LGBTQ Holiday Survival Guide: 6 Tips for Protecting your Emotional Health
Why some LGBT people feel stress when returning home for the Holidays
While experiences vary by individual, most of my LGBTQ and nonbinary-identifying clients report similar feelings of tension and stress during the holiday season. Common struggles range from anxiety and depression, to feelings of rejection for freely expressing their authentic selves. For these clients, going home for the holidays is not always a time of bliss, but a painful reminder of moments of their “otherness” within their families. Far too many households treat coming out as a shameful family secret, and so returning home can often mean stifling personal comfort to avoid an emotionally volatile atmosphere. Some of my clients choose never to come out, which is especially traumatic.
Any rejection can cause distress, and sadly, statistics show that overtly aggressive statements and behaviors, as well as microaggressions (everyday encounters of subtle discrimination experienced by people of various marginalized groups) negatively impact the emotional health of the LGBTQ community on a daily basis.
The experience of carrying a sense of shame, otherness, invisibility, and loneliness can leave scars on the psyche and spirit. For those who identify as LGBTQ, this psychological damage can be magnified many times over, as gender and sexual identification are among the most polarizing and stigmatized topics in our collective culture.
When one’s psyche is contaminated by the shadow of prejudice and internalized homophobia, it can result in depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and other problems with self-esteem. Oftentimes, these issues manifest at a young age and are carried into adulthood. These distressing feelings and the “flashbulb” memories that are formed in childhood are often unconsciously triggered when returning home for the holidays.
Here are some practical tips to help you protect your mental health (examples included)
1. Mindfulness is your best defense. Become aware of internalized homophobia within yourself
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, LGBTQ individuals can begin to unconsciously adopt and perpetuate the toxic perceptions introduced by their family members. This often creates shame surrounding one’s personal, sexual, or gender identity, and may manifest in comments like, “I’m not good enough,” or questions such as, “why can’t I just be normal?” If you notice that you diminish your self-worth when in the presence of those who refuse to accept you, it’s critical to catch yourself in the act and stop the self-deprecating speech. Remain mindful of when you are allowing other people’s preconceived notions to bleed into your self-perception. While you can never control the actions of those around you, you always hold the power over which thoughts you choose to accept and claim as your own.
2. Be mindful of the microaggressions that family may enact
Sometimes, discrimination isn’t insults and slurs, but microaggressions. “It’s fine, I just don’t want to hear about it,” “that’s your issue,” “why aren’t you married yet?”, “this is my gay cousin!” All of these are examples of microaggressions that call your gender or sexual identity into question in a subtle, but harmful manner. Do not allow family to get a pass on discrimination just because it is not threatening or violent in nature. Microaggressions are still an affront on your right to feel comfortable, seen, and respected for your full, authentic self.
3. Neutralize shame and self-criticism with unconditional love of self.
When you go home for the holidays, prepare yourself with pre-planned affirmations to counter fear-based thoughts that arise when confronted with rejection or discomfort. “I’m lovable and worthy,” “other people’s negative opinions don’t define me,” “I will not be ashamed of who I am.” Statements like these help remind you of your true essence and that you come from love and light, despite the unwillingness of others to see it.
4. Practice assertiveness and boundary setting
When insensitive statements or actions cross the line, speak up for yourself. “Please don’t make comments like that - they’re painful and make me feel unwelcome here.” A simple statement like this demands respect, establishes gentle, yet firm boundaries, without spreading further toxicity.
5. Remind yourself of your BILL OF RIGHTS as an LGBTQ person
“I have the right to be me”, “I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect”, “I have the right to distance myself from people and places that feel toxic”. These reminders keep you tethered to your birthright to be seen, heard, validated, and take up space in the world.
6. Stay connected with allies
If you choose to go home for the holidays, inform your friends and allies that you’ll be needing some extra emotional support during this time of the year. Text or call your support system if at any point you feel overwhelmed by your family, and upon your return, surround yourself with people who make you feel loved and remind you that you’re perfect just the way you are.
IS YOUR GENDER IDENTITY OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION A POINT OF TENSION OR CONFLICT FOR YOUR FAMILY? DO YOU DESIRE SELF-AFFIRMING TACTICS TO DISSOLVE NEGATIVE ENERGY? Contact Lucas Saiter for a complimentary phone consultation, today.
Lucas Saiter is a New York City-based psychotherapist and associate at NYC Therapy + Wellness. He specializes in psychotherapy, counseling, and performance coaching services for individuals seeking to identify and resolve negative mental, emotional, and behavioral patterns. Lucas is an open ally to the LGBTQ community and offers specialized counseling for those struggling to navigate life, love, relationships, and self-esteem impacted by gender identification and sexual orientation. For a consultation or to book an appointment, call 646.506.3832
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