When it comes to the question of how to deal with toxic family members, one of the first questions to ask yourself is: should I attend functions that will drain my mental well-being? Sometimes skipping these challenging family gatherings doesn’t feel like an option. If you plan to attend, here are some strategies to escape with your well-being intact. Start with Part 1 where we talked about how to set realistic expectations and boundaries as well as prepare in advance. In Part 2, we will look at 4 additional strategies.
5. Avoid Old Patterns
An important step in how to deal with toxic family members during the holidays is avoiding old patterns. Families often have established roles and behaviors that can lead to conflicts and unnecessary stress. Take time to reflect on what patterns you fall into. Do you take sides with certain family members? Are there particular siblings you always disagree with? Do you try to fix and mediate with everyone? Consider how these patterns are or are not serving you. Take some time to reflect on your triggers, the potential sources of conflict, and your typical emotional responses. Self-awareness can help you respond effectively and maintain your emotional balance.
Example: Your parents are frequently frustrated by your siblings’ life choices. One of your siblings is argumentative and the other is withdrawn. You frequently get drawn into tensions when everyone complains to you and you try to mediate for them. Being in the middle of other people’s disagreements is taxing and disheartening. Furthermore, it may feel like you are keeping the peace but you may only be prolonging your pain. It is ok to step out of the middle and let adult family members work out ongoing tensions themselves. By consciously altering your response or disengaging from the conversation, you can break free from the cycle of old, unproductive dynamics.
6. Become a Scientist
Become a scientist and embrace the scientific method. Observe, question, hypothesize, test analyze. Become the objective observer of family dynamics. Instead of getting caught up in them, shift back into a disimpassioned observer. Really notice what is happening. Describe it in your head based on what you are actually seeing and hearing. Wonder what will come next. Try different responses and analyze what happens next.
Example: When your Aunt begins to gossip about other cousins. Notice it. Think to yourself. I see she is talking about cousin Pam. I wonder how long I can stand here in silence before she notices I haven’t responded. 20 seconds, 30 seconds… I wonder if she can make it a full minute. I bet she asks me what I think of Pam’s dating choices before the 50-second mark. Let’s test what being distracted does. I’ll try saying, “Huh, what did you say?” Nope, she just keeps on…
Dispassionately observing the situation can help you gain psychological and emotional space from the situation. In addition, it can help you develop a keener awareness and understanding of your family situation.
7. Take Breaks
Recognizing your limits is crucial for your emotional well-being. Knowing when a situation becomes too emotionally taxing is important. More important is stepping away and taking a break before you get to your breaking point. Know when you have had enough and take some space. If you can take breaks before getting to your breaking point you may be able to get through your visit without feeling overwhelmed. Remember when considering how to deal with toxic family members, you don’t have to endure discomfort for the sake of family unity.
Example: Your father-in-law is commenting on the children’s behavior, yet again. Perhaps, it’s time for a mental health walk. If breakfast is getting too uncomfortable, excuse yourself to go take a shower. If you are visiting from out of town, schedule in time without family. A trip to the mall. An outing to a museum. Maybe just a run to the local supermarket.
8. Allow Time for Recovery
After a gathering with toxic family members, it’s essential to give yourself time to recover emotionally and mentally. Mixed feelings are common, and self-care should be a priority. Try to schedule a day or two between returning from the family gathering and going back to work or your regular routine. Even if it’s just one day home resting.
Example: After a stressful holiday dinner, plan self-care activities for the following day. Go for a long walk to recenter yourself. The bilateral movement of walking and nature can help you calm your nervous system. Consider basketball or pickleball with friends. Or just pampering yourself can help you recharge and regain your emotional balance. You know you. Give yourself what you need.
Incorporating these strategies can help you effectively manage how to deal with toxic family members during the holidays. By implementing these tips, you can create a more positive and enjoyable holiday experience, even when faced with difficult family dynamics. Remember, the holidays are a time for love, gratitude, and connection. Consider these strategies as a way to show yourself love, gratitude and deep connection with the same dedication and effort you put into others. This will enable you to focus on the positive aspects of the season while skillfully handling any issues that may arise.
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