The holidays are so often tied inherently to the idea of a family gathering around a table, visiting relatives, and having joyous conversations with loved ones. But this “typical” idea of the holidays is not realistic for many people — especially those who have been estranged from their families.
Individuals who are estranged from a member or few members of their family may be expected to join family get-togethers and “get over” the estrangement as if it is something as simple as an argument that happened during childhood. But conversely, some individuals may be estranged from an entire family and be left out of holiday plans, gatherings, and even stories.
No matter the extent of your estranged relationship, the holidays can be challenging and full of mixed emotions. Today, we’re going to look into why estrangement happens, its effects on an individual’s mental health, and some tips for coping during the festive holiday season.
How Does Estrangement Happen?
In general, the circumstances around estrangement will vary from situation to situation. However, one thing that is often the case is that estrangements are rarely mutual. Often, the individual estranged from a family member or family may not even know why.
Estrangement is an intentional decision. It is not the same as drifting apart from an old friend. With estrangement, it is a conscious and intentional decision to cut ties and sever communication. People of all ages, genders, and opinions may become estranged from members of their families. One example of a community with a high level of estranged relationships is the LGBTQ+ community. Some community members may have cut ties with their families of origin and joined their chosen families. Others may have become estranged from their families due to disownment or trans/homophobia of relatives.
The Effects of Estrangement on Mental Health
We grow up with sayings like “blood is thicker than water” and “there is nothing more important than family.” But what if family isn’t forever. What if you are excluded from and even ignored by your family? This exclusion that comes with being estranged from family can take a heavy toll on our mental health.
Estranged individuals — whether they cut the ties themselves or were forced out of the family — often carry heavy feelings of grief and loss. Some may feel regret or guilt, while others may feel only loneliness and anger. Of course, what you feel will depend on your situation and your personal emotions. But one thing is for sure, estrangement can damage your mental health — especially if you do not know any healthy coping mechanisms.
Tips for Coping with Estrangement During the Holidays
Now, without further ado, here are some tips for coping with family estrangement during this winter holiday.
Recognize Your Feelings
Remember that you are entitled to any and all feelings that you are experiencing. While these feelings may not be pleasant, they reflect your emotions and accepting them is crucial.
Estrangement is complicated, painful, and often way too much for us to handle on our own. Because of this, many of us may push off the feelings — saying things like “I need to get over it” or “I should be fine with this by now” — but this is not helpful. Instead, allow yourself to feel your emotions, whether they are sadness, guilt, anger, or anything else, and realize that they will not last forever.
We touched on this just a little bit above, but more than anything, you need to be caring and accepting of yourself and the feelings you are going through. Especially if we are recently estranged, we can have a tendency to blame others or (more commonly) ourselves. Blame gets you nowhere, and the longer you spend in that accusatory mentality, the harder it can be to let go and move on.
Make a Plan
Sometimes it might seem like going into the holiday season with no plan, but “relax” is the best idea ever — especially if, up until the holidays, your work or school schedule is packed. But, in reality, we often get bored after just a day or two of “relaxing”. The last thing you want for your holiday is to be left bored with nothing to look forward to and no one to see.
To prevent this from happening to you, make plans in advance. Maybe plan a night out with your friends sometimes when you’re all around. Plan a trip to the spa for a lovely holiday-time pampering. There are tons of things that you can plan that are relaxing and fun to stave off that boredom and loneliness you may feel if you’re just “relaxing” at home.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
It can be tempting to stay holed up in your home, avoid people, and ignore the festivities around you. Unfortunately, this is not going to make anything better. Humans are inherently social creatures; when we hide away from others and allow ourselves to be alone, we usually end up feeling worse than we did before.
So, rather than isolating yourself, spend time with friends — hang out with people you care about and who care about you. Focus on connecting with your chosen family.
Opt for Healthy Hobbies
Picking up weightlifting, running, boxing, or any other form of physical exercise can be a great way to release some of your pent-up emotions healthily. If you’re not feeling like doing a whole bunch of physical activity, you can also try doing a more mentally stimulating exercise, such as meditation or yoga.
The goal here is to try and devote some of your time to doing something for your body. When we get stressed or experience severe emotions, it can be beneficial to opt for activities that bring our focus to our bodies.
Come Up with a Script
If you are still spending the holidays with your family, there may be some topics you’d rather not discuss. We all know that even if they mean well, sometimes family and friends can be less sensitive than we’d like them to be. But, if you prepare a script that you can say when that topic comes up, you can deal with the situation much more effectively than if you were trying to come up with something on the spot.
This does not have to be a long script by any means. No one is expecting you to delve into a Shakespearean monologue. But, having a simple answer and moving on can be a great way to notify family and friends that this might not be the best topic for the dinner table this year.
We’ve touched on this before, but recognize that being alone and trying to solve everything on your own is simply not going to be as effective (or pleasant) as engaging with others. Maybe you can call a trusted friend who you can talk to about what you are going through.
If you would like more professional advice and personalized guidance about how you can better cope with and process the feelings you are going through, you can also reach out to a therapist. Therapists can be excellent sources of support, acceptance, and guidance on how to healthily process your emotions and improve your life. So, if you think you could use additional guidance before (or after) the holiday season, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow.