“I’m dreading her visit. She’s a nightmare.”
“I hope he doesn’t ruin another Christmas.”
“Every year I just wish the holidays would end so I don’t have to deal with family anymore.”
“It may be Thanksgiving, but I am NOT thankful for HER!”
Does this sound like something that has been whispered – or screamed – at your house over the past few years? We hear all the time that holidays are stressful, even downright depressing, and this is exacerbated by the feeling that we are supposed to be happy and filled with cheer, but we’re not.
We love the perfect Hallmark movie scenario: the family who celebrates its traditions, the cozy evenings with hot cocoa and cookie decorating, the Thanksgiving table filled with all the fixin’s. If you’re old enough to remember Norman Rockwell, you grew up in a time of holiday home expectations of love, camaraderie, and respect.
Unfortunately for many of us, the Rockwell painting and the Hallmark movie are fantasies. Our reality is quite different. Usually, that is because at least one person in our family or inner circle seems dead-set on ruining everyone’s holiday. Or, they are just so clueless that they have no idea they are dampening everyone’s spirits.
In my article I spoke about ways to deal with people who are not just burdensome, but truly toxic. Once different methods have been tried, sometimes it really is necessary to separate yourself from a family member. You may manage to do that year-round, but the holidays sometimes make it impossible to keep your distance.
So let’s talk about what you can do when you have no choice but to spend time with toxic family members.
- Have a game plan in advance. Don’t wait until you are standing in front of the turkey to wonder how you’re going to get through dinner. The advantage of family members is that chances are, you can pretty much predict their behavior. After all, you’ve been doing this for years. So why be surprised when they do exactly what you thought they would? For years, I agonized over a certain family member who did pretty much what I expected every single time. Yet I allowed her to drive me crazy. How stupid is that? I finally began doing mental preparation beforehand: Expect her to say this. Expect her to react that way. Expect her to not help with this. Once I accepted that this was the way it was going to be, I stopped losing it every time it was exactly that way.
- Ask family members who have a handle on it to help you. This tactic actually drew my kids and me closer because they became my “teammates” in dealing with a toxic family member. While I was seriously sad and angry after decades of trauma with this person, my kids were more lighthearted and able to laugh off her antics. “Come on, mom!” they would say. “The fact that she would even say that is hilarious!” When this person started on her nonsense, my kids would add her latest crazy statement to a quote sheet that we hid in a kitchen drawer. When I didn’t think I could take another one of her comments, I’d open that drawer, read the quotes, and laugh until I cried. I’m here to tell you that it’s a much better kind of crying than the kind I had done for decades.
- Constantly remind yourself that kindness and forgiveness free you, especially when the toxic person shows no remorse. We are called to forgive and extend grace to others, but forgiveness is every bit as therapeutic to us as it is to the wrongdoer. More so when the perpetrator refuses to admit anything, let alone apologize for it. At that point, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It frees you from resentment and anger that would otherwise cripple you long term. It allows you to enjoy the holidays as they were meant to be enjoyed.
Keep in mind that we don’t deserve God’s love, yet He blesses us with it. A toxic family member may not have earned it, but as Christians, we are called to forgive and to extend grace. You are not inviting this person into your life forever. You are just getting through the meal, the day, or the week, all the while believing that it is strengthening your relationship with the one who really matters – your forgiving, loving Father.
Look, I’ve been there. I’m there now. I know how painful a toxic person can be. People can hurt you even when you take every precaution, but what they say is true – in the end, there are only two people you’ll answer to: yourself and God. Make sure the answer is one you are proud of.