Holidays are a time filled with family traditions, good food, and spending time with loved ones. During this time of year, there are common stressors that we all share including stress about traveling and spending money on gifts. Holidays themselves are deeply rooted in religious traditions and even if you don’t necessarily believe in or participate in a religion, they can still be embedded into your celebrations with others (2). Despite all the joy and happiness that is professed during these times, for some, it can be a painful time because of those religious traditions. Often, the holidays aren’t the same anymore because of distanced family relationships caused by a loved one leaving a religion/church.
Faith transitions are hard
First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that going through a faith transition is hard. It’s not something that happens overnight, it usually takes time to go through that decision making process. More often than not people who transition faiths or simply step away from religion, have spent countless hours contemplating their decision, especially when it comes to faiths that are embedded into their families and communities. Leaving may often feel like a loss of identity and may even spark a falling apart in familial relationships and friendships. With a faith transition comes the risk of being marginalized, judged, or even estranged. If you know anyone who is going through a faith transition, please demonstrate understanding and extend support as it can often even exacerbate mental health conditions that may exist within that person.
Some people leave, not simply because of the teachings, but because of religious trauma. The Global Center for Religious Research defines religious trauma as “results from an event, series of events, relationships, or circumstances within or connected to religious beliefs, practices, or structures that is experienced by an individual as overwhelming or disruptive and has lasting adverse effects on a person’s physical, mental, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” (1). Religious trauma is just as serious as any other trauma that a person can develop, and as such, should be treated just like any other trauma. Someone who decides to leave a church/faith because of religious trauma may never be able to go back to those places which caused them so much pain. If they come from deeply committed religious families, then even their childhood homes might become a place where they struggle on ever visiting. When it comes to holidays, which are so centered on religious ideals, the idea of even visiting may be daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible.
Managing the holidays during a faith transition.
After a faith transition, or even during one, the holidays may become a point of contention and conflict, and a time of even more stress when it comes to spending time with loved ones who value religious traditions. At the end of the day, you will know what is best for you in these situations. Trust your judgment and focus on what you can control during these times.
Start by setting boundaries on topics that you don’t want to talk about. This can include your journey on your deconstruction of your faith, or even shutting down conversations that are directed towards attacking you and your decision. Boundaries can also include decisions on whether or not you decide to participate in certain religious traditions. For example, many Christian faiths often hold a special Sunday service at their church. Some people may feel comfortable going, but if you don’t, then you’re allowed to set that boundary and say no.
After setting boundaries, focus on controlling your reactions. There may be family members and loved ones who criticize and judge you for the decision you made, and although none of their reactions are justified, learning to control your reactions by demonstrating respect can help de-escalate situations and help you keep your own peace of mind. It is also important to note that simply because you have left behind a faith, it doesn’t justify you becoming critical of others who decide to stay within a faith and participate.
Build new traditions. It may be hard those first few holidays, but over time you and your loved ones can learn to build new traditions. By finding common ground and establishing boundaries on what you feel comfortable doing, you can build new traditions focused on sharing time with each other.
For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Given that this article is originally intended for residents of Utah, it is important to acknowledge the mass number of members of this church and its influence on the daily lives of many people living here.
This blog was written by Alessandro Gemio, edited by Izzy Maire & Hailey Maire, LCSW, and reviewed/approved by Taylor Madsen, LMFT, and Hailey Maire, LCSW.