Home for the Holidays
Holidays can be stressful for people who did not come from accepting, healthy, happy homes. This can be the case regardless of your gender identity or sexual preference. However, in the current political climate that is quite polarized and not always friendly, it can be especially difficult to get along with your family during the holidays. So how to cope with the lack of acceptance?
First, let us consider how you usually cope with people who have opinions other than your own in general. What do you usually do or say? Do you keep quiet, or change the subject, or engage in a healthy debate? Does it end in tears and anger? Do you feel good about the way you handle it, or could your approach use some improvement? I hear a lot of people say, "I don't care if we agree. I just don't want to let them see me get triggered/upset." And that is a fine goal because ultimately we cannot change other people's minds for them. We can influence to the best of our abilities, but we cannot change the fundamental value structure of another person.
What we can do is decide how we want to respond to intolerant or hurtful remarks. That can be hard, especially if someone is being intentionally provocative or hurtful. However, even ignorance and unintentional bigotry can hurt, even if the person generally means well and loves us.
Here are some ideas for people who want to see their loved ones, but don't want to be emotionally battered by their negative comments.
What do you want to get out of the visit? Do you want to convey respect and love for the person? How much time does it take to accomplish that?
Do you really enjoy spending time with the person/people? Setting your intention ahead of time can help you make decisions about how much time you spend with them and what you want to do during the visit.
Examine your own feelings and beliefs about the people you're going to see. Are they very rigid and conservative? Have you been hurt by them in the past?
How can you protect yourself while still giving them the benefit of the doubt? In a way, it's like going to a party as a recovering addict or alcoholic. You don't want to go when you feel shaky in your recovery, and you want to have a plan for how you will handle being triggered. If your loved ones have an open mind, you might have an easier time.
How can you take care of those feelings and honor yourself while still also respecting them and their different opinions/beliefs?
Is it possible to give these folks a clean slate? Only you know the answer to that. If you cannot, you might need to do some work on forgiveness. It is not to let them off the hook for what they did or said to you in the past. It is for you to feel freer, lighter, and more at ease with yourself and others.
Consider the assumptions that you are carrying into the meeting, and ask yourself if those assumptions are there to protect you or to judge and criticize them. What can you let go of?
How can you protect yourself without being defensive and upset from the beginning?
Are you out to them about issues that they disagree with? If not, do you think there will be a time when you can tell them? If you are out to them, how do they act around you?
If they have been unkind about it, what do you plan to do if they say or do something narrow-minded? Again, planning is important because if you're caught off guard, you might say or do something that you later regret. At the same time, you don't want to let the person shame or abuse you emotionally.
How do you plan to preserve your dignity and the dignity of those around you? I think that letting the person know that they said something hurtful is important. They may not respond the way you would hope. They might feel defensive in the moment. However, you don't have to just tolerate their hurtful statement silently (unless you want to, but then that just leads to resentment).
For communication about hurtful topics, I recommend Marshall Rosenberg's classic book, Nonviolent Communication. For example, if your grandparent asks an overly intrusive question about your love life or makes a disparaging comment, you could say, "Grandma, when you said that, I felt really hurt and ashamed. I imagine that you were trying to be interested, but it seemed to put me down. Please don't say that to me in the future."
Keep the visit short if you are really uncertain about how people will act and if you are worried about being emotionally hurt. If it goes well, you can follow up on the phone or Skype.
Lastly, I recommend that you not choose these times to come out to your family. Especially if you are bringing your same-sex or gender variant partner to the occasion, that could be humiliating if you get a very negative reaction. If you haven't already come out to your family, then you would probably be better of having that conversation in private with them, and then discussing how you will handle the holidays.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you. I'd love to hear how you handle the holidays with your family, so drop me a line! Happy holidays!