My family is far from perfect, and anyone who knows me would say the same thing.
This doesn't mean I love them any less, but it makes the holidays a bit more difficult than you would think. Not only do my siblings and I have to work through the process of splitting time evenly between our parents and their extended family, but dealing with the feelings those decisions bring about can be hard as well. Saying my parents don't like each other is the understatement of the year. If that isn't hard enough, with any divorce people choose sides, which results in our extended family taking sides in a situation they know nothing about. While around the holidays we try to avoid any negative conversations, some relatives are better at this than others. Navigating those situations can result in tension during a time when feelings of joy and gratefulness are supposed to take precedent.
While I certainly have not figured out the best ways to deal with toxic family members and situations, after 8 years of experience I do feel I have some valuable insight. So, whether you're dealing with these types of encounters for the first time or you're a long time pro, I hope these tips and tricks will help you this holiday season.
1. Always have a few conversation changers.
There are undoubtedly going to be some conversations that will make you want to rip your hair out in frustration. My favorite way to keep the situation from turning ugly is to have some conversation changers in my back pocket. While you can always answer uncomfortable questions with yes or no answers, nosy relatives will usually pry for more. I find that directing the conversation back to them is an easy way to diffuse the situation before it escalates. "How is your mom and step-dad relationship doing? Bet your dad could give him a few tips on how to deal with her." Your response: "They're actually great. Hey, I heard you just went down to visit ___ in Arizona, don't you just love it there? I've only been once but have always wanted to go back! What're your favorite places to go there?" People can usually talk about themselves forever so asking questions about themselves has the power to divert any conversation away from that uncomfortable family topic. Some of my favorite ones include asking about something new that just happened in their lives, an article of clothing they're wearing, or their childrens' accomplishments. You know your family better than I do, but the trick is to find the things they love to talk about and use them to your advantage. It's always better than telling them to mind their own freaking business.
2. Try not to take what they say personally.
It's going to be hard and it's going to suck, but in the long run not taking what your family says to heart will get you through the day. They are your family, and they most likely have no sense of boundaries. Which means they will automatically assume that you know everything they say is with the best intentions. The fact is, that is bullshit. It's like saying no offense after you say something really offensive, that doesn't make what you said okay simply because you didn't mean intentional harm. Everyone's best intentions are subjected to what they think you should do, which in the end, is none of their concern as long as you're not causing yourself harm. My best method here is to take what they say with a grain of salt, which is obviously easier said than done. It helps to remember that opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and they usually stink. At the end of the day, you know what's best for you and what your rude family members say doesn't matter.
3. It's best to avoid saying things you wouldn't want to be said to you.
No matter how tempting it is. Sometimes you want to tell that obnoxious family member just what you think about them, but what does that give you? An instant relief, but an unnecessary confrontation that doesn't benefit anyone in the long run. Coming from personal experience, it's hard to have a good Thanksgiving dinner after one sibling leaves the house sobbing. Yes, some people deserve to be told just how horrible they are acting, but it's more than likely they already know and just think their behavior is acceptable. Taking the high road is a stupid metaphor because it just makes you acknowledge those who don't have a shorter, easier ride in life. The one thing that reigns true with this saying is that if the high road falls because everyone starts to take it, it will crush the low road and every little brat on it. An aggressive take on a traditional peaceful saying, one that hopefully pacifies your angry toward irate family members.
4. Don't be afraid to walk away.
You don't ever have to listen to someone be negative towards you or another family member. It is never rude to remove yourself from a situation in which you don't want to participate. People will tell you to "suck it up" and "grin n' bear it", but the truth is you don't have to subject yourself to anyone's negative attitude. Whether you simply feel more comfortable walking away, or wish to shut down the conversation verbally, you do you. My favorite way to walk away from a negative situation is direct yourself towards someone or something else, go talk to someone or get yourself another drink. If you feel better saying something, I try to take the route of blunt but respectful conversation stoppers. "This has been great but I actually need to go check on something." "Unfortuanlty I don't feel comfortable talking with you anymore." "Please don't discuss this topic with me again." "While I understand your need to give advice, this is not something that concerns you." As I said earlier, you know your family members best and will be able to say what you think is right when the time comes.
5. Have someone you can vent to.
Everybody needs someone they can talk to, this becomes even more imperative over the holidays filled with toxic family members. Whether this is your best friend, your dog, or your grandma with her hearing aid turned off, you will need someone you can vent to. Family seems to make everything more difficult than it needs to be, but the knowledge that someone will always be on your side when you talk about them is very reassuring. Venting will also help with the restraint you need to avoid contributing negativity to your family holiday events. The Greeks throw plates, some stuff their face with comfort food, while others reenact the conversation saying what they wish they could of. Do what works for you, and remember that your family can only get crazier so it is better figure out your outlet for stress now.
6. Even if you don't care about what their saying, remember to be courteous.
Do you care that your cousin Katie and her boyfriend of 7 years got another bunny because their first one was lonely? Probably not. The fact is that while those boring conversations really don't matter, it's much easier to smile and nod then let the topic irritate you. This is also relevant when people bring up opinions about another part of your family when you really could care less about their opinion. While you don't always have to be courteous, and by all means defend your loved ones if it is called for, know that dealing with their reaction might be worse than just listening to what they have to say. Your holiday break is a precious time that should never be wasted, but the 20 minutes you have to spend engaging in polite tedious conversation with Uncle Bob may just not be that big of a deal.
7. Seek out that family member who understands you.
We all have that sibling/aunt/grandparent/parent/cousin/uncle that understands you like no one else in your family. It's important to seek out and connect with those people during a stressful time with your family. My dad's side of the family are all Republicans, but his girlfriend is a Democrat like myself and we always rely on each other if the conversation ever turns political. While on my mom's side, my siblings have a tough time dealing with my grandparents due to their ailing health, I find their company comforting and precious. Even if you feel like there is no one in your family that could help you deal with your toxic family members, I guarantee you there is someone else who feels the same way as you.
8. Sometimes you need to just sit quietly and eat.
While Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are prime times to catch up with family, sometimes you just need to eat and not talk. Remove yourself from the conversation, and if someone tries to speak to you, just shovel food into your mouth faster. Sometimes I sneak into the kitchen for more food and spend 10 minutes in there eating alone to avoid my family. Nods are also a good way to avoid actually speaking, and will usually be accepted if you also have food in your mouth. The main point of this tip is to use all the yummy food to your advantage when you're eating with people you just can't deal with at the moment.
9. Internally accept that family will always try to tell you what to do.
There will always be those family member(s) who feel like they know best, regardless of what they actually know about the situation. Hear what they have to say, and then forget about it if it not useful to you. At the end of the day, they do want what’s best for you, even if it's completely unwarranted, like Aunt Beth telling you for the 4th time you looked better as a brunette.
10. Always have an escape plan.
There is undoubtedly going to be situations over the holidays that you want no part of, so the best solution here is to always have an escape plan. Maybe that’s always driving yourself to an event so you can leave without answering to anyone, or have the Uber app ready and available in case being around your family requires drinking. Friends are a great resource in the sense that 9 times out of 10 they will be more than willing to fake an emergency meltdown to get you out of the house without seeming rude. Do what you have to do, but just get out of there once you've had enough.
Whether at the end of your holiday break, midway through, or after every conversation, just remember that you did your best! Meredith Grey once said, “Any day that no one dies is a good day”. The special holiday version I like to use is, “Any day that I don’t get into a bitch fight with someone I would happily throw out a window is a good day”. So, channel whoever you need to get through this holiday season with toxic family members, I alternate between shirtless One Direction and McDreamy.