It’s the holiday season and that means that a lot of us find ourselves visiting family members. For some, this can be a joyous occasion. For others, this can mean exposing ones’ self to years of unresolved trauma, bigotry, body shaming, and/or trans- and homophobia, as well as other forms of negative behaviors.
While it can be hard to avoid this negativity, especially from elders who have shaped our lives, it’s imperative to develop positive coping strategies to help you set limits with how these family members continue to effect your life. It may be hard to do in the greater scheme, but try these tactics for temporary relief when you have no alternative.
Those people in your life that serve as “triggers” can take away your sense of self in many ways. There’s a deeper level of vulnerability with these people, as you are especially vulnerable to personalizing any negative things that they may be putting out about you. A lot of your sense of self starts from your parents, as the child typically looks to them for love, security, self-esteem, and an understanding of the world around them. How they reflect you is something that has a tremendous input on your sense of self through your entire life.
The way these people see you may no longer be who you are, if it ever was in the first place. Some may see us as delinquents; some may see us as forever needing help; some may have impossible expectations. Whatever the case may be, you are who you are. You define yourself by the choices that you make, and no one else can ultimately do that.
1. Talk It Out With Someone Before and After
It’s important to walk into these spaces with your head held high, knowing your worth. In order to do this, sometimes you have to psych yourself into things a bit. What better way than to talk with a friend or loved one beforehand.
It could be as simple as saying, “I’m going over to so-and-so’s house, you know how stressful this is,” or simply talking about the emotions that you have experienced afterward in order to hear your experience reflected back to you.
2. Check In With Yourself in Order To Create Boundaries
Before leaving for the event, check in with yourself by writing down how you are feeling. What are you willing and able to tolerate. If something happens, how do you set that boundary? Do you express it with the person who has triggered you or do you take a break from the situation to possibly go to the bathroom to do some breathing exercises or text a friend for support?
One thing that helps is to somewhat remove yourself from the situation. When the person who triggers you starts doing “that thing” again, note it. “Yep, they’re doing this.” Think about the moments surrounding it. Think about what makes them do it. Take yourself out of the equation and look at it like an outsider.
3. Adjust Your Lens
Identify the things that you can and cannot change. You can’t make a toxic person not be toxic. In order to successfully interact with these folks, the best thing that you can do is empower yourself. One of the first steps to empowerment is to accurately assess reality at face value.
For example, say you have a parent that makes you feel bad about yourself. They’re not happy with your life choices. Perhaps they wish that they made other choices for themselves and in turn want more for you. Perhaps they are bootstrappers who grew up incredibly poor but then had opportunities in a healthier economy that allowed them to buy a house, go to college, and find a career — things which many of us in this modern age are not afforded because of entering adulthood in a crumbling economy. You can help the choices that you make, but you cannot help the economy. Some folks are unwilling to hear this. It isn’t your duty to take on their biases if they are unwilling to hear sound logic.
4. Be Aware of Your Triggers
It’s absolutely okay that you are going through this. In order to get through it, be aware of your triggers. For example, if someone starts discussing politics or starts digging through past transgressions and makes a barbed comment, or if they make some kind of passive aggressive comment… it’s o.k. that these things get under your skin. Own these triggers and know that they are there so that you can figure out what to do when they come up.
5. It’s O.K. to change the topic.
“I’d really prefer that we not talk about this. We haven’t sat together as a family in so long, why don’t we talk about something good that is happening in each of our lives?”
Conversely, if you’ve got the fight in you, take it head on. Tell them why their choice hurts and how it oppresses you and the folks that you love.
6. Designate a “Safe” Person at the Event
Every event needs a safe person, whether you bring one or you see them there. Maybe it’s the cousin that you used to make mud pies with and now you sneak out onto the patio to share a joint, or the uncle that makes crude jokes and finds your grandmother to be just as much of a judgement nag as you do, or simply a friend or date that you have brought along to share a delicious meal and laugh at the ridiculously complicated lives that we all lead.
Talk to that safe person and let them know that you’re feeling apprehensive. Let them know what your triggers are and why you have been nervous. You never know — they may be feeling the same way and welcome knowing that they are not the only one. You can be a source of support for one another and laugh about it all once the tension loosens a bit.
Remember. There are only a few days out of the year that you have to endure this. Cultivate mindfulness and know what sets you off. Let people know when they have gone too far. Know those who support you and see your struggles and strengths.
This, too, shall pass.