8 Essential Tips for Dealing with Toxic Family this Christmas

Pearl Harrison

Ah, the holidays. A time for food, friends, fun, and family. Gathering together to share stories, a cup of cocoa, and grandma's pumpkin pie. Except grandma is drunk, your uncle is racist, and your mother-in-law keeps making passive-aggressive jabs at your parenting. What do you do when your family gatherings turn into a shit show?

1. Therapy

If you haven’t already, find a therapist. Everyone should have a therapist anyway, but especially when you have to deal with a toxic person on a regular basis. If you aren’t sure where to start in finding a therapist, ask your friends or primary care physician for a referral.

2. Healthy coping methods
Having healthy coping methods when you get stressed out by the toxic people is essential. Meditation, a friend to text or call, something to distract you, removing yourself from a conversation or situation, plenty of time to decompress afterwards, etc. All of these can help keep situations from escalating on your end.

3. Support system

Speaking of friends, having a strong support system is essential. You need to have people you can reach out to for support, and they need to be: available, empathetic, good listeners, compassionate, and people who have your best interest in mind. Lean on them. Ask them for exactly what you need, whether it be a listening ear or commiseration.

4. Make a plan
Ahead of time, think of what you're going to do if certain issues come up. “If they ___, then I will ____.” Prepare yourself as best you can to avoid being put on the spot at the time. Discuss this plan with anyone who will be going with you so you're all on the same page.

5. Create healthy boundaries
Boundaries are important for any relationship, and even more so with toxic people. Don't let your boundaries be manipulated. If you say no, it means no. Don't feel guilty about enforcing healthy boundaries - your wellbeing is more important than them getting whatever they want.

6. Limited to no contact
Sometimes the best plan is to not engage. If your toxic family members refuse to respect your boundaries despite you asking them to, limited or no contact may be something you choose to do. You do not owe anyone your time or attention, especially if they refuse to treat you with respect.

7. Open communication with partner If you have a partner, they are your teammate. In addition to agreeing to a plan beforehand, keep your lines of communication open with them. Be clear about your expectations of yourselves and each other, decompress together, and proactively share your feelings. Don't expect your partner to read your mind or know how you're feeling on their own.

8. Reclaim your time
Did grandpa ruin Thanksgiving with his racist rants? Have a redo with just your immediate family, without him. Do something completely nontraditional instead. Reclaim that time. It's yours to use how you want.

Dealing with toxic family members during the holidays is really challenging. Use all the tools at your disposal to survive the moment; and then, if you need to, go on a long vacation with lots of alcohol.