How To Stay Sane When Dealing With Your Family Throughout The Holidays

This is the finalized version of an article published by 20something on December 22, 2016. Find the article here.

Once again we find ourselves in that ~*~lovely~*~ interim period between holidays with family, friends, or both. For those of us visiting family, the transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Hanukkah, and the holiday season in general inevitably presents us with the ever-growing dichotomies between us and our families, particularly in the time of an impending Trump presidency. Being triggered by the divergent and oftentimes problematic beliefs and outlooks held by our families is a common experience among 20somethings, and overcoming these divisions can be a challenge, to say the least.

Have no fear, though, because two fellow millennials have found that there are ways to face these confrontations without succumbing to the hopelessness we may likely feel.

“It was really interesting because I haven’t spent thanksgiving with my extended family in over 4 years,” said Alex McLeary, who is originally from central California but has lived in Australia for the past few years.

“I had these vague happy memories of it and was looking forward to it, [but] little did I know how conservative they all were, and still basking in their win,” Alex said.

This election has been immeasurably charged, evoking very visceral and oftentimes combative responses from those with contrasting opinions. It can be a startling realization to find your initial support system aligning themselves with the hateful and dangerous rhetoric Trump has employed since day one.

“They started going on about it in the kitchen: ‘I can’t wait for Trump.’ ‘I’ve had to deal with Obama’s shit for eight years, so let them deal with us.’ One of the guest’s stepson is openly gay,” Alex recounted, “and she turned to him [and said], ‘We all know how you voted, how you Northern people voted.’ He awkwardly laughed, unsure what to say.”

Pitting one side against the other is an unfortunate impulse, one that has compounding ramifications for people who are already marginalized.

“Then everyone looked at me. I was in disbelief,” she said. “I’ve been surrounded [by] this bubble where everyone agreed with me, and now it was shattered. All I could say was ‘I do not want to talk about it,’ and I can’t really. These are minds I cannot change or will ever agree with, but some of them are my family.”

Realizing that our families embody the beliefs we may have come to abhor can be very painful, and it can be next to impossible to follow the age-old mantra of Live and Let Live. 

“That’s why I have to just kind of shut it off, and decide not to talk about it,” Alex said. “But also at the same time, it feels like you’re giving up.”

The pain felt by such a sense of a defeat can be twofold, where we feel as though we’re not only facing oppressive viewpoints, but also betraying our own sense of righteousness.

For many of us, we cannot bear to be passive in the face of discriminatory beliefs or actions, and we struggle finding constructive ways to communicate these alongside combative relatives. Another woman, named Brittany Kerfoot, shared her experiences with family, noting the tensions that arise due to her father and his long-standing abusive tendencies.

“I always dread going back to my hometown,” she said, “because interacting with him is never pleasant and brings a lot of the rage I feel towards him to the surface.”

Acting out of rage, however, has been more of a hindrance than a help for Brittany.

“I talked to my therapist about how to prepare for Christmas because I can already predict I’ll blow up again,” she said, referring to two different situations that arose during her family’s Thanksgiving. Encouraging an “unsent letter, which is a letter where I can be 100 percent honest and not worry about consequences because he’ll never read it,” Brittany believes this can help “get my anger out on the page [to] hopefully feel calmer later.”

Understanding your own thoughts and feelings before entering into a tense and arduous situation can help alleviate the inevitable uneasiness we may feel, and perhaps aid in our future attempts for conversation or even reconciliation.

Other therapeutic advice?

“When I start to feel anxious around him, simply go to another room.”

Going back to your childhood home unaccompanied can add to feelings of disunity, but a moment of solitude can actually offer some solace if you can’t have a S.O. or companion there with you. If the latter is an option, Brittany has realized that such support can really help in terms of vocalizing your feelings, “so I can least say it out loud, but not to my father (who doesn’t care anyway, so it’s futile).” Much like Alex, Brittany has found that sometimes it’s important to understand to whom we are speaking, protecting our own sense of peace as we strive to communicate our truths.

Finally, Brittany has learned the importance of not losing her cool. “Because my dad is volatile and speaks in the language of anger and violence, I should not match him in that respect. If I do need to say something or stand up for my mother, do it in a calm, rational way so that at least I look like the sane one around other family members.”

Not betraying your own sense of self is an important practice in self-care and affirmation, but it can feel unfair having to conform to the behavioral norms set out by your family, especially when said family oftentimes acts in aggressive or unkind ways.

As we embark on the next chapter of family time for the holidays, remember that your allegiance must be to yourself and your own inner peace.

“I have to practice my own self-care and make the holiday as pleasant as I can FOR MYSELF,” Brittany reminded us of interacting with a challenging family situation. Coming from place of self-love can help keep us sane, and hopefully aid us in feeling safe despite an alarming situation. If not that, at the very least it may help in preventing us from using the Menorah candles to burn down the Christmas tree.

*Some names have been changed at the request of our contributors, to maintain anonymity and protect their identities.*