visual of no one at home for the holidays

With the holiday season firmly in our rearview mirror, there is finally enough time and distance to reflect on our experience of a pandemic holiday. For some of us, not being able to see family while home for the holidays was difficult. Heartbreaking footage of families having to see each other through the glass of a window or a digital screen became a common occurrence on the news. Other solutions involved plexiglass dividers at thanksgiving dinners and outdoor distanced gatherings.

While a zoom family dinner is not quite the same as sitting around a table, there were some benefits to the change in tradition.

It was simply safer to remain within your household this past holiday season. You did not have to risk exposure during travel, to and from a gathering. Your family members were prevented from the secondhand exposure of being close with someone who had recently traveled and our high-risk family members were kept safe. Maybe you spent your first holiday with your roommate and made your own traditions together, instead of going your separate ways come mid-December. Maybe you live with your parents or your partner and got to spend more one on one time with them instead of balancing the attention of the entire extended family. Whatever your situation may be, making the most of the company you lived with and finding creative ways to virtually connect with those far away, was the best way to find your holiday spirit while following COVID guidelines.

An unexpected side effect that many began to realize they were experiencing was relief.

How could this be? They wanted to be home for the holidays. They missed their loved ones. They wished things were different. But…they were not misgendered by family. They did not have painful political discussions or arguments at the dinner table. They did not have to defend their very identities to those who did not or were unwilling to understand.

Despite legitimate safety reasons for not going home, feeling the relief of not being subjected to the unsavory parts of the holiday was guilt-producing. Combined with the grief we are all experiencing for a life we used to know, the relief and guilt mixture is emotionally complicated to process. The uniqueness of this winter however gave us the space to step back and reevaluate the boundaries we have set with our families and perhaps give us the distance from the situation that we need to realize that there are some things one should never have to put up with.

Acknowledge That You Need a Break

When it comes to familial relationships, things can get quite messy. On the surface level, everything seems to be going well and you all are happy. But there is always those moments at a holiday dinner that you realize that you really cannot stand your uncle who boasts about putting his money towards anti-LGBTQ+ organizations as “charity.” Or your grandma who can’t help but point out how your nose piercing, shorts, and tattoos makes you look like a hooker. Way to go grandma, demonizing so many communities at once.

I think we are way past the point where we just silently nod our heads and laugh uncomfortable at these remarks by our relatives. And why should we even have to in the first place?

One of the first steps to dealing with such family members is to actually acknowledge that there is a problem. A disconnect between their thinking and yours. A discrepancy between their morals and yours.

“Growing up, we all hear ‘blood is thicker than water,’ and ‘when all else fails, you’ll always have your family,’ which instills the message that family ties aren’t supposed to be broken.”

Jamye Waxman, MEd, author of How to Break Up With Anyone: Letting Go of Friends, Family, and Everyone In-Between

From toxic families to toxic homes and everything in between, we all need a break from our family once in a while. And whether that separation is permanent or not depends on what your situation demands. If you force yourself to stay in such toxic relationships, you lose yourself in the process. This impacts not only you mental health but also your physical health:

  • Increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Weak immunity system
  • headaches
  • Stomaches
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Leads to anxiety, depression, and other similar mental health issues

Blood is Not Always Thicker

At least once in our life we have been told that “blood is thicker than water.” In those moments we just went along with this statement without even questioning it. And that is exactly where the problem started.

When you are constantly exposed to such sayings throughout your life, especially in your childhood, you learn to stay in toxic relationships. You learn to tolerate shit from your loved ones because they are family. And if by chance you ever get the guts to call these family members out, suddenly you are labeled as the family “brat” or “disrespectful.”

Looking at our world today it is abundantly clear that family is not always going to be there for you. Not even in your darkest time. Just see the members of the LGBTQ+ community. One of the main reasons why this community was formed was because families disowned and even misbehaved with their own children simply because they had different sexual preferences. A community like this became the new family that took in all these children who were lost. How can you expect us to believe that “blood is thicker than water” when families don’t think twice before acting like this.

Is It Time to Call It?

When you constantly find yourself asking this question around family members it can be a sign that yes, it is time to finally call it. When family relationships like this end more often than not it has been in the making for a while. Heated arguments, too many unnecessary critical remarks, money problem, etc. It is never really a split second decision made over petty reasons.

But before taking the final decision, it is important that you evaluate the entire relationship with a calm and clear mind.

“”Even though you may think the other person is the problem, it takes two to tango,” Waxman says. Step back and look at some of your own actions.”

Here are some clear signs that indicate that the relationship is not doing you any good:

  • Signs of abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, substance abuse, criminal behavior)
  • Impacts other areas of your life negatively
  • You mostly have negative interactions with them
  • You cannot bear to even look at the person or hear their voice

You can try to solve the issue and talk it out with them, but if you see no change then it is time to make the cut. Distance yourself from them and you will finally feel the burden being lifted. Now, one thing to remember in theses situations is to never gossip or spread negativity about the other person. Keep the issues between the two of you and limit what you inform the rest of your family about what went down. (However, if the problems relate to any kind of abuse or criminal behavior, then definitely let people know.)

At the end of the day you want to take care of your mental peace. If you are getting nothing positive out of your interactions with a toxic family member, then it is perfectly fine to cut them off. If you feel anger, sadness, guilt, resentment, etc. then do not hold yourself back. Experience it all and get through it. In the end, you will know that you made the right decision.

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