Being accepted and affirmed (or not) by our families of origin plays a big role in our well-being and overall health. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, this acceptance is potentially most challenged during the holidays with the addition of extended family, alcohol, seasonal stress, etc. For some LGBTQ+ folx, holidays with family of origin can be such a time of anxiety, emotion and difficulty that they make the choice to not attend the family gathering at all.
If you’ve made this choice or are considering it, you may not be sure how to break the news. The fact that you have an invitation to turn down & family to contact means there’s some aspect of a relationship there, so it’s a good idea to spend a little time considering how to communicate your decision. Here are IntraSpectrum Counseling’s tips on how to have the conversation with as little stress as possible.
- Give Yourself Permission.
It is OK to feel you can’t attend. If you’ve made that decision, be comfortable with it and stand firm in your ‘No’. Choosing yourself, perhaps also a partner, children and other loved ones, doesn’t mean you don’t still care for your family of origin.
- Feel Confident in Your Decision.
If you aren’t feeling confident about your decision to not attend, you’re more likely to allow yourself to be talked into something you’re not comfortable with; likewise for guilty feelings. Come to terms with your emotions before having this conversation, and don’t allow traditional hierarchies to sway you. When dealing with parents or other adult relatives, you’re allowed to embrace your own authority and not cede control over your decisions.
- Have the Conversation Soon… & YOU Initiate It.
Once you’ve made the decision, tell your family of origin as soon as possible. Having the discussion early demonstrates respect by allowing them some time to come to terms with your decision. It also allows them the flexibility to make alternate plans. Don’t wait for them to bring up the subject either – it’s only your decision if you decide to proactively make it.
- Choose Timing & Mode of Communication Wisely.
Plan this conversation for a time when they will be most receptive to the news – when they are generally home, and might be less stressed or busy. The mode of communication is important, too. We don’t recommend text messages & emails because you lose the subtle nuance of communication, like tone of voice and facial expression. Voice or video calls are preferred because you can more effectively convey your emotions in those formats. Starting with, ‘hey, there’s something I need to talk to you about…” can sound somewhat ominous, but that’s sometimes important. They may think, “thank goodness, it’s just about the holiday visit!”
- Be Honest and Kind.
Get straight to the point, but do so without steamrolling them. Resist the urge to throw anyone under the bus – not your partner, not even the most flagrantly unsupportive family members. Instead, take ownership for your choices and don’t make excuses. If your mental or physical health will be compromised by attending, say that. And whatever you do, don’t make up a reason.
- Be Clear, Polite, Specific and Brief.
Share your information succinctly and leave it at that. Use “I” statements, which convey your position from your own perspective (e.g., “I think this is the best decision for my mental health“). By framing your statements in this way, you are taking ownership of your own thoughts and feelings instead of putting these issues on others, which can potentially make it easier for the other person to hear you. Keep it short, and stop talking when you’re done. Examples of what to say include:
- “I want to let you know that I’ve decided to stay here for the holiday.”
- “I am planning to spend the holiday with friends and not coming home this year”
- “Thank you for inviting me for the holiday. I decided to accept a different invitation and will not be attending.”
- Allow Room for Their Emotions. Recognize that it’s completely normal for people to feel hurt or angry over your news. However, you are not responsible for other people’s emotions or making anyone feel better, no matter who they are. They may try to minimize or invalidate your feelings around the situation, or defend the behavior or attitudes of unsupportive relative(s). Resist the urge to talk them out of how they feel. Instead, take time to listen to their concerns and validate their feelings, but then clearly re-state your own decision. And of course, you never have to subject yourself to unwarranted criticisms or verbal abuse. If the conversation begins to deteriorate, simply state that you are going to end the call now and suggest a time to reconvene after a cooling off period.
- Offer Concessions. If you want to, you can still have a role in the festivities in some way, virtual or otherwise. You can offer to schedule more time for virtual hangouts, send a few more texts than usual, etc. And if you have the means, perhaps send a gift for them to share (e.g. bottle of wine, flower arrangement, homemade holiday treats etc.).
Handling the decision to not spend the holidays with an unsupportive family in a mindful and respectful manner will make it easier for you to honor your feelings and feel confident in your decision, while also not compounding the problem merely due to a lack of communication.
IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues, including those related to alcohol use. For anyone needing affirming and validating support, please click here to get started.