For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, returning home for the holidays to spend time with our families is insanely triggering.
The holidays are anything but happy and our tendency is to spend the time numbed out in our drink or drug of choice.
Here are some tips to surviving the holidays with non-affirming (or just jerky) family members:
1. Use time boundaries
Set clear arrival and departure times, even if this means you need to schedule outside plans beginning at a certain time that “you can’t get out of.” If you “volunteer” to pet sit for friends over the holidays, the need to “get home and take Fido out for a walk” is a perfectly valid and understandable way of leaving a family get together without offending anyone.
2. Implement space boundaries
Even if it costs more, having your own hotel room or friend’s house to depart to can help you survive a family get together. If this is impossible, find a way to get access to a car or transportation that enables you to leave the house for periods of time. Another way to create space boundaries is checking into local support groups where you can attend meetings. AA, NA, CMA, CoDA, Al Anon, and others have apps that you can download and check out what meetings will occur locally.
3. Co-regulate with pets or children
Holding or spending time with a pet, or engaging in fun play with kids helps us stay in the moment, feel safe, and keeps us out of the fear script in our heads that is just waiting for the inevitable soul-crushing conversation to begin. Pets and kids are notorious for remaining in the moment and can help to ground us in the present and find our humor again (nothing better than a pet’s antics to keep us laughing! A child or a pet demanding that you meet their eye gaze helps to soothe your central nervous system!
4. Script your responses
A script file on your notes document in your phone is one of the most helpful tools our team has found to survive tough, non-affirming family conversations. When dealing with families who are boundary bullies or emotional space invaders, our bodies may respond by pulling us into a fight-flight-freeze response, so having pre-scripted boundary responses is one of the best ways to combat emotional flooding. Sometimes just having the script on hand, ready to display, helps to reassure us emotionally.
5. Just say no
Pay attention to your body, because it will likely have a response, even before you are aware, that a boundary violation has occurred. Are you flushing, getting anxious, feeling tingly or fuzzy headed? That is your body alerting you to the fact that you have had a boundary violation occur. Trust your body to alert you when to speak up. If you can’t find the words to respond at the moment, remove yourself from the conversation (go to the bathroom if you have to!) Just because someone is triggering you does not mean you have to respond. This holiday season, we give you permission to take the time and space you need to protect your mental health. You are worth that care.
Family of origin wounding is so core to who we are, we often feel the need to prove ourselves, “hustle for our worth” (as Brené Brown says), or over explain. Over-explaining is a trauma response, so this holiday season, let us set you free from the need to explain, explain away, or validate yourself.
One of our favorite Boundary Bosses is psychotherapist Terri Cole. She has written a book entitled Boundary Boss where she discusses your bill of rights when it comes to engaging with others.
We hope these helpful hints and tips give you some ideas for not only surviving but thriving during the holidays with family.
If you find yourself in a crisis situation over the holidays, please do not hesitate to contact the following agencies for help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
The TREVOR Project 1-866-488-7386
911 for medical emergencies