While the holidays may mean quality time for many people, for others, family time may be something that fills them with dread and anxiety. Dysfunctional family dynamics, from snarky comments to outright fighting, can cause someone to not want to join in the family festivities. Often when someone makes the choice to not attend these events, they receive a guilt trip or push back from family members, causing additional distress. So, how does one navigate this tricky situation?
First, it’s very difficult to decide how to handle these situations. Many of us can empathize with receiving guilt trips and dealing with conflict when it comes to family in general, but especially during the holidays.
Remember that in the end, as an adult, you are in control – you can decide where to go, who to see, what you want to do. If you truly do not wish to go, then don’t. You may receive guilt or pushback, but remember that you are an adult who is in control of your emotions and can choose to not feel guilty – they are the ones pushing that feeling on to you, and you don’t have to own it or take responsibility for how they feel.
If you decide not to go, when breaking the news, remember that you don’t owe an explanation if you don’t want to give one. You don’t have to give specifics as to why, for example, “this person constantly makes comments about my weight,” or “this person is constantly demeaning my career choices.” You can simply say no or explain you want to try something new. Tell them what you will be doing with your time instead of making it about that person(s) you want to avoid.
Seek The Middle Ground
Another option could be seeking compromises if you feel that you can do so. If your family usually celebrates all day, say you will only come for dinner or another important part of the day. Set a time limit and leave when that limit is up. Take ownership of your time and boundaries. You can also request to celebrate in a smaller group of people or at a different time all together.
Remember, the holidays do not have to be all or nothing, or even celebrated on a specific day to still be meaningful.
Be kind to yourself and protect your mental health – and remember that you can’t “own” or take responsibility for other people’s feelings about your choices. We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.