Tips to survive seeing toxic or troublesome family members this holiday period

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration with your loved ones but that doesn't mean you won't have to deal with some people you aren't so fond of. Here are some tips to help you survive those trying family members.
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Christmas can be stressful – fraught with gift giving and attempts at cooking festive food.

It is also a time when the family gets together which can be really special until you come face to face with that one family member you always seem to clash with or who just knows how to get under your skin.

Every family has this dynamic, so this Christmas here’s how to manage your mental health and toxic family members.

Christmas table setting

Tips for surviving toxic family members during the holidays

1. Do not engage!

If the toxic people are trying to goad you into engaging with them in a negative way, don’t allow yourself to be drawn in.

Firstly it would be embarrassing to have an argument in the middle of a family gathering and spoil the mood of Christmas.

But mostly it feeds the toxic person’s pleasure, who will thrive off your anger, sadness or stress.

Instead stop them in their tracks by saying something along the lines of ‘This is not the time or place to discuss this’, then immediately take yourself away from where this person is.

You can do this, by either joining the kids in their play, going for a walk or simply locking yourself in a distant room and phoning a friend!

2. Set boundaries

If the family will be descending on your house for Christmas this year, don’t be afraid to set boundaries that are acceptable for you and your family.

When asking guests about dietary requirements or following up on rsvp’s, be assertive and if there are topics of conversation you would prefer to be avoided let them know what’s appropriate and what the consequences will be.

Of course, you will be stepping toes and some people may take offence but this is much more preferable than having to deal with the stress of outbursts or arguments on Christmas Day.

3. Observe instead of participating

Review the guest list of your Christmas gathering, if it’s at your house do you need to invite that toxic person in the first place? It may rub them the wrong way that they don’t get invited but Christmas is about spending time with people you love and people who care for you.

If you are going to someone else’s house where you can’t control who is invited and are faced with someone who is trying to cause trouble or stir the pot unnecessarily, become a participant-observer.

What this means is that you join a group in order to objectively watch and report on what has been seen and what is happening.

Maintaining this objectivity and distance will give you the opportunity to remain calm, not get emotionally involved and defuse the situation if need be.

4. Debrief or talk it out


Family can sometimes prove to be an untamed beast! You cannot control them and as hard as you try, you can’t ignore them.

In these cases, make sure after Christmas you find the time to debrief or talk to someone about what is on your mind.

It could be your partner or a friend, it could even be a couple of sessions with a counsellor. Make sure you get your thoughts out because keeping them to yourself will weigh you down and ultimately only cause harm to your mental wellbeing.

You may also benefit by getting another perspective on the situation from an outside source, even if it’s just outside your head, that you may not have considered before, thereby gaining some understanding to the situation.

If you feel depressed or are suffering from depression and or anxiety, we advise you to seek help from your GP or call Lifeline 13 11 14PANDA 1300 726 306 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36.

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