Managing family relationships when you struggle with mental health issues can be a strain as we balance what we have been told to do by our therapists, and facing real life circumstances. When dealing with a mental health struggles, it is important to surround yourself with people who are supportive and understanding. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, especially during the holidays. Many family members are not understanding of mental health challenges. Unsupportive loved ones may blame you for your symptoms, make cold and thoughtless comments, or even try to “solve” your mental illness, which can make coping with it even more difficult. So what can you do when the people who are supposed to be your greatest supporters are not? How can you survive holiday gatherings with these people? Here are some tips:
- Acknowledge the situation- Not everyone will understand and there may be a reason behind their feelings and behavior that has nothing to do with you. It is possible that their behavior is deeply ingrained based on beliefs that they were taught growing up (e.g. weakness in vulnerability; stigma around mental health)
- Engage in positive self-talk- When seeking support, start with yourself. Practice treating yourself with kindness and compassion. Pay attention to your inner voice and what it’s telling you, challenging negative thoughts as they arise.
- Understand that other people struggle too- Some family members may be unable to support you because they are dealing with their own mental health struggles. It’s not that they don’t care, they just might not have the internal resources to do more than take care of themselves at this time.
- Don’t believe misconceptions or myths about your mental illness- You may have family members who say hurtful things to you that are far from the truth. (e.g. calling you lazy or attention seeking). Listen to mental health professionals and don’t lose sight of the facts.
- Ask for help explicitly- Don’t be afraid to be direct and ask for what you really need. Some family members may actually be willing to support you, but they aren’t sure how or may not even realize that you need help.
- Control what you can- You may not be able to control where family gatherings take place or who will be there, but you can control whether you go or how long you plan to stay. Do whatever feels comfortable for you. Don’t force yourself into an uncomfortable or triggering situation.
- Establish healthy boundaries- Unfortunately, some people may be negative and hurtful no matter what you do. If you have tried some of these tips and things do not change with a certain family member, you may need to distance yourself from this person or even cut ties. Although this may be very hard to do, it is likely having negative effects on your well-being and hindering your progress.
- Prioritize self-care- Make time for activities that improve your mood, especially during the holidays or times when you’re planning to be around family. Doing something positive for yourself will help take the focus off unsupportive people and place it back on your personal wellness.
- Reach out to others for help- When your loved ones cannot provide you with the support that you need, don’t hesitate to seek outside help. Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional or join a support group. You may find that talking about your struggles with a stranger is easier than doing so with a family member, as you don’t have to worry about being judged. Feel free to check out our therapists at Miracles here to see who might be a good fit for you.