Here are 11 strategies to help you deal with toxic family members during the holiday season.
1. Prepare in advance
“In fair weather prepare for foul.” – Thomas Fuller
One of the most difficult things about spending Christmas with your toxic family is the feeling of having no control. However, if you plan ahead you can be in better control of yourself and be prepared to cope with the many problems and challenges that will eventually occur. Reflect on your experiences from past holidays and take a mental note of which situations made you upset.
Plan your responses and reactions to potentially uncomfortable interactions and controversial remarks. Rehearse a few stock responses to better deflect questions that are painful for you. Give boring answers to questions from family members and relatives you don’t like. You can also prepare a statement like “I don’t think this is the best time to discuss this”.
2. Set safe boundaries
Knowing that your family is difficult, decide how much of Christmas time with your family and relatives you can tolerate beforehand. Ask yourself what’s the deal-breaker? Is there anyone in your family that you just can’t stand? Is it easier to be in groups than facing particular family members individually? How long can you tolerate to stay? An hour? Few hours? One day? How much will be too much for you? Should you plan for a graceful exit? Figuring these things out before you visit your family will help you cope with the toxicity in a smarter and more prepared manner.
3. Don’t get your hopes up
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” – Donald Miller
Despite what you may believe, spending Christmas at your home will probably suck. When you’ve stayed away from your family for the entire year, it’s likely you may get hopeful about your trip back home. You may expect that things may finally start getting better with your parents reforming their critical ways. However, as you walk into your home and realize that everything is the same, just as you left it. Your hopes will be crushed affecting your mental and emotional health. Hence, setting your expectations low can help you avoid heartbreak when spending the holidays with your toxic family.
Understand that your family is not perfect and set expectations accordingly. Expect the same patterns of behavior from your family and relatives and realize that things will probably get messy.
4. Don’t take things personally
Your family has always been dysfunctional. It’s not about you. It was never your fault. This is how they are and they will probably never change. They don’t hate you, they simply lack the awareness. They may be insensitive and may not be thoughtful but they never intend to cause you harm. They are your family and despite what it may seem and they always want the best for you. However, they have their own struggles and battles to fight. They have their own inner demons to fight. They are as stressed and anxious about the holidays as you are. So try not to take everything as a personal attack. Instead of being frustrated or angry at your family, try to be a bit more compassionate and empathetic towards them. After all, it’s the season to show love and be forgiving. Treat your family the way you want to be treated and this alone can make the whole experience a whole lot better.
5. Stay away from alcohol
“When the wine is in, the wit is out.” – Thomas Becon
Most of the worst memories of our lives start with alcohol. It just brings out the worst in us. Alcohol, including alcoholic eggnog, can easily provoke aggressive and emotional reactions. It suppresses inhibitions and serves as an unhinged arbitrator in conversations. As you drop your guards, you become more open to exhibit unhealthy behaviors.