Navigating Toxic Family Members During The Holidays: A Survival Guide

It’s the most beautiful time of the year. As you get ready to spend time with your family for the holidays, it may bring up a lot of different emotions. You may have family events where they may ask questions about your personal life that you haven’t figured out yet. Not having life figured out yet and feeling stressed or worried about the upcoming festivities is normal. 

If you’ve spent countless holidays worried about interactions with toxic family members over the dinner table, you’re not alone. In this article, we will help you find coping strategies for difficult days and plan for the holidays to help make them more enjoyable.

Set Boundaries

The number one way to prepare yourself to deal with a situation involving a toxic family member is by setting boundaries. Ideally, you want to set boundaries in advance of the event so that you are clear on them and so that you can communicate them to the person if possible. 

Your boundaries may be internal ones that you set with yourself. These boundaries often aren’t visible to the other person. 

Some examples of this would be deciding how long you will stay at a party to limit your time in toxic situations—or planning responses for potential triggering questions that are likely to come up, or choosing not to attend an event that doesn’t serve you. 

You can also consider setting clear boundaries with your family before or even during an event or party. Let them know if you notice comments or behavior that you don’t have the energy to handle. Shut down the situation before it becomes a problem. 

Examples of setting boundaries with your family members in person would be letting them know specific topics or questions that are off-limits and telling them that you will only come to the party for a specific amount of time. 

Boundaries can be successful when you create them on your own and make everyone around you aware of them. They are a great way to handle toxic people by setting your (and their) expectations accordingly. These boundaries can be challenging but might be what your family or friends need to help you have a good time.

Know When To Say No To Toxic People

Unfortunately, toxic family members know how to play on your heartstrings during the holidays and will often try to manipulate you into doing something that may make you feel uncomfortable. 

This type of manipulation can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be intentionally harmful to have a negative impact. Whether it’s asking you to stay out later than you want or talking about an uncomfortable topic, you may feel like you have to comply because they’re your family. 

You need to remember that you are within your right to say no to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you feel stretched too thin or don’t like the sound of something, tell that person that you’re going to pass on this one. 

Lean On People You Can Trust

If you know that you will be in a situation where problematic family members might be an issue, try to identify someone you can be there with that you can lean on. This person may be a significant other, parent, or even a friend. 

Chat with the person (or people) you identified as allies before the event to let them know what’s going on and how to support you. Clue them in on what to look for, like triggers, or prepare them to help you dodge potentially uncomfortable situations.

It can make all the difference when you have someone in your corner for a challenging day. In addition to being your support, if a situation arises, having someone there can also give you a sense of confidence to navigate the situation. 

Set Yourself Up For Success

Chances are, you know the situations that will be challenging this holiday season. Whether you know a challenging person will be at an event, or there’s a party that has a chance to get out of hand, you may know the outcome.

If you know that you have a day with a toxic family member ahead of you, try your best to set yourself up in the best way possible. Positively start your day with meditation or a workout. Wear an outfit that makes you feel good and confident. Listen to good music in the car on your way. 

These little things have the power to help get you in the right mindset to tackle whatever the day brings. Your mind is a powerful thing. It may put you in a better frame of mind to deal with difficult people and even prevent situations from escalating. 

Plan Ahead Of Potential Toxic Gatherings

Take the time to plan out your day before the holiday event. Plan everything, including your travel time, how long you’ll spend there, who you hope to talk to or sit with, and what you look forward to. 

If things start to go down a negative path with a toxic family member, focus back on your plan. If you told yourself you only have to stay for 2 hours at the event, keep a running countdown of how long it is until you leave. 

Sometimes just knowing what to expect and having it all laid out helps you gather up the courage, focus, or positivity needed to get through a particularly tough day. 

Get Help

If you feel like the negativity in your holiday situation is more than you’re able to cope with on your own, reach out for professional help. 

Organizations like Elevations RTC in the Greater Salt Lake area are here to help parents and teens navigate complicated family dynamics this holiday season. They can help your family identify the proper tools to work through situations and even full residential treatment options if needed.

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