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How To Bring Your Authentic Self to the Thanksgiving Table This Year

For many of us, the pressure to perform traditional family roles and put on a happy face during Thanksgiving feels... suffocating. Trying to square who you've become with what's expected of you isn't easy. And the intensity of the occasion makes the cognitive dissonance even more difficult to bear.

This year, consider a different approach. Rather than shrinking yourself to fit an old mold, craft a Thanksgiving experience that's actually aligned with who you are now.

In other words, bring your authentic self to the table this year.

Define your needs.

The first step to showing up authentically is getting clear on what that means for you. Carve out time for self-reflection beforehand. What do you need to feel seen, safe, and valued this Thanksgiving?

Perhaps it’s:

- The freedom to abstain from religious rituals that no longer fit your beliefs.

- No unsolicited comments on your appearance, relationship status, or major life choices.

- No passive-aggressive digs disguised as caring concern.

- An equal say in how the day's events play out.

Gain clarity on your non-negotiable needs, then commit to upholding them. Remember that suppressing core parts of yourself for the comfort of others only leads to resentment.

Set your boundaries.

Once you know what you need, proactively set boundaries to protect those needs. If certain topics trigger you, give relatives a heads up that you’d prefer to stay focused on other topics. Consider an email, text, or call in advance to explain your request gently, but firmly.

If you dread being "volun-told" to help in ways that no longer work for you, speak up for yourself. Float the idea of a more even distribution of work, or offer to support the host in different ways. Resist guilt trips by responding calmly that you’re happy to contribute, but would like to define what your contribution will look like.

When setting a boundary, be direct, yet compassionate, focusing on what you can control: your own participation. Avoid hurtful language aimed at others’ choices. The goal is to ensure that your needs are met, not to control how others show up.

Model healthy communication.

Accept that no amount of preparation can protect you from every possible conflict. Should tensions arise, model the healthy communication skills and emotional maturity you'd like to see from the rest of the family. While holding your boundaries, do your best to diffuse drama with empathy, humor, and care.

If you've recently made life changes that others may judge, unapologetically own your truth. If you feel comfortable sharing with some or all of your family, do so from the heart without falling into a defensive posture. If you are not comfortable sharing or are unwilling to engage in debate about any aspect of your life, communicate that boundary clearly, ideally in advance.

If a relative pries into your personal life, redirect the conversation. Try this: “I’d rather not discuss that, but I'd love to catch up on other things.” Alternately, shift the conversation toward something that interests you and let them take the hint.

If you need to excuse yourself from uncomfortable situations, feel free to do so. Take time alone to recenter or join another group.

Give yourself time and space to embrace your new role.

For some, embracing their authentic self means skipping holiday gatherings altogether, and there's certainly no shame in that. If you do choose to show up, don’t expect to fully embrace your new role instantly. Offer yourself patience as you learn new ways of honoring your needs amidst what is likely a complex and well-established family system.

Before and after the event, create ample space for self-care. Lean into whatever replenishes you, whether it’s enjoying favorite hobbies, watching holiday movies, spending time outdoors, or simply getting extra sleep.

Use journaling to process any emotions that surface during and after family time. Explore any lingering resentments, hurts, frustrations, and judgements you may uncover. Moving those feelings from your head to the page loosens their grip on you and allows you to learn from them.

Need some help getting in touch with your authentic self? The holiday season is a perfect time for introspection and planning ahead of the new year. A 30-minute free consultation is a great way to explore some ideas and see if I might be the right coach for you.


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.


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