by The Mystical Sister
The holidays can be hard for anyone, but they can be especially hard for folks who are estranged from their family. Whether the estrangement is chosen or not, this situation can bring up a lot of anxiety for folks who may already be dealing with mental health issues stemming from not having a relationship with their families, and choosing to stand alone to remove themselves from negative, hurtful or triggering situations.
The first step for many is coming to an understanding that their family is doing more psychological harm than good.
It can be life-changing and impactful to acknowledge when family ties are toxic and when they no longer serve you. It’s OK to say “no” to your birth father, mother or relatives even though it may feel like the whole world, including them, are against you. Our culture pressures us to obey and respect our elders no matter how toxic they are, no matter how neurotic or unsafe they make us feel.
1. Pay Attention to How You Feel.
This holiday, you may want to check in with your feelings about your immediate family, especially if you’ve felt continually sad, unsupported or angry dealing with them. It may be worth diving deeper on these feelings and considering putting up healthy boundaries so you don’t feel imposed upon. Some key feelings that made me realize I was in a toxic relationship with my parents were:
- Lack of acceptance and support
- Constant comparison with other family members who were more “normal” or “better”
- Laughing at/dismissing past traumas
- Emotional withholding
- Alcohol abuse
- Not feeling heard
- Not feeling wanted
If you’ve felt these things because of your parents and you consistently feel like you’re not getting what you need out of the relationship, it’s OK to make a break.
2. Create Support in a Way That Feels Right.
This could mean lots of different things, including finding community support, therapeutic support and inner support. If you feel alone, you may want to reach out to your community to find like-minded individuals who are in a similar situation. There may be support groups or even community celebrations that revolve around connecting with folks who are in the same boat and creating new community built on healthy patterns and interactions. There are more folks than you think out there who aren’t close or connected with their family. You may just have to go out and find them.
If you have adopted family or close friends, you might want to reach out to see if they would like have you for the holidays. Instead of feeling like a burden or ashamed, you can use this as an opportunity to be honest, to come to terms with what’s good vs. what’s bad for you and to be with others as you truly are. If you are open for the intimacy holidays can bring with other people, you may have a great time and garner some comfort with folks who have love to spare.
My parents would often spend small windows of time with me on holidays, or if I wasn’t around them, they would act like it was a burden to talk to me on the phone. I remember one year my father telling me “you didn’t have to call twice” because I called on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Well, I wound up finding other families and friends who did want me around, and the effect was much happier and more comforting than what I was sued to.
3. Consider Therapy.
You also might want to have a solid support structure through therapy. There are lots of programs available that can get you started with a therapist for little cost. Your life could totally change for the better through the process, and you might really enjoy having a stable figure in your life you can depend on and who is there for you, week in and week out. It might be really helpful as well as far as healing past traumas and abuses and creating a new way of thinking so that you can flourish instead of being weighed down by the past. Therapy was an essential part of reforming myself and creating a new positive story for myself without the input of emotionally toxic parents and step-parents.
4. Help Others.
You can always be a support to others who are less fortunate than you by reaching out and volunteering. Many food banks, shelters, elderly care homes and animal shelters desperately need your help on the holidays. You could be of service to others while being in service to yourself.
No shame: it all starts with you!
5. Create a Support Network Through the Holidays.
Lastly, you may want to create a solid, stable and nurturing foundation for yourself from November through January. The winter holidays bring up all sorts of feelings, memories, angst, sadness and emotions. Triggers are spread out in the form of holiday cheer from the drugstore to the sidewalk to work functions. So how do you withstand the barrage of happy families and carefree singles? By lovingly, and powerfully celebrating yourself. You are your own parent now, and it’s up to you to make sure you feel special around the holidays and all year round.
Self-care practices are often so helpful for people to help rebuild their self-esteem, and grow into a foundation of solid boundaries and healthy mental stability. The great thing about self-care is that it as potent as it is fun, and the practices often involve creating a safe and happy environment for yourself. A good strategy might be to find several practices and weave them into your daily life starting now, so when the holiday bustle is in full swing, you have a steady foundation to fall on. Some ideas could include:
- Journaling: to let go of trauma and celebrate your victories, dreams and who you are.
- Long baths in epsom salts, to relax your nervous system and cleanse your energy. Add lavender or other essential oils for extra fun and healing/calming benefits.
- Buying and preparing food for yourself and not beating yourself up about it! This is the time to enjoy holiday goodies without guilt. Love yourself no matter what.
- Making time to relax, zone out, watch movies.
- Create new holiday rituals for yourself! Making ornaments, movement through certain places or eating at certain places could be a start.
- Connecting with nature and allowing the energy to heal you.
- Accepting yourself as you are. Even if you feel “broken,” it’s OK. It’s up to you to love yourself.
7. If You Have to See Your Family, Be Prepared.
You might have to deal with others at some point. Maybe starting with your family. You may want to prepare yourself to have strong, firm and unmoving boundaries if you are taking yourself out of the holidays or other events this year. Manipulation and guilt are some of the first things to start flying when you face your abusers, and it’s important to hold strong to yourself, your morals and your support structure so you can stand firm.
Also, your parents or family or may never admit their wrongs to you, or understand their toxicity, and you can’t expect them to. If they do, great, but you may want to be ready with those clear boundaries — and no expectations of them “seeing the light” or changing their ways. You might want to prepare yourself for their disagreement and be ready to excuse yourself, whether that is on the phone, in person or through a letter, whatever makes you feel safest.
My own father would often reply with a dismissive “that’s ridiculous” when I would try to tell him how hurtful his behavior was to me. So even if you feel alone and scared, you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t be afraid. You are standing up for yourself. You deserve this, and you can do it. You should be so proud of yourself for taking the steps that you need to create happy and healthy situations and partnerships for yourself! You are worth living a life without anxiety, low self esteem or anger every day. You can heal the dramas and traumas of the past and be a whole person every day. I am living proof of it, and if I can do it, so can you. I support you.
How to Support Your Estranged Friends
If you are a person who has a normal and supportive family, that’s great. Don’t make people who lack those connections feel bad, weird or awkward. It is not always our fault that we don’t have a relationship with our parents or family, and we don’t need to be made to feel like a freak. People who choose to walk away from toxic families are extremely brave and should be treated with respect. Please don’t ask us “why aren’t you going with your family.” “Why?” is the most triggering, annoying question. We don’t have to explain. It’s our personal choice — one that takes a great amount of courage. We, are strong, brave and beautiful — with or without our family.