Part 3 of our Holiday Blog Series
The holidays can be a difficult time of year for anyone -- managing expectations, too much time spent with family members, avoiding politics like the plague and so on. In particular, it can be an extremely challenging period for individuals in LGBTQ communities. The holidays present a unique challenge of prolonged interaction with family members who may reject a significant part of your identity.
Some family members may be reluctant to accept, have trouble understanding, or even work to actively alienate queer identities. There tends to always be at least one aunt inquiring about when you will ‘find a husband,’ one uncle telling inappropriate jokes about you and your same-sex partner, and if you identify as gender non-binary or transgender, you can likely anticipate some underhanded comments about the way you are dressed. Deciding what to wear at all can be overwhelming -- do you wear the clothes to appease your family and maintain holiday equilibrium or wear what you feel comfortable and most like yourself in? The list of possibilities for stress can be daunting.
May I step in to assist you in your journey this holiday season? I would like to share some thoughts on what I have found helpful in maintaining balance during the holiday season.
Radical acceptance is a concept practiced in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and it can be very useful when interacting with people or situations you find frustrating. You cannot control or change those around you -- you can only control yourself and your responses. By entering these situations with an attitude of acceptance, you relinquish the futile fight with reality that makes painful situations more difficult. There is a misconception commonly held about acceptance. Acceptance does not mean you support the microaggressions at the holiday dinner table. It means that you recognize they happened and are choosing not to engage in a battle with them. The energy required from refusing to accept the realities of painful situations with the people you care about ultimately leads to suffering. With the state of politics in America, suffering during family conversations is at capacity.
Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself or take a walk to catch a break from extended “extrovert” time. Not only does a 10-minute stroll allow you a small break from interaction-overload, it’s also known to alleviate anxiety and depression. A quick and mindful walk can serve to provide hours of stress-relief. If taking off for a stroll isn’t feasible, removing yourself for ten minutes for some deep, measured breathing can provide similar relief. Giving yourself time will make you a more engaged holiday party attendee in the long-run.
Process before responding (S.T.O.P.)
This is another handy DBT exercise. The acronym STOP stands for -- Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed mindfully. Do you feel tight in your chest after a difficult conversation? Is anxiety creeping up? Notice it, and respond accordingly. Before reacting impulsively and responding in a manner that may cause you more distress down the line, take a minute to breathe. So much can happen during that pause. You may decide your impulse to respond with venom may not be worth the trouble. You may become aware that perhaps your feelings have roots elsewhere and need to be explored outside of the current conversation. Allowing yourself a pause to explore where your feelings are coming from can help ground and center you in the moment.
Respect your limits
If you feel exhausted from seemingly futile debates about discrimination, offensive language, or just plain ignorance, you can always opt out. It is not your responsibility to be the all-knowing representative and educator for the entire LGBTQ community. Respecting your limits about what conversations you decide to engage in can help alleviate unnecessary stress.
Allow for self-compassion.
This is my most important point. If you find yourself engaging with thoughts of self-loathing, guilt, or shame, notice them and kindly ask them to step aside. Those parts of you are not needed right now. What if a friend were leveling some of these criticisms at you? Would you keep that friend around? It can often be so much easier to offer compassion to others before ourselves. No need to reprimand yourself for having these thoughts – acknowledge them, know there are reasons why they surface, and do your best to afford yourself kindness and caring, as you would a close friend.
I hope these pointers help you maintain some cheer while queer during this holiday season. At the very least, I hope they serve as a reminder that you are not alone. Bravery has been required of you every second in this life. I hope you will be soft with yourself this year and tend to your needs in the way you deserve.
Sally Scheidlinger, LMSW, specializes in working with the LGBTQ population as a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, check out here bio here.