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Why Going Home Is Hard

You can go home and learn to enjoy the holiday celebrations.

Key points

  • Going home for the holidays affects everyone differently. Conflicting feelings can make a return home challenging.
  • Mindful awareness and intentional thoughts will help guide a person through a holiday homecoming.
  • To make returning home for the holidays a positive experience, anticipate feelings that might arise and set clear boundaries.

Thanksgiving brings with it the beginning of holiday celebrations everywhere. People of all ages are experiencing the feeling of “coming home.” This year may feel especially poignant after last year’s forced disconnection and isolation. For some of us, that brings warmth and comfort, and light to our lives.

For others, coming home is difficult, problematic, and even painful. Not feeling the collective experience of light and cheer during the holiday season can make this time of year challenging. Exploring what coming home means to you intentionally can help you create more of the holiday season that you want to experience.

One of my clients is a freshman in college. The Thanksgiving break will be her first time back home since she left a few months ago. She mentioned that she was almost dreading going back home. On the one hand, she was looking forward to being with her family and the comfortable and familiar place she knew and grew up in; on the other hand, she felt a sense of trepidation.

We explored these confusing feelings together to determine how to make her trip home one that she enjoyed. After discussing how her transition to school was difficult, she felt that being at home would be difficult. With some deep introspection, she discovered that her new life at school represented her future, her new sense of independence, and the person she was becoming, while home represented her past and the things she left behind.

Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya/Unsplash
Source: Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya/Unsplash

Holding the paradoxical feelings of coming home–warmth, comfort, and familiarity–versus the difficult feelings of who you were and the past–memories and things you may have purposefully left behind–can be challenging in unexpected ways. It affects people of all ages and stages and can be somewhat surprising, especially if you haven’t been back home or with the people that feel at home in some time.

What does it mean to be “home?” It’s normal to feel uneasiness about returning to your former home after moving away to a new home. Sometimes your people may feel suddenly different than you remembered. Perhaps you have changed in ways that make home feel different.

Whatever challenges that going home poses for you, here are five ways to make your holiday homecoming the one you want to have.

  1. Anticipate some of the feelings that might arise first. You can be more conscious of who you want to be when you’re with your people. What can you do more of and less of to be that person?
  2. Accept that whatever you’re feeling is just information. Our feelings are our internal GPS and are simply there to provide information and to guide us.
  3. Challenge the stories you’re telling yourself that create your feelings. Ask yourself why else might the other person be responding or reacting in this way? What else might be true in this situation? Lean into your feelings and explore all the reasons you might be feeling them.
  4. Be aware. Know what you want and why. Being intentional about who you want to be or what holiday season you want to experience will help you create that for yourself. What do you have control of, and what don’t you have control of? Controlling the controllables focuses your energy on things you can affect and that impact your life. What can you do and not do to stay connected to yourself and others? Strengthening your connection to yourself and your people can create more meaning during the holiday season.
  5. Set clear boundaries. Letting others know what you are willing to tolerate and not teaches others how to treat us. Healthy boundaries are also an important step in learning how to take care of ourselves, as we only know what feels ok to us and what doesn’t.

Choosing to go home for the holidays doesn’t have to be difficult. While this holiday season may not be all that you want it to be, it can be an opportunity to create more of the most important connections to you by trying these strategies to stay connected both to yourself and to others in your world.