The Mighty Logo

Why COVID-19 Is a Good Excuse to Not See Toxic Family For the Holidays

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I love the holidays. I love snow, I love walking out into the crisp, cold air in the morning, I love decorating and I love what the season stands for. I love cozying up to cheesy Hallmark movies with my roommates and walking around the city looking at the lights. The spirit of giving around this time of year fills my heart with such warmth and hope. 

That being said, there’s one major aspect of the holidays I do not love– the family aspect. And know I’m not alone in this. For people who have toxic or abusive family members, the holidays can be an extremely difficult time of year. It becomes expected for people to get together and celebrate with the very same people they have tried to distance themselves from. Some people are forced to travel back to places that hold traumatic memories and reminders. Others are brought into spaces where they are not welcomed or accepted for who they are. Triggers increase, emotions intensify and what’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” becomes tainted by toxicity. 

Personally, while there are many aspects of the holidays I love, when I think about interacting with my family and going back to my parent’s house, I am immediately filled with anxiety and dread. Almost instantly after, guilt consumes me because what person is filled with dread when their family is able to be together? But as someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from growing up in an emotionally abusive household, the idea of being back in that place is too much. Though I moved out months ago, I continue to wake up sweating almost nightly, convinced I’m back in my old room at my parent’s house. Thinking I would actually have to be back in that room terrifies me. With parents who still don’t understand and continue to manipulate me, seeing them is not exactly high on my list of holiday activities. 

The holidays also tend to be highly focused on food in my house — especially with two parents in the culinary business. My family knows I struggle with my body image, but they have no idea I’m in the thick of fighting an eating disorder. They would be horrified if they knew the extent to which this goes. Yet, even with how little they do know, I’ve told them repeatedly that I get triggered when they talk about their diets. What do they still do? Talk about their diets. Talk about how “bad” certain foods are. Talk about the exercise they’ll need to do to burn this off. Send pictures of their workouts, including how many calories they’ve burned. Talk about how they’re letting themselves “cheat” for the day. How they’re “treating” themselves. 

Once again, not a great reason to be around them. 

There’s one thing this year that’s changing the game, though. Our dear friend COVID-19. COVID-19 has completely shifted how people celebrate holidays this year. Many people who would typically travel to see family, aren’t this year. People who typically host large gatherings are being encouraged not to. Some are socially distancing in their homes, some are wearing masks, others find themselves on Zoom calls to celebrate virtually with loved ones. 

Being apart from family and loved ones during the holidays season has been a challenge for many. But, for people with toxic family situations, there just might be a silver lining in 2020 after all. COVID-19 is an incredibly valid excuse to not return home or see family. You don’t want to spread it, you were possibly infected yourself, you don’t feel comfortable, you live with people who are at-risk, etc. Even for families who accept no excuses, this is an extremely legitimate argument. Science is on our side here, folks. 

I actually saw this come to life on Thanksgiving. My brothers both tested positive for COVID-19 and I had seen them about a week and a half prior. My parents tested negative, but I hadn’t gotten my results back yet. I live with two roommates, both of whom have immediate family who are immunocompromised. It made perfect sense for me not to go home. And as crushed as my parents were, we celebrated over Zoom. Let me just say, that was the least stressful Thanksgiving I’ve had. 

I don’t know how Christmas will go over. I’m hoping I don’t have to spend much time back at my parent’s house. I’m hoping they will respect my decisions (hey, a girl can dream). For people in similar situations,   2020 has been hard enough, we don’t need any extra stress, especially during the holidays. But most of all, I hope one day we won’t have to use COVID-19 as an excuse to not see family or go home. I hope one day we can set boundaries, stand our ground and make these decisions for ourselves.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Originally published: December 10, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home