Estranged From Your Family? This Will Get You Through The Holidays.

If you've chosen to distance yourself from your relatives right now, this article will get you through.

Love & Relationships

I'm pretty much assuming that we all can agree on the fact that this isn't the most pleasant topic on the planet. But when I factor in the fact that I know what it's like to choose to remove myself from toxic family members and then I add to that, an article I read that said between 12-17 percent of folks are estranged from at least one family member (personally, based on a lot of stories I've been told, that stat seems really low to be honest with you), I knew that it would be necessary to get this done; especially during a year when a lot of us have spent more time away from loved ones, just with the pandemic alone.

If you're like me and holidays aren't really your thing anyway, figuring out how to make it through the next several weeks may not be that big of a deal. But if Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve are typically the time when you see your family the most and yet, for whatever the reason, this year, you're not speaking to some or all of your folks, take a deep breath, get yourself a warm cup of tea or cocoa and let's figure out how you can get to January 1, 2021 with your heart as intact as possible, OK?

Remember Why the Boundaries Exist in the First Place


I say it often because it's the truth—boundaries are limits and yes, limits oftentimes have to be applied to family members, just like anyone else; shoot, sometimes even more. When you factor in articles I've written for the site like "What If It's Your Parents Who Happen To Be The Narcissists?" and "How To Recover If You Had To 'Raise Your Parents' As A Child", and you also take into account how a lot of you respond to them, it's clear that many of us either weren't taught what boundaries are as well as we should've been or we had people in our lives who constantly violated our boundaries, whether that's physically, emotionally, mentally or even spiritually (you know, people who use religious to justify all of their foolish, destructive and erratic behavior). And so, sometimes, a season of estrangement is so we can get away from the people who clearly have a lot to learn in the area of boundaries, so that we can establish the ones that are best for us and the kind of life that we choose to live.

While it's perfectly normal (and understandable) to miss your family around this time of year, it's important to make sure that you do your best to separate your nostalgia and sentimentality from the truth, facts and reality of why you are maintaining a distance from them to begin with. Make no mistake about it—if you're currently estranged because say, you've got family members who are controlling or manipulative, they will definitely try and use that to their advantage between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That said, if you choose to engage, let it be because you're ready, not simply because it's the holiday season because, at the end of the day, a holiday is just a day and you'll still have to pick up the pieces of whatever "extra else" your family brought into your life, once the festivities are over.

Boundaries are designed to protect us. The violation of boundaries is abusive. Set boundaries first. Honor them. Then make whatever other decisions are best for you, based on that.

Be Honest with Yourself About What You’re Currently Feeling


As I've done a lot of my own healing as it relates to toxic family members, if I had to put together a top five list of things that made me be like, "Yeah, we need some distance", something that would probably go into the third or fourth slot, is the fact that I was never really given the space to feel what I wanted and needed to feel when it came to the abuse that I endured or the abusers who caused it. I was always cut off or emotionally manipulated and told that whatever thoughts or emotions I had weren't "pleasing to God" or valid to them. THAT. IS. POISON. And when you're constantly around people like that, it can cause you to have a bit of an identity crisis as you try and figure out who the heck you are and what your real feelings are vs. what they tried to guilt you into feeling—or not feeling.

While estrangement can be hard, if there is a bona fide benefit to it, it's that you now have the space to figure out how you feel when it comes to why you pulled yourself away, what you would need in order to reconcile and how you feel in this very moment. It's important to factor all of this in because between Hallmark movies, holiday music and your friends constantly bringing their own families up, it can be easy to question if you should totally forget your boundaries and at least act like you and your family are close; healthy even.

Please try and avoid doing that. I know a lot of media says that the holidays are a time for burying the hatchet 'n all, yet the reality is, if you didn't feel great about connecting back in June, December 25 shouldn't automatically change anything. Honor your feelings and make decisions from there because, remember—if your family had done the same, there would be no need to read this article…right?

Watch Your Triggers


On the heels of what I just said, there's a really good chance that someone from your family is gonna hit you up, saying that it's in the spirit of the holiday season. No one can really fault them for that; however, if you do choose to answer their DM, email, text or phone call, just make sure that you know what your triggers are beforehand. For instance, something that I've learned is a sho 'nuf trigger for me are people who claim that they are reaching out to apologize, only to really call to justify foul behavior, hoping that by the time they are done, I will excuse what they've done—perhaps even feel sorry for them for hurting me in the first place (a true narcissism trait, by the way). For years, I would fall for that BS, only to hang up and feel like they opened up my wound all over again.

Why? Because when you've been harmed by someone, it's important for them to validate that pain; they can do that by taking full ownership for their actions. That said, whenever folks find a way to skirt around this fact, all they're doing is injuring you more. And when you keep getting hurt, either it makes you angry or turns you numb. So yeah, I had to stop dealing with the ones who did that to me because they've been like that since, shoot...for as long as I can remember. This means that they've been wounding me and causing me grief for as long as I can remember as well. I had to get some space so that the wounds could heal. Fully.

