Embracing Your Authentic Self for the Holidays

by Trapper S. Kinchen

083We spend our late teens and most of our 20s trying to grow ourselves up. We develop fresh interests, build eclectic friendships, challenge ourselves with hard work, and press into a real relationship with God. The process is not an easy one, but with the passage of time, most of us wind up confident and self-sufficient. We become adults.

However, despite the hard-won battles to achieve independence, many of us emotionally revert when faced with our families. A single word or gesture from a relative can unexpectedly send us into a spiral of self-doubt and codependence. Because of this, many millennials, like generations before them, wrestle with conflicting feelings about “going home.”

The American holiday season officially commences on the last Thursday of November — when Thanksgiving and the promise of pie draws each of us back to our places of origin. During the holidays, we engage in familiar traditions and work hard to meet our parents’ expectations. That being said, no matter how hard we fight against it, every well-meant attempt to satisfy our relatives comes at the expense of our adulthood.

When we sacrifice our authentic selves in the name of family harmony, feelings of psychological regression and emotional depression typically follow. Research has proven many millennials dread interacting with their families around the holidays for fear of loosing their sense of self. Last December, Dr. Goal Auzeen Saedi contributed an article entitled “Ditching Family Drama This Holiday Season” to Psychology Today. It highlighted the anxieties and concerns millennials typically develop when faced with kin.

Dr. Saedi followed a group of college students preparing to leave school for Christmas break. The mental health facility at the university where she worked saw an uptick in the number of people seeking psychological guidance as the semester drew to a close. She wrote, “[They] shared concerns that their families would not accept the more authentic version of themselves. Others came from demanding and sometimes critical parents and were anxious about returning to such a home environment.”

Her research indicates that plenty of people worry about regressing under the strain of their family’s emotional demands. Of course, Dr. Saedi’s findings are not necessarily indicative of every person’s experience. Not everybody is hesitant to “go home.” Nevertheless, when looking at statistics on the mental health of most Millennials, it’s safe to assume that, for many of us, regressive family environments compound with our already highly stressful lives.

CBSNEWS.com cited a 2013 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association and Harris Interactive, which found that “Millennials are more stressed than any other current living generation.” As a group, we bear a great deal of worry. Although some is self-induced, much of our nervous tension is generated by outside influences.

Millennials are faced with an onslaught of psychological strain that makes the transition into adulthood especially challenging: starting careers in a sluggish and competitive job market, cultivating relationships in a progressively disconnected social environment, and understanding where we fit into the rapidly shrinking global landscape.

107As of 2015, millennials are America’s largest generational demographic — the first time in nearly half a century when baby boomers have been outnumbered. We represent a national cultural shift toward openness and inclusivity. It’s no secret most of us hold perspectives that veer, to some degree, away from our parents’ values.

Market analysts and other social theorists call our age group’s worldview the “millennial mindset.” We, in greater numbers than any previous generation, have postponed major life decisions like marriage and reproduction in favor of participating in new experiences and pursuing adventure. And, even those of us who are married and/or are parents, approach life differently than generations past.

The “millennial mindset” also affects how we as a demographic tackle major holidays like Thanksgiving. Millennials are progressively more interested in throwing creative and relaxed celebrations rather than sticking to traditional themes. This change has stemmed in part from our desire to be comfortable just as we are, and our need to avoid pretense.

As our views of the holidays shift, so do the ways in which we engage in them. There is a phenomenon called “Friendsgiving” that is rapidly gaining popularity among our demographic. It is an alternative to the customary Thanksgiving dinner.

Millennials are swiftly realizing celebrations do not need to be unnecessarily full of familial expectations and suppressed anxiety. As a result, many of us have begun opting out of the domestic rituals of our childhoods in favor of coming together with like-minded friends. We have begun to shed obligation in favor of embracing realness.

The general idea behind Friendsgiving is to have a genuine celebration without the dysfunctional tension, outdated conventions and emotional strain usually associated with a holiday at home. Friendsgiving is not defined by a set of prescribed rules, and that’s what makes it so appealing! Invite your friends, coworkers and family too, but do it on your own terms.

It is about abandoning guilt, shame and pressure, and coming together to rejoice with people you enjoy. When the pressure is off, it becomes a celebration based on giving thanks rather than meeting requirements. Chris Erskine of the Los Angeles Times says, “A Friendsgiving is Thanksgiving with no baggage, no family tensions. At Friendsgiving, no one sits in judgment.”

When I was in college, the Saturday before Thanksgiving break, I would host a lunch for all my friends. I spent 72 hours brining a turkey, baking bread from scratch, and learning that homemade cranberry sauce isn’t worth the effort. On the day of the lunch, we all sat around my apartment eating, discussing current events and being our authentic selves. It was a powerfully mature experience, mixed with feelings of pure delight.

067Like the ones my friends and I used to have, Friendsgivings are blank canvases of festivity, designed to bring people together. You can turn them into whatever you want: an informal potluck around the television, a full-on sit down affair with a turducken and cocktails, a vegan barbeque in the backyard, etc. The key is to enjoy yourself and savor the people who help to enrich your life.

Finding peace during the holidays does not necessarily mean isolating yourself from your family. It might be as simple as redirecting the family tradition. Invite your parents and siblings to your house, encourage them to mingle with your friends and assume the role of host.

Breaking free from rituals can be powerfully liberating. Whether its Friendsgiving, Friendsmas, or Friendependence Day, creating a comfortable and joyful atmosphere for a holiday party is always a good idea. Flexibility is the cornerstone of celebrating. It’s not about honoring a custom, but rather about taking pause to count life’s blessings.

It is vital to remember that God wants us to be whole, happy and healthy individuals — the Bible is full of references to this. We do a disservice to others and ourselves when we get bogged down in familial dysfunction and personal regression. The best part of growing up is getting to embrace bare bones self-authenticity and gathering together with the people you love. Happy Friendsgiving!

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