Family got you down? Here's ways to cope

With the holiday season in full swing, and family gatherings continuing, many of us might be feeling a mix of emotions (excitement, fear, anxiety), as we near these events.

Psychologist and trauma expert, Dr. Karol Darsa, reached out to OUTvoices with some great advice on how to manage and assess your trauma and anxiety including what exactly to do when you get triggered by those you inevitably must see at this time of year.

Dr. Darsa answers our questions here:

What do you recommend in a situation where a LGBTQ person is seated at a family dinner with a politically challenging relative who makes provocative comments?

Dr. Darsa: In a situation where an LGBTQ individual is seated with a family relative that has challenging views and has homophobic ideation, it is important to understand where those beliefs are coming from and be open to educating them. Homophobia comes from fear, which is not something that human beings are born with. Fears are learned from their families’, environmental factors, and experiences.

Those fears persist because of their lack of knowledge surrounding the LGBTQ community and unwillingness to go out of their ways to educate themselves. So, in a situation where you have to deal with homophobia within your family it is helpful to see where this “fear” is coming from, and correct their knowledge if appropriate and provide them with the understanding that being LGBTQ is part of your identity and will never change. It is also important not to take that family relative’s beliefs about your sexual choices and gender identity personally, as again their hatred is born from a lack of knowledge regarding the whole LGBTQ community and it is not targeted to you. While dealing with people with challenging beliefs and homophobic ideation, the best approach to have is knowing that you are perfect no matter what your identity is and it will never change, it is who you are, and people may have an issue with that but it shouldn’t change how you feel about yourself.

When a person is not "out" to all of the family either about their sexual orientation or their gender - and prying questions can be asked or assumptions can be made, how should that person be themselves while trying to keep the peace?

Dr. Darsa: If a person is not “out” to all of the family about their sexual/gender identity, it is important that they focus on their safety before doing so. If they are concerned about their safety in the case that they come out to a relative that has challenging beliefs and is homophobic, it is important to determine if coming out is the best option. Questions like whether coming out to that specific person is going to increase my life quality, does it make a difference in my life that they come out to that specific person, is coming out to that specific person going to change my identity or make me more comfortable with it, what are the pros and cons, could be asked. If in that situation, coming out is what makes you feel comfortable and not coming out is taking a toll on your wellbeing, doing so is a good idea. However, safety should always be considered.

What is your recommendation for a transgender person going back to their childhood home - if the parents and relatives still think of them as the assigned / birth gender? This can be very traumatic especially if there are old photos or belongings still in the house.

​Dr. Darsa: It would be the best if a communication is made ahead of time. Maybe before the person goes back home they can clarify things ahead of time, so there are no surprises and confrontations in person. Hopefully, there will be some family members who are supportive along with others who are judgmental. Asking for extra support during thee times would be very helpful.

Holiday events are often held in compressed time spans - a few hours or a couple of days - and in an environment from which there is no "escape" like a restaurant or relative's house. This creates pressure on both sides to address what's new, how everyone is, what's changed. What is a good way to remove tension, anxiety, and pressure from these situations - without drinking?

Dr. Darsa: The best way is to address the elephant in the room openly rather than trying to avoid the conversation. The way you communicate about who you are can make things easier. Don’t apologize for who you are and sue good humor to ease tension.

Advice for bringing a new partner home for the holidays?

Dr. Darsa: Focus on the love and let your family members know how happy you are. Remind them the most important thing in life is that your partner is making you happy.

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