How to Avoid Family Gatherings

Published September 30, 2019
mother and daughter having serious conversation

Family gatherings may feel stressful for many reasons. If you want to opt out of a family gathering, there are many ways you can go about doing so in a kind manner.

Remove Yourself From Toxic Family Gatherings Appropriately

A toxic family can be incredibly stressful to be around and can negatively impact your life. Examples of toxic family system patterns and behaviors include abuse, sexual assault/incest, neglect, and drug and alcohol abuse. If being around members of your family brings up symptoms of anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, compulsive behaviors, and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is completely okay to give yourself permission to forgo family gatherings and events. You may also want to consider seeking out a professional counselor so you can process your family history in a healthy way, and work towards eliminating your uncomfortable symptoms.

Be Straightforward

If it is safe to do so, you can let your family know in a concise way that you are not comfortable heading to family events going forward. You don't need to dive into the details as to why, especially if whoever you're speaking with lacks insight into their own toxic behavior. Before speaking with your family, think about what their reaction will likely look like, and how you can remain grounded even if the situation becomes heated. You may also want to consider if you will let them know in person, on the phone, through text, or through email. Pick the safest option and trust your gut. You can say:

  • I'm not comfortable heading to the family gathering next week.
  • I unfortunately won't be able to attend the event coming up.
  • I am not attending family events going forward.
  • I no longer feel safe attending family events and won't be at any in the future.

Keep in mind that you in no way owe anyone an explanation, and if you truly feel unsafe saying anything and just opt to not show up, that's okay as well. It can be incredibly difficult to untangle yourself out of what can feel like a web of dysfunction. As an adult, you have the right to make the best decision for you, and sometimes that means avoiding highly dysfunctional family members.

Put Your Mental Health and Safety First

Dealing with disagreements

If your family has endangered you in the past physically or emotionally, know that it is okay to opt out of family events. Doing so may help protect you from becoming embroiled in an unhealthy environment. Keep in mind that you may feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame if you make the decision to avoid a family event. This is completely normal and will take some time to adjust to. If you have a child that could be potentially endangered by chaotic or violent family members, it is your job as the parent to keep them safe and protected by choosing not to put them in a dangerous situation. It can be helpful to come up with a mantra for yourself such as:

  • I'm putting my mental health first.
  • I have the right to only have healthy, loving people in my life.
  • Family is not always determined by blood.
  • I am making the right decision for my health, wellness, and safety.
  • My child's safety is my first priority.

Distant Relationships

If you don't have the closest relationship with your family, but they have never emotionally or physically harmed you, you may still be considering skipping out on family events. Having an awkward or distant relationship with your family can put a lot of pressure on these gatherings, and you may feel uncomfortable attending. You can say:

  • I'm not a big family events type of person, but I'd love to get together with you individually at some point.
  • I won't be able to attend. I have a huge work deadline, but I hope you all have a great time.
  • I'm unfortunately not up for heading over, but I hope you all enjoy yourselves.

You can also consider heading over and making a quick appearance and then heading out if it feels like too much to handle. You can say you don't feel well, or you're pet sitting for a friend and need to leave.

Introverted or Overwhelmed

uncomfortable at family gathering

If family gatherings feel like sensory overload to you, you're not alone. It can be a lot to have everyone in the same space for that long. You can consider going for a bit and leaving early, or you can come up with a few reasons why you won't be able to make it. You can say:

  • Large social gatherings tend to make me feel anxious, so I won't be attending the upcoming family event.
  • I unfortunately have some work that needs to get done before next week, so I won't be able to make it.
  • I actually have plans that have been in place for a while, but I hope you all have a great time.

Dealing With Questions and Gossip

If family members are beginning to question you or are gossiping about why you don't come to family events, you may start to feel guilty about your decision not to go. Keep in mind that you have every right to make the healthiest decision for you, and no one's opinion can take that away from you. You can consider:

  • Squash the gossip and be honest about your discomfort in attending large events, but note that a few feathers may get ruffled by that strategy.
  • If that isn't your style, you can always place the focus on yourself, and say that large events tend to overwhelm you and give you anxiety, and you much prefer smaller gatherings or one-on-one get togethers.
  • You can also use work as an excuse and say you have a big project coming up and that it's really important that you get some down time to recharge.

Making the Healthiest Choice for You

Whatever your reason for not wanting to attend a family gathering, know that you aren't alone. Take time to think about what the healthiest decision for you is, and try to imagine what type of response you'll receive so you can be prepared with a potential explanation.

How to Avoid Family Gatherings