Take Care of Your Emotional Health on Thanksgiving

It’s a fact. Not all families are created equal. Some of us are lucky enough to have families that welcome and embrace us during the holidays… and others of us spend this time of year being emotionally beaten up by our nearest and dearest.

Over the years, I’ve read harrowing tales on this site from awesome Big Girls who are expected to cook the Thanksgiving feast and then berated for every bite they dare to eat. I’ve read of others who spend the holidays in a constant round of being given diet tips by all their relatives, their spouses, and their closest friends. I’ve read about the folks who wheedle invitations to dinner and then complain about the cooking, the choice of menu, and the decor. I’ve read about families grimly sitting down to a traditional meal that took days and huge amounts of money to create, but that nobody actually enjoys eating. And I’ve read about families who take this holiday dedicated to gratitude and turn it into a chance to object vociferously to the size, body art, hair color, clothing choices, sexuality, relationships, child-rearing plans and/or skills, careers, and literary taste of everyone else at the table.

If this in any way describes your Thanksgiving guest list (or the Thanksgiving you’ve been invited to partake in), it’s time to rethink your holiday plans.

Okay, if you’ve invited the guest list from Hades, it’s probably too late to change that now. And if you’ve agreed to go to one of these dinner parties of doom and bring food with you, yeah, that’s probably too late to change, too. For this year. You still have the option to opt out for next year.

But if you aren’t holding the debacle in your home and you aren’t expected to bring a major element of the feast with you where you are going, then this is the perfect time to create other, better plans.

Here’s the thing: if you’re old enough to have any autonomy in your social life, you’re old enough to decide you don’t have to share your holiday with the Toxicity Brigade. You can decide this even if your tormentor is your parent, your spouse, or your child. I have relatives who will never again cross my threshold because of the way they treat me and my cooking. Mr. Twistie and I, instead, choose to share our Thanksgiving with a good friend who loves to cook, loves my cooking, and is fun to be around. You, too, can make this sort of decision.

Another friend is short of actual relatives but has a wide circle of friends who either have little family or have toxic family. Every year he holds his infamous Orphan’s Thanksgiving. He provides the house, the silverware, drinks, and his turkey enchiladas. Everyone who comes is encouraged to bring food to share, whether they’re up for making half a dozen pumpkin pies or can only manage a family size bag of Cheetos. And if they can’t do that, well, they’re still welcome to share in what others have brought. The table is filled with food, everyone takes what they like and leaves what they don’t. There are always cheesy movies on the TV and knots of conversation throughout the house. Often someone breaks out a board game. It’s a happy time.

One of my neighbors hates doing all the cooking for Thanksgiving, so she opts out. There’s a major grocery store chain that does a set Thanksgiving meal you can just pick up and reheat. She does that and fills in the edges with a couple family faves. It means everyone gets the meal they expect, but she doesn’t have to devote her life to it for days. That way she can relax and enjoy it, too.

I’ve known people who head out to their favorite Thai restaurant for Turkey Day because they prefer that to the traditional feast and refuse to be guilted about not wanting stuffing or sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows.

And of course one can always opt to help those in greater need than themselves on Thanksgiving. Homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes can usually use a couple extra willing hands at this time of year to help make the day less miserable for those living in these facilities. It’s also a really terrific way to get in touch with the true spirit behind Thanksgiving. There but for grace go a heck of a lot of us.

There are literally thousands of options available once you allow yourself to see beyond the expected. At least one of them will involve absolutely nobody treating you like a servant or a doormat.

Here’s the thing: nobody has the right to mistreat you. Nobody has the right to try to make you change who you are for their convenience. You absolutely have the right to stand up and refuse to accept being treated as lesser.

You have the right to decide what constitutes the bounty you’re thankful for. You have the right to determine whose company you are thankful to share. You have the right to seek out your own happiness.

Your emotional health matters.

Take good care of it.

2 Responses to “Take Care of Your Emotional Health on Thanksgiving”

  1. skye November 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Many of the members of my Tribe do spend Thanksgiving with blood family – toxic or not – but we also have the opportunity to spend “Spanksgiving” together either the weekend prior or after. Spanksgiving is a potluck affair and it is full of lotsa eager chatting, snuggling and YouTube vid sharing. It’s a day full of smiley faces :-)

    Sadly, I now live in GA, not Philly, and I will not be able to attend this year. I will be in Philly at the end of the year, though, and we’ll be having a traditional Tribe NYE…potluck, drinks, games, snuggling, and Galaxy Quest. Sweet!

  2. Tovah November 11, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    Sometimes the “family” that is best for you at the holidays is the family that you’ve put together with friends.

    I know that everyone has a “problem’ with my weight because I used to be so tiny. Why do they make it their mission to show me “the proper way to eat”. I am just too old for that negative energy anymore.

    Also, I wish people understood that, for alot of people, the holidays are torturous. We miss people we have lost and, rather than being festive, you place a smile on your face waiting until the earliest moment you can get back home.