This season, many of us have to (or choose to) eat a meal or spend time with someone who disrespects us or with whom we strongly disagree. Some of us even are sitting with someone who has abused us. Below you’ll find some ideas for getting through or maybe even enjoying your time.
- You are allowed to not go. You are allowed to stay home and do the thing you love the most, or even something that’s kind of meh.
- You are allowed to go and stay a short time.
- You are allowed to go and then leave if someone crosses a line. (It’s a good idea to decide before you go what and where your lines are.) You can leave even if it’s your house!
- You are allowed to go and to take breaks (help in the kitchen, play with the kids, make a phone call, take a walk, put on a movie, read a book). Breaks are really good for your nervous system.
- You are allowed to set limits (for example: I won’t listen to any conversation that puts a group of people down. If someone does that, I’ll point it out and if they don’t stop I’ll leave or I will not discuss my love life or my weight or my … you get the idea).
- You are allowed to do all these things even if the gathering is at your place. You do not have to do anything that sacrifices your well-being for anyone else’s. Repeat after me: I do not have to do anything that sacrifices my well-being for anyone else’s. (Possible exception: Your children’s.)
If you go and you don’t want to set limits for any reason (you get to decide! Yay!) here are some other ways of managing a problematic dinner companion(s):
Change the subject: Aunt Wilhelmina, Nephew Charlie was telling me about your garden. What was the new plant you put in? or Cousin Trumpishness, I love your shoes! Where did you get them? or Cookperson, this stuffing is amazing. What did you put in it? or Tell me what Youngest Child is into these days.
Focus on hospitality: I really appreciate the time you spent putting this meal together… the warm day… the snowy day … the yummy Jell-O mold … the new family member … the traditions … your love despite your differences (only if there is any) … your memories of a good time you once had together … your mutual love of Game of Thrones.
Ask questions: Irrelevant ones (Tell me again about how our family moved Here from There in the 1920s) or relevant ones: So you think AlabamaChildAbuser should have gotten the seat? Do you think there should be any consequences for what he did? Oh, you don’t believe the women? How did you decide not to believe them? Are there people who have reported sexual abuse who you have believed? What was the difference in that situation? This can take up a lot of time.
Ignore the attack: If someone is trying to bait you into an argument, act as if it’s a friendly conversation. (Well that’s an interesting point of view. How was your day/trip/meal?) Also, avoid pushing anyone else’s buttons. Not worth it.
Get mindful: Tune out what’s going on for a few seconds, a minute, or 20. Take some breaths and NOTICE them. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel the feelings in your body and just be with them. Accept them for the moment don’t try to change them.
Remind yourself: These people are not my people. I have friends and support other places. This is just one day. I can get through it with minimum damage. You can even chant quietly to yourself “This is not my life. This is not my life. This is not my life.” Remember the things that make you happy: Your partner, your dog, your job, your favorite show whatever it is. You’ll be back to them soon.
While it’s powerful to engage in conversations about racism, sexism, immigration, LGBTQ rights and more, remember that it’s not your job to change people’s minds — and certainly not in one sitting.
Most of all, keep yourself safe, both physically and emotionally. If something threatens your safety, leave, use your words, or get help.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Child Abuse Hotline