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Help! The Holidays are coming: How to navigate difficult family
situations and maintain safe, personal peace.

Contributing Writer: Lissa E. Bradford, CPLC, BCC, MDiv.

Whew! And just like that, it's already nearing the end of 2023 and the "big" holiday season is upon us. The holidays can be a time of joy, getting together with people we love, eating (and drinking?) waaaaay too much, sharing presents and time. Happy, joyful and cheerful, right? Just like the Hallmark movies say, right? RIGHT?

For many, the holidays are not times of joy, and can be times of very high anxiety and stress, especially for persons who anticipate being in the presence of family members who do not support them. Does this resonate?

Fear not: I'm going to share some practical tools you can use, so that the holidays of 2023 might just be the most joyful and peaceful ever! Here are 5 things you can do right now to prepare, to plan ahead, and set the stage for your personal, emotional and mental wellness, not only through the holidays, but for always.

These 5 things are not easy. But if you give yourself the opportunity to implement them, I promise your personal peace will improve. Remember: If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Here we go:

  1. Take an honest personal "inventory" of your feelings about the holidays. Write them down. Make a list of the things/persons or situations who you anticipate 'could' be an issue or trigger this year. Here are a couple of examples:

    Example: Your parents expect (demand?) that you spend the holidays with them, and they do not support your gender identity (or your partner, career choice, living arrangement, or anything else….). How does this make you feel? When, in your own mind, will you be old enough to deny a "demand" or "expectation" from a parent or another adult in the family who pressures you to be somewhere or do something you would rather not do, especially around the holidays?

    Example: You're working really hard on your physical wellness: sobriety, cutting back on sugar/carbs; embracing a vegan diet, whatever. You're aware of the place alcohol and food (or…you fill in the blank) holds in family, traditional gatherings. Just even thinking about being handed an alcoholic drink, being hugged by the "drunkles," or being served a slab or prime rib makes your heart race and breathing shallow: full on panic. These are just a couple of examples to get you thinking. You certainly can fill in the 'blanks' with your own scenarios. Just writing this I can think of a zillion! I'll bet, you can too?

  2. Once you have a list (long or short), begin to prioritize which of the situations on the list makes you the most anxious, or angry, or fearful. Literally give them priority numbers from absolute WORST feeling to kind-of-annoying-but-won't-be-a-deal- breaker kind of stuff.

  3. Now we have something to work with! Take your absolute TOP worst/hardest thing. Imagine setting a new boundary with the person, stating clearly and calmly what your preference is, your decision, your choice. How does it feel? Scary? More anxiety rising? Or… Freeing? Liberating? This is super important to look at. Because it indicates just how much power, over time, you have allowed this person(s) or situation to have over you. Be honest. How much longer are you willing to permit that? How many more situations will you allow yourself to be in, against your will, just to avoid potentially pissing someone off?

  4. Process these feelings with a trusted therapist, counselor, coach or trusted friend. Avoid processing with too many persons, however. This isn't a consensus experience. You're not likely to benefit from unsolicited advice, even from well-meaning friends or relatives who are "on your side." Process with a credible someone you totally trust. Practice saying what you want/ need to say to set the new boundary. Sit with how it feels. Notice what stirs inside of you as you say what you need/ want to express.

    Imagine the potential "blow back" from the person(s) on the receiving end of your boundary statements.

    Remember: the persons who bristle when we set boundaries are the persons who have benefitted from us not having any. This is super important.

    Family members may have spent a life-time controlling you and manipulating you to do what they wanted you to do. So, it's natural to anticipate that they won't exactly be thrilled when you set a new boundary.

    Are you ok with that? With the "blow back?" Are you ok with letting the other person be unhappy with your decision, but sticking to it anyway? If not, why not?

    Remember: no matter what- You get to make choices for your own wellness, well-being, peace of mind and emotional, physical, and mental safety. No one can set those healthy boundaries for us. We must set them ourselves.

  5. Finally, make a plan to communicate the boundary, at the earliest, possible time. The sooner you do it, the sooner it will be set, and the sooner you can begin to make plans to have a holiday experience unlike any you have had before. Is sending an email the best bet? A text? Doing it in person? Over the phone or FaceTime? You'll know best, whatever the situation dictates. If doing it in person, will you feel supported and safer if you bring a trusted friend with you? Have an exit plan in place so you can leave the situation whenever it feels best for you to do so.

    And, what if you decide you JUST. CAN'T. DO. IT. ???

    Well, that's OK TOO! AND - You get to be very honest with yourself about how much you're willing to tolerate, put up with, endure, and for how much longer you're willing to do it.

The bottom line is you don't have to suffer through the holidays or any other times of the year unless you choose to. I'm not naive. I know this is very hard stuff, and it's so much easier said than done.

But you will never know the freedom you can experience unless you do something to break the pattern. We are responsible for ourselves. No one is flying in on a magic carpet to rescue us. No one. We get to be super honest with ourselves, and inventory the things, persons and situations that disrupt our peace.

Then we get to deal with them. Or sit in them. The choice is ours.

I'd love to know how/if these work for you!

Please email me at to share your experiences.

Lissa E. Bradford (She/Her) is a Certified Professional Life Coach, Board Certified Chaplain, Pastor, and Counselor who is dedicated to empowering people to find their own voice, to learn to set good, healthy boundaries and to live life in freedom and peace. She has been working with individuals and families to facilitate complicated situations and conversations since 2006. Lissa sees clients virtually.
You may contact her at


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