Richelle is a nerd of all things healing. Topics she loves are: trauma, healing, narcissism & borderline personality disorder.
A Simple Solution on how to Handle Toxic Family Members During the Holidays
As the weather turns cooler, and autumn sets in we all start to think about the upcoming holiday gatherings. Holidays can be a huge stressor for many people, especially those with toxic family members.
There is a lot of advice circling the internet about how to navigate the tricky waters of family gatherings during the holidays. If you google “how to deal with difficult family members during the holidays”, a plethora of suggestions pop up.
“Adjust your attitude” claims one website. Another claimed “if your mother criticizes your appearance, or your brother makes rude jokes, don’t expect them to change their habits; have a sense of humor about it and remind yourself why you love them”.
Arent the Holidays Supposed to be Enjoyable?
Call me crazy, but I thought that the holidays are a time to ENJOY your time together? The above scenarios definitely do not sound enjoyable. In fact, the last scenario sounds like the person should just give up on setting any boundaries and allow the toxic behavior, all in the name of keeping the peace.
It IS unlikely your mom or brother will change. People rarely change who they are. It is unrealistic to go into a family gathering expecting their toxic behavior to change.
How you can Make the Holidays less Stressful
So what can you do to make the holidays less stressful and toxic? It really is very simple: decide how you want to spend your holiday.
Remember you? Yes you. You are worthy of making decisions for yourself and your mental health and/or the best interest of yourself and your family. It’s ok to decline an invitation if it jeopardizes your mental, emotional, or physical health.
Setting Clear Boundaries
You’re thinking “right, but that’s easier said than done”. True, it may not be easy and you may receive pushback and manipulative tactics for you to join the holiday gathering (your family is toxic, after all). This is when clear boundaries come in.
Let’s play the scenario out. Aunt Gretchen really wants you and your family to attend her annual Thanksgiving gathering. She hasn’t seen you in “forever”, and really wants to see the kids. She says “you never visit and the last time I saw you and the kids was ages ago! Besides, it may be one of the last family gatherings for uncle Mel - you know since he has cancer”.
Yikes. She pulled a master manipulator technique to try to guilt you into coming to her thanksgiving gathering. How are you supposed to handle this situation as tactfully as possible?
You have to state clearly, concisely, and firmly what works for you. For example “Aunt Gretchen, we won’t be able to make your Thanksgiving gathering this year. We understand it’s been a while since you’ve seen the kids, perhaps we can schedule a time to meet when it’s convenient for both of us? I understand uncle Mel isn’t well. We hope to visit with him soon.”
This will likely come with additional push back, or even hostility. Remember, her anger isn’t about you and merely a reflection of her emotional state. However, this doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be victimized by her hostility.
So how do you handle her hostility and anger? Set clear and intentional boundaries while acknowledging her emotions. For example you may say “Aunt Gretchen, I understand it is upsetting that we cannot make your annual gathering. Let’s plan another time early next year to get together.”
Remain Firm and Consistent
Remain firm and consistent in your response, without sacrificing your boundaries. If the conversation turns south and she is being blatantly rude, obnoxious, or down right abusive, simply end the conversation. “Aunt Gretchen, it doesn’t sound like we are on the same page and I am going to hang up now before tensions escalate further”. Then follow through.
At first it may feel awkward or tense to stick up for your own needs and place boundaries where they are needed, especially if you tend to be a people-pleaser. But the holidays are supposed to be a joyful, happy time and you don’t have to sacrifice your mental health to appease others.
Remember, you do not owe anyone anything - even during the holidays. It’s your holiday too, and you deserve to spend the holidays in peace and happiness.
Cheers to the holiday season!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Richelle Marie