It has been my habit for many years to put out some kind of holiday survival guide. For myself, for the community I used to lead, my clients, and friends. It's not that I am an expert in emotional intelligence, but I can hold my own and thanks to my family of origin I have had more than my fair share of learning opportunities around holiday disfunction.
When I do this every year it is a reminder for me to pay attention, to notice my emotional temperature, and try to not set myself up for to much disappointment with unrealistic expectations, which lets be honest this time of year is chock-full of.
This year there is a bit more pressure, that I imagine isn't just being felt by people in the United States, post election, but with the rise of fascism all over our world, Syrian refugees, war, and the effects of climate change being experienced with natural disasters happening with more frequency than we are used to, this makes for a slightly different holiday environment. We are on edge!!! At least the people I'm around.
Before I get into my survival guide for this year I want to state clearly and consciously KEEP YOURSELF SAFE!!!! This is the most important thing you can do and you don't need to feel bad or guilty about taking care of you. If there is the slightest chance that your family will disrespect you, shame you (Forced Exposure!) or put you in situations that will cause you to doubt the work you are doing and have done, DON'T GO! They will get over it and if they don't there is your answer for whether you would be safe or not.
This doesn't necessarily mean your family is bad, it just means you are learning to value yourself in a way that doesn't expose you to unsafe situations when you are at your most vulnerable. Other times of year it might not have the same effect on you. Like when your immune system is compromised you try to protect yourself from people that could cause you to get sick, you also try to protect others from exposure to sickness you might be carrying. Just in case!
If you plan on attending a family event set up parameters for yourself such as...
* Give yourself an out. Say no first! You can always change your mind, easier to change your mind from no to yes than the other way around.
* Put a time limit on it. Think about how much politics, guilting, and possible over familiarity you can handle and say ahead of time you have a prior commitment and will need to leave by such and such a time. If you get there and things are going well you can always extend the time and say you are willing to be late to the other engagement.
* Have a safe friend go with you. It can be very helpful to bring a friend along for a few different reasons 1) Your family may tend to be on better behavior with strangers around 2) Sometimes a good friend will tell you when something familiar to you is out of line.
When I was prepping to get married one of my best friends flew in from England to be with me. My family was all gathered to help get all the food ready, plus we were getting married right after Thanksgiving so everybody was there! My grandmother said something derogatory about my weight. My friend Katie called her on it and told her it was inappropriate!
Sometimes our friends can see the fucked up stuff in our family systems and help us have an out or help call it out.
* Don't be afraid to lie. I am not opposed to lying in situations that need a lie. Sometimes our families will not take NO for an answer (this will have to be addressed at a later date). One of the things I used to do when I was a minister, was to tell my people to use me as an excuse. Tell your grandparents that you have dinner with me and have to go. Religious people love that one. Helping out my pastor have to go! We can only do what we know how to do. When we have other plans and safety nets in place we can do differently.
For those that's families are tolerable, but not innocuous. You can put plans in place too...
* Maybe politics need to be off the table, but you still want to say what a vote for Trump did to you as a woman, LGBTQI, disabled, immigrant, person of color or a friend/partner/parent of previously mentioned. Write an email or a letter if a phone call is to loaded.
I don't spend Thanksgiving with family on either side when Todd and I first got married we kept Thanksgiving as our day with chosen family. Thank said it doesn't mean I won't talk to family. In fact, I called my dad the other day and in a round about way he said it was my turn to be disappointed because he's been disappointed for the last 8 years. Then said that's all the politics we were going to talk. There are so many not right things in there, but I don't think he and I can have a civilized conversation about it so I will be writing him a letter. I am not at the point in my relationship with my dad where I want to let him get away with shutting me down. I want him to know what a vote for Trump did to me his daughter that is also a survivor of sexual abuse. I don't need an acknowledgment, I just need to say it!
*Maybe you need to have other safe topics of conversation.
School, job, movies, sports, hikes you want to take or have taken etc. You know your family. Keep it light.
*Have a safe word. Sometimes there are moments that we need to escape from. Maybe the conversation is getting heated, people are tipsy, a little boundary crossing is going on. If you have a safe other with you, you can set up a safe word beforehand, like have you heard the new Beyonce album, lemonade? That is your cue that one of you needs to get away from the situation and you can both leave to have that Beyonce conversation. Or have you checked on the kids? Cue to both get up and check on your kids. This is a way to remove yourself from conversations that are toxic and won't help you to be in.
These lists are by no means exhaustive and no one knows your unique family dynamics better than you do. Go with what you know and don't expect people to behave differently than they do every other time of year. Trust yourself! You know best what you need!
You are worth keeping safe, valuing and protecting!