We don’t need to tell you that going home for the holidays can be a uniquely stressful experience. In fact, the idea of awkward holidays at your parents’ place is such a cliché that half the holiday movies out there focus on this kind of trip home. And yet, even though this is such a widespread problem for so many people, there aren’t that many good resources out there for people who are dreading that trip back to the house of their youth.
Good news, though: at Rappore, we’re here to help. What follows is our guide for surviving a holiday trip home.
1. Accept Your Family For Who They Are – Even If They Don’t Return the Courtesy
The uncle mentioned above is never going to change the way he votes. That evangelical aunt of yours is never going to accept your sexual preferences. Your sister-in-law’s chihuahua is always going to nip at your hand when you try to pet it.
In other words, there are some things that you will never be able to change. This, of course, is a broader fact of life that most of us have accepted. But the reason we get so frustrated when it comes to our family members – and their inability to change – is that change isn’t really the issue. Acceptance is. We don’t want to change their minds: we want them to accept our ideas and point of view. Which of course is a proxy for them accepting us for who we are.
When we can’t get them to change or accept us, the result is frustration: we get frustrated with them for being so dumb and stubborn, and frustrated with ourselves for ever thinking we can change their point of view.
So don’t try. Instead, try to extend these people the magnanimity and benevolence they will never be capable of extending to you. Accept them for who they are, even if they won’t do the same. Just because you’re surrounded by bigots doesn’t mean you have to become one yourself. You might not feel any better about sharing genetic material with these people, but you will feel better about yourself.
2. Remember Why You Decided to Go Home In the First Place
Above we kind of talked trash about the resources available to those of us who are dreading that trip back home for the holidays. In attempting to justify that claim we scoured the internet, trying to prove ourselves wrong. Turns out, this article from Vice is pretty great. In fact we like one of their recommendations so much, we’ll quote it here: “Put some thought into why [you’re going home] so you can keep that good reason with you throughout the trip. Maybe you want to see a grandparent while they're still around, spend time with cousins, or show up for someone in your family because they asked. If you know what your mission is, you'll have a helpful answer if the going gets tough and you're asking yourself, Why did I spend a month's rent on a plane ticket, again, exactly?”
The flip side is, if there isn’t a compelling reason to go home for the holidays, then don’t. Don’t let yourself get bullied into doing something that might cause you trauma. If your parents are insistent, try to compromise: tell her you’ll come for a visit another time when the house is less crowded and you all can actually spend quality time together. But don’t do something just because someone says you should. You won’t be in the right frame of mind to enjoy yourself, and you’ll end up resenting the person who encouraged you to make such a bad decision. You might even end up resenting yourself, too, for being so manipulable, and for going against your better instincts.
3. Identify Escape Valves
Even if things are going better than expected, more than likely there will be moments where the pressures accumulate to the point that an explosion is imminent. That’s why it’s so critical that you identify ways to release that pressure in a controlled, safe way. If there’s a relative who you trust and can talk to, try to lean on them; if not, physically escape the situation by taking a walk or running an errand. Another method of catharsis we recommend is journaling; even if you don’t do it regularly, consider taking up the habit over the holidays. It’ll give you a way of expelling negative energy while also providing an opportunity for self-reflection.
4. Avoid Alcohol
We know that drinking is part of the holiday experience for many people. But given that you’ll be doing your best to avoid confrontation and negative emotions, it makes sense to avoid alcohol. After all, you don’t want to give yourself an excuse to confront your uncle when he brings up politics.
Hopefully, this little guide will help you avoid the kinds of psychic traumas that are so often inflicted on people over the holiday season. But in case you need even more protection — or if those psychic traumas have already calcified and become scars — we recommend talking to a therapist. Specifically, a Rappore therapist.