This weekend, an enormous amount of people are going home for Christmas. College students especially are leaving their campus to spend time with family. However, for some people, it can be hard to go home for Christmas, as they come from a toxic family.
I am lucky enough that my family is small, and we are only 4 people at Christmas since my grandfather died in 2016. I know both my mum, my grandma, and my sister loves me, but it can be extremely difficult to be mentally ill when your family doesn’t understand what stress, anxiety or depression is. No matter how many times, you explain it to them.
I guess they are not toxic in any kind of extreme way, but the fact that they don’t really understand what I have been going through for the last 20 years, makes it extremely difficult to spend a large amount of time with my family.
There are things that I do to be able to handle Christmas with my family. I will list them down below.
I no longer lie about my feelings
For years, I didn’t really speak to my family about my feelings. I remember when I was younger, my mum would say that I was simply overreacting and that my anxious and depressive feelings would pass eventually.
Even though I tried to explain several times how I felt, she just didn’t believe it. To this day, I don’t think she truly understands what I went through in my teenage years and in High School.
So eventually, I just stopped mentioning it. Only my closest friends knew how I was really feeling. When I was spending time with my family I just went along with everything they said. I didn’t want to seem weird.
I started therapy this summer for the first time, and she explained to me how important it is for my family to understand me. So, I finally sat them down and told them everything. From panic attacks to suicidal thoughts when I was a teenager. My mum actually cried. I think I finally got through to her, and even though I know she must feel bad for some things, I don’t really care anymore.
I am done lying. They are my family. I get that they will probably never truly understand everything, but they should at least accept who I am. I am done putting up a facade. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
If your family doesn’t want to listen, when you tell them about you, you should consider spending less time with them. Toxic family members can be extremely draining on your energy, and you will be better off either alone or with your friends.
Accept that Christmas may suck and focus on just getting through it
I know the last thing you probably want to hear, is that Christmas might suck. It’s the time of the year, where people are happy and jolly. But, let’s talk about this for a second.
If you lower your expectations, it can seriously help taking off the edge of the heartbreak you will probably experience after spending time with toxic family members.
I know that some of my friends don’t spend a lot of time with their families during the rest of the year, because they literally are toxic family members.
When Christmas comes around, and they are preparing to go home for the Holidays, they become hopeful. They are wondering if this will be the year, that mum will finally understand everything.
Once Christmas is over and nothing has changed, they feel their heart breaking. Because despite family members being toxic, they are family members after all, and they are supposed to want the best for us. I get that feeling. It’s a terrible feeling.
This year, instead of getting your hopes up, set reasonable expectations. You know your family and their opinions. I you don’t have any expectations, you won’t be disappointed when they haven’t changed. Simply focus on getting through Christmas without feeling disappointed.
Have some close friends as back-up
Do you have a close friend or maybe even a few, that you trust completely? Let them know how you truly feel about going home for Christmas and tell them what you are expecting of your family.
Even though all of your friends are doing their own thing over the Holidays, make sure that you have one or two friends who you will still be able to call or text, and help you through the Holidays.
It doesn’t know who they are. It doesn’t matter whether they have dealt with toxic family members themselves. All that matters is that they are kind, have your back, and are willing to support you as you vent, cry or ask them for a reminder, that you are actually an awesome friend.
One of the most upsetting things during the Holidays is that you feel like you have absolutely no control. It might be in the form of comments intended to bait you into fights, demands you can’t possibly keep up with or comply with, etc.
If you plan ahead and figure out how to cope with these problems, before they hit, you can stay on top of this. Having a friend or friends as a back-up plan is an excellent way to do this.
Do you have certain relatives that trigger your emotions? How much time with your family do you feel is enough, before you start feeling uncomfortable?
Figuring out what triggers your emotions is your first step. Then you need to figure out what conversations you are willing to have with your family. Avoiding topics that will trigger your emotions also works as a coping technique.
Have an exit strategy
My family is not really toxic enough for this part to have come into play. But several of my friends have been in need of an exit strategy, once they have had enough of their families.
Do you know any friends in the same area your family lives in? Are they in on your situation, and would you be able to spend a night on their couch? Do you know the local train or bus schedule to get yourself back home?
Knowing your way out of a toxic and sticky situation can give you some peace of mind. Knowing that you have a way out, can help you relax more.
Ask yourself if you really have to go in the first place
Think back to recent years. How have you felt after spending the Holidays with your family? Did you feel bad and drained every time?
A sense of obligation can be a powerful emotion, and for those with really toxic families, it might be the only emotion keeping them from cutting contact completely.
If you have hit the final point where the emotional harm you experience spending time with your family easily trumps that feeling of obligation, it might be time to cut contact.
“Sometimes it’s just healthier and more loving to let everyone have their space until a better time comes for sharing one space”. I don’t remember exactly where I found this quote, but it makes so much sense. It might be time for you to spend Christmas on your own or find out if you can spend Christmas with a close friend and their family.
Listen to yourself and how you feel. Only you can answer whether you want to go home for Christmas or spend it on your own. You can even start your own Christmas traditions that make you happy.