A LGBTQIA+ Therapist's 4 ways to navigate the Holidays
By: Elizabeth Harring LCSW-C
“We all have those things that even in the midst of stress and disarray, they energize us and give us renewed strength and purpose. These are our passions.” – Adam Braun
December is flying by and there are constant reminders that the holidays are upon us. Regardless of religious affiliation or beliefs, we often encounter holiday party invites and expectations to spend time with friends and family. For some, this brings positive feelings, joy, and excitement. For others, it can be triggering, anxiety provoking, or just plain overwhelming. For us in the LGBTQIA+ community we may find ourselves in a variety of vulnerable positions (having to hide our true selves, encountering judgement or discrimination, being unwelcome by family, etc) While I truly hope that you are celebrated and embraced fully for the wonderful, unique, and gorgeous human that you are… if some people you encounter are not as evolved, let’s talk about some tips for approaching holiday gatherings.
1. Start with an internal check in
Consider this like taking your emotional temperature. What events are coming up for you and when you consider attending, what feelings arise? Are there particular people that create a stronger reaction or response? If the thought of having to dine with your homophobic aunt (or insert any other homophobic/transphobic guest) has you sweating and experiencing rage, it might be time to consider alternative action plans. Here, knowledge is power. Each year can bring a different level of emotional tolerance, completing a check-in allows us to consider what we can and want to do this holiday season.
2. Have realistic expectations
This may not be the year that your (hypothetical) Trump-loving cousin embraces the community, or your identity. Consider what is likely to occur based on your understanding of past interactions and assess your ability to engage around them. Focusing too much on how things “should” or “could” be leads to a lot of stress or hurt feelings. Proactively assess the time you will spend with less-accepting people. The old saying of “quality over quantity “might be key here. It can be useful to set two or three personal priorities or intentions with people that bring you joy, i.e,(catching up with an old friend, talking to grandma about her past, learning new recipes with your dad). Just kind in mind that you know your limits!
3. Set healthy boundaries
Arguably, the most valuable interpersonal skill! Before engaging in any events, take some time to consider what your boundaries are and what feels comfortable for you. Practice verbalizing your boundaries, or even consider calling ahead to set them.
For example, inform or remind your family of your pronouns:
“Hey fam, looking forward to tomorrow night’s dinner. Just reminding you that I would appreciate you using my pronouns of “they/them” instead of “she/her” in conversations. Thank you for your openness and support.”
Set the number of how many gentle reminders you will offer family members before the uncomfortable feelings become unsafe or inappropriate. “Aunt Bee, I go by ‘they’ or ‘them’. Once your boundary feels breached, practice an escape plane. If possible, bring in a friendly ally for some relief, help in changing the subject or a moment to step outside and breathe.
4. Create your mantra
Mantras or affirmations are typically a short sentence or phrase you recite routinely to make a formal declaration to yourself and the universe. This can be a helpful reminder of our intentions, and an easy way to pause, regroup, and restart. Here are some examples: “Today I will respond and not react.” “I am in control of my own happiness”. Try repeating these if you notice a rise in stress.
In the end, protecting YOU (your wellbeing, sanity, emotional state) is most important in these scenarios. Poet Mary Oliver says “you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” Set your boundaries upfront. If traveling with a partner, discuss expectations and arrangements. Do regular checkins with yourself throughout the holiday events. Know your threshold and take breaks when needed. Reach out when feeling overwhelmed. Take time, go for a walk, write in your journal, breathe deep or meditate. Remember to affirm yourself. Self care, self care, self care! Ultimately, you get to decide how and with whom you spend your holidays. If there is any pressure or guilt, put it down because that, my friend, is too heavy to carry.
And always know that you can consult with a licensed mental health professional. They can help you identify areas that could use some support, and then develop an action plan for helping you to feel more like your fabulous self.