6 Ways To Handle Toxic Family Members This Holiday Season (Without Going To Jail Or Being Mean To Yourself)

You know the drill. You make up your that mind Aunt Emily is NOT going to successfully bait you this year. Nope. Not happening. You’re aware of her patterns. You’ve read 10 books on it this year alone, and this Christmas, you are going to come to center, count to ten and choose who to assign your energy to. Then you get there. And she does her thing (she is soooo good at it) and suddenly you forget how to count, you assign every ounce of energy to being angry and you blow it. Why are your kids looking at you like that? Was that a satisfied smirk on her face after you lost your cool? I think it was.

We all have toxic relatives. The ones who know exactly how to push your buttons and get a reaction out of you. I have plenty of them in my family, too. At Christmastime, it can be especially hard to avoid toxic family members. You could always opt to skip the function where the trigger people gather and have your own celebration. But if you end up sitting at the Christmas table with people who drive you up the wall, here are 6 tips for making it through the day with a little less stress.

1. Detach. 

Remember that this person has issues of her own and you’re probably not going to change them by a Christmas debate. Detach from the need to have her approval or agreement. When she starts her stuff, and she will, remind yourself that you’re not trying to win her approval. Become an observer of the situation and less of a participant.

2. Honor your boundaries. 

I have to really be mindful with this one. I am so easily led astray to a place of allowing my trigger people to cross personal boundaries and suck me in. When your trigger person starts discussing things that cross the line, politely but firmly let her know it. If she continues to press issues that you find offensive or off-limits, stop talking. Without your participation, she cannot set you off. If you need to get up and move to a different area, do that. Talk to someone else. Take a bathroom break. Go outside for a phone call to someone supportive. Whatever. Honor your personal boundaries and make no apologies for it. 

3. Reframe it as an opportunity. 

This really is an opportunity to practice self-love, and if you’re a mom, it’s a chance to show your children how to handle toxic people in a healthy way. Leading by example is so powerful. And when you manage to make it through an interaction with a toxic person without blowing it, you feel amazing and proud. It’s a much better feeling than reacting the way the trigger person wants you to and then mentally beating yourself up about it for months or years. You get to choose how to react and it will not be easy, but it is doable. Take this chance to love yourself.

4. Work on compassion and forgiveness. 

Yep. This is a really hard one sometimes. I have found that to get what I want, I must give it to others. There are many times that I desire forgiveness and understanding, even when I don’t deserve that; I want Grace. Grace is forgiveness and compassion where it is undeserved. This means that to bestow grace on others, we must forgive them, love them and feel compassion for them without them asking for it or (in our opinions) deserving it. Anger is something I’ve dealt with for years and I am a work in progress. While much of my anger is for valid reasons, the only people it harms are my children and me (not the people I'm angry at). When we believe our anger is justified, it's hard to see things outside of that belief. But, if we can see the toxic person outside of the lens of anger, we start to see a wounded, insecure person. That is almost always the case. In this space, find compassion and call in forgiveness. This is not to condone their actions but to release the anger you feel around their actions. It's freeing for you. It’s like suddenly seeing the big, scary monster in the closet as a helpless little hamster (unless hamsters scare you and in that case, insert something you're not afraid of there). 

5. Set an intention and write it down. 

Take it with you and re-read it throughout the day, as needed. For example, mine would be: I will honor myself and be kind to others without breaking my boundaries. If someone makes a joke at my expense, I will not laugh for them. If someone says something offensive about my children, I will be assertive in speaking up without screaming or returning the insults. 

6. Take a rescue box. 

Bring along some things you can do if you need a distraction. Download a game on your phone. Bring a book you want to read. Take along a crochet or knitting project to work on. Crosswords, a sketchbook, a portable dvd player with a few movies. Things you can do with the kids. Take a few options with you just incase you feel the need to unplug from the situation and mentally escape for a bit. 

At the end of the day, reward yourself for showing up and trying. Even if you did engage more than you wanted to. Even if everything wasn’t perfect. Be gentle with yourself and do something to wash away the yucks. 

2-Minute Takeaway (Journal Prompt): What is my intention for this gathering? What are 3 things I can do to make this intention come true?