of disapproval from others often forces people to attend the gatherings they would rather miss.
Despite the pressure to go home for the holidays, many people deserve and need permission to safely and non-judgmentally process other options including either shortening or avoiding family visits that are toxic. It’s understandable that for some people it’s too emotionally uncomfortable to completely disconnect from extended family. A deeply held desire to uphold familial loyalty and the fear of disapproval from others often forces people to attend the gatherings they would rather miss. In those cases, it’s worth exploring the strategies of limit-setting or “escape clauses” that can provide an exit or excuse to leave if the family dynamics become negative or abusive.
Here are some additional suggestions to help navigate potential emotional minefields and vulnerabilities during the holiday season:
- Pre-plan “safe” conversations, consciously choose who to sit next to and who to avoid during a family gathering.
- Drive separately to family functions so you can leave when you choose.
- Stay at a hotel instead of the house you grew up in so you have a safe space to re-group and engage in self-care.
- Consider connecting with surrogate family and friends instead of toxic family and create new holiday traditions that feel safe and meaningful.
- Use resources such as 12 step meetings, online chat rooms, and support groups that reinforce the right to set limits while offering alternative venues for social gatherings
- Spend time doing volunteer work, focusing on altruistic endeavors that create perspective and rekindle a sense of gratitude.
- Consider the role that spirituality and ritual can play in adding comfort, new meaning, and new memories to this emotionally challenging time of year.
- Limit alcohol consumption so you remain clear-headed and can objectively assess and act on choices that are self-protective.
How do you handle your clients fear of being with family for the holidays? Please let us know in a comment if you have any suggestions to include in this list.