Don’t Let People Make You Feel Bad During the Holidays

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THE HOLIDAYS ARE A STRESSFUL TIME for most people, and you would think that would make us all a bit more understanding. Unfortunately, the most wonderful time of the year tends to bring out the worst in a lot of people, which can tinge your otherwise bearable holiday plans with a sense of impending doom. After all, how can you possibly stand another year of political debates with your red-nosed uncle, or one more set of vacation photos from your ~perfect~ cousin?

I’m not here to tell you that this holiday season will be any easier than the last few dozen you’ve endured. Hell, I’m a bad-tempered and opinionated introvert who avoids many family gatherings in the interest of keeping the peace. But I’ve learned over the years that, no matter how well-meaning or petty your family is, there are a few things that no one should make you feel bad about during the holidays. Or ever, really.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “[n]o one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” With all due respect, FLOTUS can tell that to my anxiety. As Ferrett Steinmetz points out, that “argument is generally wielded as a club to make it the victim’s fault when someone decided to be an asshole at them.” It’s not empowering; it’s harmful.

So the message here is this: you should try to stand up for yourself this year, if you can manage it. If not, that’s OK. Either way, prepare your — verbal or non-verbal — responses to the following criticisms, and endure, baby, endure. You’re gonna make it through this year, I promise.

1. Your Finances

Hello, all the people living with their parents! Hey, laid-off laborers and aspiring actors! Howdy there, folks who never learned financial planning in school!

Whatever your situation, no one is allowed to make you feel bad about your finances this year, even if you think you should feel bad. Maybe you’re a recovering substance abuser, or a lapsed compulsive gambler, and those addictions led directly to your meager contributions to the holiday feast or penny sale this year. Guess what? That’s OK. I’m sure you feel bad about that already, and no one else should be beating you up for it.

Likewise, don’t worry if you’re still working for minimum wage, or if you sold your food security benefits to pay for your kids’ presents. We’re all doing what we can to make the holidays enjoyable for ourselves and our loved ones, and there’s not a single right way to do that.

2. Your Mental Health

We all have that one friend or relative who feeds on the holiday spirit and winds up saying something insensitive about mental illness: “I just don’t understand how someone could be depressed at Christmas!” Ugh.

Whether you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental illness this winter, understand that there are lots of people out there who know exactly what you’re going through. You might have misfiring neurons or kaput neurotransmitters, but that doesn’t invalidate how you feel about yourself and those around you. Do what you can to feel better, and feel free to give two big middle fingers to that too-chipper acquaintance.

3. Your Weight

“Are you really going to eat that?”

Yeah, it’s so good. Do you want some?

“You should eat more than that. It’s the holidays!”

No, thank you, I’m OK.

4. Your Relationship Status

Your relationship status might have changed between this year and last. Or maybe it hasn’t, and you’re still single, dating, or married to that person no one really approves of. Perhaps you’re seeing the third, sixth, or twelfth person this year, or your long-term partner has decided to skip your holiday celebration.

Look, a whole string of romantic comedies exists to tell us that the holiday season is the perfect time to find a new partner, but a lot of romantic relationships end just before the holidays. Wherever you’re at, whomever you’re with: if you’re happy, be happy. Stand up for your relationship status — even though you should never have to defend it in the first place — and get on with your merry self.

5. Your Decision to Celebrate Differently This Year

Every 1990s sitcom had a holiday episode where a young couple decided to host Thanksgiving — or Friendsgiving, or Christmas, or Hanukkah, etc. — for the first time, only to find out that it’s a living nightmare because no one really wants anything to change, ever. Your loved ones will be understandably upset if you decide to celebrate differently this year — by celebrating Festivus, say, or by seeing the other set of in-laws — but you can’t base your holiday experience on what other people want.

Do what’s right for you, and ask that your family and friends respect your decisions. If they refuse, don’t let yourself be troubled.