Since we were small children, we were taught that Thanksgiving was a day about family, gratitude, and acceptance. While history books have made it a point to erase the origins of this holiday, the pretense is still the same — unity. So then, how do you deal with those toxic family members that never got the memo?
A family reunion prone to negativity
Instead of being a time of celebration and joy, the occasion is tainted with disgusting comments about weight from tias, being left out of the “clique-like” environment created by primas, questions about “amiguitas,” and conversations regarding how “te esta dejando el tren” because they have yet to have children.
These are only some of the few things people deal with during gatherings with their toxic family. Thus, holidays like Thanksgiving manifest into feelings of solitude as they remind you of the emptiness you often feel due to your judgemental, hypocritical, and catty family.
It is a highly complex situation, but there are ways that you can cope with this toxicity while protecting your inner peace and mental health.
For starters, make sure you manage your expectations
The feelings of joy and wonder associated with the holidays may cloud your judgment and expect different behaviors. However, don’t expect family members to act differently suddenly. This is nothing more than wishful thinking and will leave you feeling disappointed. Instead, be realistic and understand that these family members will probably never change.
Make sure you identify what your boundaries are
What are some things off the table for you? You shouldn’t have to talk about anything that makes you upset, angry, or uncomfortable. Be clear in expressing these boundaries so that if someone decides to disregard your request, you can react adequately and with intention.
It’s also essential to create a safe space for yourself
Don’t limit yourself to sitting uncomfortably around family members that make you feel bad. Spend some time with your favorite uncle or your cousin’s girlfriend. There’s nothing like coping with toxicity than by laughing it off with someone you love. Create your own safe space. And if it gets to be too much, feel empowered to remove yourself from the chaos and go outside to get some fresh air.
Create your own traditions
Unfortunately, some families are so toxic that the sheer thought of being in the same room already ruins your day. Amiga, you don’t have to spend Thanksgiving or any celebration with them if you don’t want to. Spend time with friends that love and appreciate you for who you are. My therapist once told me, “Chosen family is just as sacred as the family of origin.” This helped me realize that what matters is the support system you cultivate for yourself, not those who should be there for you.
Some traditions you can start are hosting an annual Friendsgiving, having a movie marathon, traveling to a nearby city, or planning a staycation at a local hotel in your town if you can’t take off too many days.
I, for one, never spend holidays with my family. My husband and I created our own tradition of catering traditional Thanksgiving food from this one specific restaurant. This is the one day of the year that we take a break from arepas and sancocho and eat sweet potato casserole, turkey, cornbread — you name it.
We then eat until we can’t anymore, thoughts of “la dieta” far away, and then curl up on the couch with our dog to watch sappy holiday movies. To me, this is happiness. This is much better than dressing up to sit in some tia metida’s sala and fight to defend yourself.
In the end, what matters is your happiness and mental health. On this Thanksgiving and forthcoming holidays, do whatever you must to protect your peace.