For all of us, feeling accepted and affirmed (or not) by our families plays a role in our well-being. This can become an even bigger issue during the holidays, or any time an LGBTQ+ person heads “home” to spend time with their family of origin. These visits can be a time of celebration, traditions and togetherness. But spending time with family who are unsupportive can also be stressful, difficult, and even traumatic. If you’ve made the decision to spend time with your family of origin for the holidays this year (or for any special occasion, really), we offer this blog. It’s first in a two-part series about visiting unsupportive family, and is chock full of pre-visit planning strategies to employ now – before the visit. These suggestions can help you optimize joy, decrease stress, and create boundaries that can last long after your visit is over.
Before the Visit…
- If you plan to discuss your sexual orientation or gender identity, practice what you plan to say. If you’re comfortable talking about it, family members will probably feel more comfortable too.
- Set boundaries, and communicate them before you get there. For example, let family know what questions you’re willing to answer and what will be off-limits.
- The days leading up to your visit can be full of stressful anticipation. So set aside time with chosen loved ones to create some happy memories, before you go.
- Consider bringing your own (or borrowing a friend’s) locking suitcase. That way, you can hide anything you don’t want to have a conversation about, even if your family isn’t prone to privacy violations. Medications, binders, condoms, journals, sex toys, etc. you may bring along with you are no one’s business but your own.
- If you have a therapist, find out if they might be available for a virtual visit or a quick check-in during your stay. That way, if something stressful or difficult comes up, you can discuss adaptive strategies.
- If there will be family members in attendance who are supportive of you and LGBTQ+ issues in general, reach out to them in advance. If you’re still in the closet with them, this might be the perfect time to come out. They could give you support if things don’t go well, give you advice and help you better understand your family’s issues, and perhaps even help family come to terms.
- Make a list of things to look forward to during the visit. Maybe it’s reconnecting with a person or place, enjoying some favorite foods or spending time with the family dog. Having a list of things that will make you happy during your visit can be helpful to focus on (& implement!) if the visit gets tough.
- Think about some of the issues that might come up, and plan accordingly. It can be easier to manage these scenarios if you’ve got strategies to manage them.
- Try to have friends or chosen family available who you can call or text during the visit. Having someone supportive to listen or vent to can help you cope and feel less alone.
- Check out local LGBTQ+ events & resources. Queer gatherings can provide a fun opportunity to relax. And support groups might help you discover ways to connect with your family.
- If you’re bringing a partner or SO home with you, don’t wait until late into the first evening of your visit to discuss sleeping arrangements. Make those plans in advance of your arrival.
- It’s always a good idea to walk into a potentially difficult environment with an escape plan. That way, if things aren’t going well or you need a break, you can take care of yourself. For example, have someone available to pick you up, and know what time the last train leaves each day.
Prioritizing some pre-visit planning can help you reduce anxiety and maximize the opportunities for positive communication. Check back soon for Part Two in this blog series: strategies & tips that can help during your visit with unsupportive family. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the holidays or think you may have the holiday blues, please reach out to your therapist for support. 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. For anyone needing affirming and validating support in their healing, please click here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.