Many of us struggle to cope with toxic family members at Christmas for many reasons.
You see so often in movies, the soaps, and in children’s storybooks, the picture of the perfect family. If you have come from a toxic family, this scenario would be alien to you. Christmas can bring out the worst in the best of families let alone toxic ones.
A lot of times when you hear people say they hate Christmas; it is due to the different experiences they had as a child with their parents and their siblings. Sometimes, it is only when you get older that you begin to realise how difficult your family is.
It’s during Christmas when your family will come together and the pressure is on to have a good time, your family problems can often be magnified.
If on the one hand, you dislike the things your family gets up to but want to spend time with them this holiday season or for many reasons, you don’t have a choice but to spend time with them. How can you cope with toxic family members at Christmas if you find it difficult?
Today I will be providing 9 strategies and ideas on how to cope with your toxic family at Christmas or the holidays.
1. Don’t pretend your family is something they are not
Don’t sugarcoat your family. Sometimes we do this to cope because it is more comfortable being in denial about who they really are. The problem is, we are surprised when things go wrong.
Don’t ignore their difficult behaviours. Use this knowledge to learn how you can cope. for example, for years you might have ignored your mum’s drinking, but you know that when she drinks too much, she becomes nasty and everything gets out of hand.
You can prepare by making a plan to leave when are drinking gets too much. but if you pretend it is not happening you can’t make a plan.
Be realistic about what you are facing so you know what you are dealing with.
Another thing is that if you are not clear on what is going on, how can you be clear on the support you need?
2. Set Boundaries
Set time limits for yourself decide how much time you can come up with your family and stick with it. Ask yourself? How much is too much? How much contact do you want with them?
Which relative can’t you tolerate? Are there some people you can tolerate but not on your own?
Set limits on the conversations, the topics that you know are difficult for you. If you know you would be asked certain questions about your life that you will find difficult, plan beforehand how you will answer them.
For example, your aunt normally looks down at you asking you about your career. Plan you would respond politely and simply just by saying “everything is fine and going to plan” and leave it at that.
It would help to think of an escape route. A reason to give for when you need to leave. You don’t need to stay if it is too much for you.
3. Be clear on your standards
Know that you don’t have to be part of any poor behaviour. That includes intoxication from alcohol or any other substance misuse, anyone’s bad language or antagonising controlling behaviour. Remember you set the bar for your life.
4. Accept them as they are
If you choose to spend time with your family maybe it’s time to acknowledge that no matter how much you wish they will change, can they? will they? do they want to change?
It may be time to consider accepting them as they are. worrying about what will happen with them only adds to your stress levels and will result in more and more disappointments.
By the way, accepting them as they do not mean accepting their poor behavior. It just means seeing them for who they are not having any expectations of them.
For example, you make crave affection, hugs, and kisses but they are cold and distant and can’t understand your needs.
Accept that it sucks and try not to fight battles you may not win.
5. What is your exit strategy?
- You might feel better if you took control and knew that you can leave when you wanted to and not be made to stay because you have not got the means to.
- Do you need your own transport?
- Can you bring some money with you or public transport?
- Would you need your own transport?
- Can you bring money so you can afford public transport to escape?
- Can you bring a friend that can support you who can drive and take you home when you need to?
- Try and think about this and plan beforehand.
6. Be careful of your conversations
if you have issues that you want to discuss that has been concerning for a while now, no matter what it is, maybe Christmas isn’t a time to bring it up. With everyone focussed on having a good time, how helpful would what you want to talk about be.
You’ve just got to work out if it is the right time to be having those conversations, even if you want them for yourself. You need to work out if talking about those issues would just add fuel to the fire.
There is an old phrase that you might find helpful that you can use to work out if what you want to say should be said. It’s called the Three Gate Keepers and you can use this as a gauge: Work out if what you want to say Is Kind, Is it helpful or is it Useful. If you find that it doesn’t meet this then perhaps it is better to work out another time when it would be better.
It also works out the other way where Very often it is the sneaky and hurtful comments that can send you into a head spin. It could be a homophobic comment, different political views, or different levels of morality.
Do you really need to have a heated debate to try and convince them of your view?
If you feel that you can’t be happy until your family understands you, then their beliefs and values will control your life.
If there are things you totally believe in, just remember that you are entitled to your opinion and so are they. Even if you don’t agree with them.
Validate your own feelings and opinions and try to accept the fact that yours are different. In other words, be glad that your views are different.
7. Have emotional support available
Tell a supportive friend of your plans to spend time with your family and decide between you and them what support you will need.
Maybe you just need a response to a quick text message
You might find I useful to have a quick five-minute chat just to let of steam during your time there
You may also find it beneficial to have a long chat with them when you have come home. You may need to tell them how it went and/or have someone to console you.
Don’t forget you can also journal your experiences using the Feeling Wheel. You can journal some of the ideas here and use your journal to work out what would be best for you.
8. Don’t forget self-care
- “Have respect for yourself, patience, and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~Jack Kornfield
- Self-care is important anyway under any circumstances but if you anticipate difficulty ahead, you would need to upgrade your self care so you will not be depleted when it is finished.
- So don’t forget self-care before, during, and after. Here are some ideas:
- Make sure you are not tired and have had enough sleep. Feeling tired would leave you with less energy to cope.
- Try something relaxing before you get there i.e. meditation or yoga
- Don’t forget to exercise as it releases your feel-good hormones.
- Practice deep breathing whilst you are there to help you remain calm
- Have something to look forward to when you leave
Essential oils such as Lavender, bergamot, and ylang ylang amongst others are great for relaxing. Add a few drops to a tissue and inhale the aroma for quick, calming relief. Mix with water in a spray bottle for a calming spritz (try spraying a scarf and carrying it with you throughout the day)
9. Creative visualisation
Creative visualisation is basically creating in your mind first what you would like to happen. You could use creative visualisation in a number of ways here:
Picture in your mind how you would realistically, considering all the dynamics of your family, like the gathering to unfold.
Picture how you would ideally respond to any potential difficulties.
Visualise yourself being protected from any difficulties and challenges. For example, you could picture in your mind an invisible wall between you and your family.
Any toxicity or negativity would bounce off this wall. This protection could be a shield, an imaginary protective person. Whatever you’re comfortable with
What to do next
Feel free to share with someone else that you believe needs therapy. You never know that this may help them to make their minds up!