We’re told that Christmas is about spending time with family, but what if your family members are toxic and destructive to your mental health and wellbeing? Unfortunately for some, going home for the holidays can be daunting. It means preparing to receive unsolicited advice about their life choices or overly critical comments about their looks. It’s being forced to be around family members that have caused and continue to cause them pain or trauma. It’s having to hear ignorant, bigoted views all day. If you have no choice but to see these family members this Christmas, here are our tips on getting through it with mindfulness and your mental health and happiness intact.
Know your triggers
The sad reality when being around toxic family members is that it's pretty likely at some point your feelings will get hurt. But the best way you can at least minimise any upset is by knowing and being mindful of what triggers you. Examine the type of comments or interactions that negatively affect your emotions and mental health, for example, rude opinions about your partner, or belittling comments about your career. Once you’re tapped into what bothers you, you can decide how to nip things in the bud before the conversation escalates.
When faced with a toxic interaction from a family member, you have every right to stand up for yourself. But this doesn’t always mean you have to argue. Reconsider if it’s worth going back and forth with them. Ask yourself: Will this argument lead to you receiving an apology? Will it prevent this from happening again? If the answers to these questions are no, it may be more conducive to your mental health to respond in a way that’s less emotionally draining and time wasting. When a family member starts to trigger you, firm replies that shut down the conversation may be more effective. For example, “I understand that you aren’t happy but I’m not changing my mind.” “I won’t be discussing that today.” “If you continue, I will be ending this conversation and leaving the room.”
Bring your own entertainment
At some point, you’ll probably need to find a quiet room to get away from the toxic energy. Bring your laptop and headphones with your favourite movies and shows downloaded. Bring journals, colouring books and colouring pencils too for a more mindful and therapeutic escape. You could even bring the materials you need to get some work done - they’re not exactly festive activities, but they’ll put your mind on something other than your surroundings and you’ll feel a mood boost from being creative and productive.
Spend time with your younger relatives
If you’ve had toxic experiences with your family, it’s likely you’ve stopped trying to bond with them. But don’t let resentment and hopelessness about the adults in your family stop you from building a relationship with your younger relatives. The children are separate from the issues you have with the adults, so when you see them at the Christmas gathering, ask them about school, their social lives, their hobbies, views and interests. Building a healthy new family relationship can be a healing experience. If your younger relatives are also dealing with the same toxic family dynamics, it will be equally healing for them too.
Have an escape plan...
This might sound dramatic, but it's probably best to have an excuse ready if you don’t think your mental health can handle another family blowout or distressing conversation. Don’t feel guilty about leaving early under false pretences or not spending time with your family if they aren’t creating an environment you feel safe or happy in.
...or just stay home or away (if you can)
This is understandably not an option for everyone, like those who live with their family or rely on them financially. But if you have your own life outside of your family, understand that you aren’t obliged to be with them just because it’s Christmas. Not all traditions are meant to be kept if it doesn’t contribute to your mental and emotional stability or happiness. Instead celebrate Christmas with your partner or friends or simply have a wholesome day of self-care in the peace and comfort of your own home.
The Christmas season can be a difficult time when you aren’t comfortable around your family. And seeing the world around you seemingly overjoyed to be spending time with their loved ones can make that feeling worse. But the most important thing to remember is that your happiness and mental wellbeing come first. With these tips, you can hopefully reduce the toxic interactions you have to put up with and have the peaceful Christmas you deserve.