The Holidays. For some, spending time with loved ones, many of whom you may not see on a regular basis, can bring forth feelings of excitement and joy. For others, family events can be fraught with pain, negativity and conflict which can have enormous impacts on mental health and wellness. There may be many reasons why you may want to opt out of a family gathering, such as dysfunctional family dynamics, high conflict, or new family dynamics you aren’t ready to navigate, such as a recent divorce or maybe young children that make traveling and schedules more challenging. It may also be that you simply want to start your own new family traditions, take a vacation, or have a few days to yourself. However, while many people would like to opt out, they feel like they are unable to do so. This dilemma can be emotionally draining and often feel like a trap with no good answer of what to do. Many people worry about the fall-out of hurt feelings and resentment that may follow, which can keep them duty bound and believing they have no choice in the matter.

When deciding how you want to approach family holiday expectations, it can be helpful to start from a place of self-compassion. Guilt and shame are frequent feelings that can come up when people start to even consider not attending a family event. However, these feelings are misguided and can keep us trapped in unhealthy and painful situations.

One tool that can help in making a mindful, positive choice is asking yourself to evaluate the costs and benefits of attending. Thinking through this thoroughly and writing down your thoughts can help you think more objectively about these family events, provide some clarity, and help you make a measured choice for yourself.

Opting out of a family holiday event may be necessary if the cost of attending is simply too high and you find yourself emotionally drained for days or even weeks after these events. If this is the case, give yourself permission to opt out for your own peace. A therapist can help you with how to communicate your choice, set appropriate boundaries, and help you navigate difficult emotions that may come up with whatever you choose to do. By allowing yourself to make a mindful, intentional choice, you can regain personal power that can be lost when being a “good” family member conflicts with being a healthy individual.