I don't know what sets you off and by no means am I saying that it's a given that once you get to the root of your triggers that you also shouldn't speak or deal with whoever triggers you. What I am saying is unsafe/toxic people seem to live to push triggers, so the way to deal with them is to know yours and then set up safeguards. If your controlling mama makes you a basket case with her religious deflecting, accept that. If your sister drives you up the wall with her constantly asking for things without ever offering something in return, own that. If you've got some other family member who puts you in the foulest of moods, just 10 minutes into a conversation, admit that too. Then make two decisions. First, decide if there is a way to deactivate that trigger within yourself (because expecting them to not trigger you is, 8 times out of 10, gonna disappoint you every time). Second, if you can't deactivate it, be real with yourself about whether total avoidance is still the best route to take. After the holidays, you've still got a life to live. It would be a shame to spend months into next year trying to heal from a few short weeks of the holiday season and that family of yours, simply because you let them trigger you in a way that you know you're not fully prepared to handle. Yet.

Create Your Own Traditions


While I was growing up, my mother was pretty big on Christmas. I remember getting a fresh evergreen Christmas tree, stringing popcorn, watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and listening to gospel Christmas music while she baked. It was also pretty common for folks to come over as she made us—yes, made us—go caroling in the neighborhood. Christmas was cool. As Christmas goes, I guess. However, as an adult, I don't observe Christmas or really any holiday. No, I'm not a Jehovah's Witness; I'm just the kind of person who, once I know the backstory on something and decide I don't want to be a part of it, I tend to dip out. Anyway, that's so not the point. Once I started fading out of Christmas, for years, I would get pushback. And if there's a truth about adulthood, it's that you now have the complete freedom to live your life as you see fit, without the need for anyone's permission or approval.

While being estranged means that you won't be a part of your family's holiday-themed customs, never forget that the flip to that is you can happily create some of your own. So yeah, take this time and ask yourself what you do and don't like about the holiday season. Then make plans for observing them—or not observing them—just as you see fit. Finally.

Spend Time with Some of Your “Love Family”


Friendships have layers and levels. I will be the very first person to agree with that resolve. I liken it to Christ and his 12 disciples. One was a devil (it's Scriptural—John 6:70). Eight were his homies. And then there was Peter, James and John—the three he asked to pray with him as he was preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice (Matthew 26, John 3:16); those were his top-tier, inner circle friends—the ones he probably saw as being like brothers to him. I've got people like that in my life. Individuals who are emotionally safe, who love me like we're blood and who have my back no matter what. While the family I was born into is my "blood family", I choose to call my dearest friends my "love family".

Even if you aren't close to and/or engaging your blood family this year, if you've got people in your world who you consider to be your own love family, I am willing to be my next paycheck that they will be more than willing to embrace you with open arms and a seat at their dinner table (so long as you show no signs of sickness and bring your mask). And because you are so at peace with them, you can easily avoid all of the discomfort and drama that might arise if you try and force yourself to be in an environment where you don't really want to be…just because it's "the holidays". Trust me, love family can be a wonderful alternative to blood family, if you want to be around people yet you want to not risk conflict and issues in the process.

Understand What True Reconciliation Requires


I can't tell you, just how many Christmas movies I've seen over the course of my lifetime, where the overall message is it's this time of year when all faults need to be wiped clean, so that we can start the year anew. There's A LOT I could say to that, yet I'll leave it where I typically do when I just wanna give the Reader's Digest version of my thoughts on the matter. If you feel like you want to connect back with the family who you're not currently interacting with, do that. Just make sure that you know who and what you're dealing with and that you are clear on what reconciliation is all about.

What reconciliation is not is what a lot of republicans are trying to shove down democrats' throats right through here; it's not about enduring constant abuse and then having the burden be placed on you, the one who had to endure it all, to set things right. While yes, restoring a broken relationship does require some forgiving on the "victim's" part, don't let anyone make you feel bad for expecting some full-on repenting on the "victimizer's" part as well. Repenting requires taking responsibility. Repentance requires wanting to make an amends. Repentance requires seeking what you need in order for the estrangement to cease. Repentance also requires humility.

So, if a family member chooses to reach out, stating that reconciliation is what they truly desire, keep in mind that it looks like. Don't let anyone make you feel like being flippant or dismissive is good enough. It's not. Not by a long shot.

Again, I know this wasn't the warm-and-cozy-wrapped-up-in-a-big-red-bow kind of message. Still, I hope it offered up a little bit of clarity and confirmation for those who may not be with their family this year. Being estranged doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you someone who simply wants better for yourself. Feel good about that. Even if that means experiencing a different kind of holiday season this year. One that brings peace and goodwill your way—just differently.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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