What a strange, strange year this has been. Who could have imagined that as we prepare for what is typically the most traveled-for holiday in the United States, we would be more focused on setting up Zoom calls and washing our masks than making a connecting flight?
And who knew that for some of us, the return of quarantine and the urges to avoid non-emergency travel would bring a huge sigh of relief?
That’s right: For some, being told to avoid family during the holidays is nothing short of a godsend.
Welcome to Covid Thanksgiving.
The best of times, the worst of times
It goes without saying that even the happiest families have their moments, and the holidays can bring out the best and worst of us at the same time. For narcissistic families, holiday season can be a herald of dread rather than tidings of joy. The pressure to attend family functions, sweep old hurts under the rug, ignore snarky comments, succumb to gaslighting and guilt trips, and make nice with people who couldn’t care less about hurting us can be overwhelming.
Every year I sit in session with clients who are agonizing about the expectation to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with their family of origin. They would love to skip the holidays or spend them elsewhere, but the guilt and flying monkeys make them feel obligated to fall in line. This year, things are different. As coronavirus cases climb again, the decision of whether or not to attend family holidays does not fall solely on your shoulders. With the blessings of virtually every medical professional on planet earth, you can choose to stay home, socially distant from people whose hurtful ways have caused you injury since long before the pandemic began.
That is not to say that a narcissistic family member won’t still air their opinions. No power on earth can stop a narcissist from declaiming when they want the floor. Be prepared for the pressure: “But your great-grandma hasn’t seen you in years! What if she dies of Covid-19? Then you’ll have to live with the shame of refusing to see her for her last holiday on earth!” No one can top a narcissistic family in blunt-force guilt tripping to force compliance. But you have options this year that you may not normally have.
Take the opportunity to practice
A socially distant holiday season offers a unique opportunity to practice setting boundaries in a lower-risk way. Instead of having to tell your domineering mother “no” to her face, you can end a call, walk away from a computer screen, or decline to answer the phone at all. You don’t have to engage with your pushy uncle who insists on arguing politics. It’s like practicing bowling with kiddie bumpers on. There’s no shame in using the bumpers! They are there to teach us where the gutters are so we can practice aiming our bowling ball in the direction we want it to go, and helping us stay on course while we develop the skills of aim, control, and kinetic awareness.
Maybe this Covid Thanksgiving will be the year you first stand up to your family’s demands that you accommodate their schedule, their plans, and their preferences. Maybe this will be the foundation on which you build your assertiveness, boundaries, and self-respect. And maybe this year you will find yourself thankful for a forced separation that grants you some reprieve from the stress that normally accompanies the holiday season.
Have grace for yourself
Be kind to yourself if having an “out” to seeing your family makes you sag with relief. Feeling glad for yourself may trigger feelings of guilt and shame – How can I feel relieved when people are dying? Am I really that selfish? Feeling relief at not having to see hurtful relatives does not make you a bad person. It makes you human. You can appreciate the reprieve and also acknowledge the tragic circumstances bringing it about.
This year has been hard in ways we could never have imagined. Find joy, solace, and gratitude where it shows up in your life. May your Covid Thanksgiving be safe, peaceful, and socially distant.