If you feel that some time spent in the company of toxic family members is unavoidable, then try and implement some strategies to minimise their influence and effect. Here are a few suggestions from the team and me.
At the prospect of spending the holidays with a toxic family, we often worry for days if not weeks about the family gathering. Instead of worrying, start preparing. When you worry about certain possibilities, start visualising strategies to cope. Preparing yourself gives you the upper-hand, and will give you more confidence to fend off the toxicity.
Getting a gift for a toxic person is a near-impossible challenge. They usually find some way to criticise and make you feel bad for your efforts. So maybe just give up before you even get started. Get a gift certificate or voucher for them so they can buy themselves whatever they like. I know it’s not very original, but it’s also very hard to really complain about. Or if you want to be original, and figure there will be complaints regardless, why not adopt them a tiger or get a family in Africa a goat? You may still have to listen to the nagging, but at least you’ll have done some good for the world. 🙂
If you are attending a large family gathering, there is usually some jobs that keep you away from the toxic person. So volunteer for those. Maybe looking after the kids keeps you out of the kitchen where your toxic mother is cooking. Or maybe cooking keeps you away from the living room where a toxic father is watching TV. Do the dogs need an extra special long walk in the forest? That could keep you out of harm’s way for a while.
Think about a way to limit your time at the celebration. This can be tricky, especially if you have to travel to get to the party. You may want to choose to ‘forget’ to bring an overnight bag, so you have a deadline for leaving. When you live nearby, you may want to only bring two nappies for the baby (provided you bring one of those). This too will give you a natural deadline. If there is no excuse for an early departure, why not opt for a late arrival? Volunteer in a local soup kitchen or help out with some activities at a care home. The toxic person will be hard pushed to fault you for that (at least in public).
There can be expectations of ‘having to be there’, but realise that you do not need to meet other people’s expectations.
If you are attending the celebration with a partner or friend, make sure you talk to them beforehand. Make them aware of your hesitations and involve them in strategising. How can your partner help you to make the best of the evening? Can they act as a shield and deflect some of the toxic attention? This can make a tremendous difference.
We talked about control before, but specific to this context is the fact that the one thing we have no control over at the Christmas celebration is the behaviour of the toxic person and their flying monkeys. So try to prepare well for the things you do control. If there is likely going to be some time to kill, bring a magazine. If you are taking the kids, make sure you pack enough entertainment… of course, you can’t control everything, but try to minimise the predictable stress for the day.
Christmas can bring out stress in even the most peaceful people. There are gifts to buy and overcrowded shops. An elaborate meal must be cooked for family and friends. The house is to be made to look festive. The list goes on and on. Add a toxic family dynamic to the mix and the stress can be overwhelming. So let’s talk about some ideas for how to survive the holidays without losing your mind.