It’s the most WONDERFUL time of the year, or is it? Tensions run high and blood is boiling… someone snaps and it’s on for young and old. Down go the crackers and Santa hats and up come the fists, or at least the verbal slanging match. Sound familiar? If you're living with a toxic family member you need to read on…
Society tells us we should ‘look forward’ to Christmas and ‘celebrate’ Christmas BUT, if you are dealing with difficult family members this can be beyond hard. Trust me, I know. Did you know calls to Police for help with domestic violence spike over the Christmas period? That’s right… a confronting mix of unfinished business, poor behaviour choices, summer heat, alcohol and societal pressure ultimately sees people flip their lid. So much for a happy Christmas huh?
Never fear. I’ve put together a list of strategies I have personally used to get myself through awkward, tense situations that could have gone bad. (But thankfully didn’t because of these fine tips!) Have a read and take what works for you. Remember, I don’t know your specific family situation so some of these may not be relevant for you.
Ok, here we go…
Disconnect from the BS
No matter how crazy ‘crazy’ gets, don’t engage. Take a deep breath, walk away… whatever feels right in the moment. Creating space between the situation and your emotions could be the difference between a decision you’ll later regret and a decision you’ll later be proud of. The ball is in YOUR court.
Make the day transactional
Basically what this means is just do what you’ve got to do! Smile, laugh, be polite, show respect, help out… whatever. Look at it like completing a job. (But obviously still enjoy YOUR Christmas!). When we treat these things like we would a business transaction we reduce the emotional load. We separate ‘the day’ from ‘the problem’.
Don’t stoop to their level
Never EVER meet these people where they’re at. Tit for tat never works, it’ll only bring you down. Remain committed to your morals and values and you’ll have nothing to feel ashamed, embarrassed or guilty about. Hold your head high girlfriend!
Put your poker face on
This one is hard but it’s worth it. This isn’t about looking ‘normal’ for other people it’s about tricking your brain into thinking you’re calm. Walk around with an angry face all day and you’ll only send out and receive angry in return.
Wrap yourself in warm protective layers and leave your armour at home
Self-preservation is key. Holding space for yourself and your own personal boundaries amidst the chaos is so important. Wearing armour only says you’re up for a fight.
Let their behaviour speak for itself
Avoid trying to get other people ‘on side’ by bitching or whinging about this person. This will only feed negativity and make other people doubt YOU!
Remember who or what is actually ‘talking’ if the chaos unfolds
Is your toxic family member dealing with their own trauma? Do they have a diagnosed personality disorder or mental health challenge? Are they older and just losing their filter? These factors are NOT excuses for their behaviour but they may help you understand the ’why’.
Recognise your difference
This family member may be related to you by blood but remember that you are a VERY different person to them. If you are self-aware and see the toxicity for what it is there’s a good chance you won’t turn out the same, despite your DNA!
Get other family members or friends on board to help deal with, manage or look after this person. Don’t go it alone, this will only isolate you and ruin your day.
REFUSE to let this person ruin your day
Take back your power by telling yourself that people can only make you feel a certain way IF you let them. Don’t get sucked into the chaotic vortex! Remember that you deserve to enjoy this special day (or period) as much as anyone else.
Practice self-care before, during and after the event
No doubt about it, this stuff is exhausting! Look after YOU and honour your own needs. Physical, mental and emotional. Remember that in many cases nothing you ever do will be good enough in the eyes of the toxic family member so when we break it all down, you really can’t fail! Pleasing them is impossible.
So there you have it, my top tips for surviving Christmas with toxic family members. I hope these tips help you have the Christmas YOU DESERVE.
Remember, you aren't alone in your dealings with family dysfunction. All families have their 'stuff'!
If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy My Top Ten Christmas Survival Tips which I wrote last year! And, as always, if you find these tips and tricks helpful I'd love it if you could share them using the links below. By sharing this article you're helping more women find this blog and therefore get the support they need! Don't forget, if you would like to work with me you can connect with me here. My services are available Australia wide. x
Until next week...
Yours in better mental health,
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!