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The festive season is here with us. And while it might be exciting to finally rest and spend time with family, Christmas can be a stressful time as well. This can be especially true if you have to spend Christmas with toxic family members. If you are anxious and fidgety about spending the holidays with not so friendly family members, I’ve lined up some great tips you can use to survive this holiday and any other holiday you may be expected to spend with them. While you might be thinking — it’s easier to just cut them off and live your own life — for some people, it’s not as easy as that. The truth is, avoidance may heighten the toxic situation. Here are some strategies you can instead use:

  1. Set realistic expectations.

People often have high expectations that the holidays will be different this year. This is often not the case. To therefore deal with toxic family members during the holidays, you have to accept that people will behave as they always do. This way you can keep your own expectations in check.

  1. Know your limits.

Using last year’s holiday celebrations as a template, think about what went well—and what didn’t. What can you tolerate for the sake of keeping the family peace? What would you like to handle differently (or avoid altogether) this year for the sake of your own sanity? This doesn’t mean that you are condoning toxic family members’ actions, but not making everything a battle will make the family gatherings easier for you.

  1. Deflect and diffuse.

You can’t control when toxic relatives make hurtful remarks or bring up uncomfortable subjects—but you can control how you react. Proactively think of ways to deflect. Commenting on the delicious meal or the unpredictable weather are great ways to diffuse potential conversational landmines.

  1. Remain an adult.

It’s not uncommon to regress to old childhood patterns when you spend time with your family of origin, especially when negative emotions surface. Try to be aware of this tendency. Catch yourself if you slip back into “the rebel,” “the underdog” or any other role you may have assumed with your parents or siblings.

5. Let it go.

If you have toxic family members, especially those with personality disorders (like narcissism or borderline personality disorder), don’t use the holidays as an opportunity to educate them. It won’t work—and you’ll both wind up frustrated, disappointed and angry. Instead, remain cordial, but emotionally distant.

Don’t take things personally. Know that your family member’s behaviours (or words) actually have nothing to do with you, but are their way of coping with their own stress. You are not the cause of that stress; it is not your job to eliminate it.

6. Limit your time together with toxic family members

If you know that a two-night stay at the in-laws’ is about all you can handle, schedule the visit accordingly. Have strategies in place to get some alone-time to recharge. Give yourself permission to decline invitations to events that are just too taxing or triggering.

The truth is, the holidays can be both joyful — and stressful. Families can be both wonderful—and difficult. However, accepting that balance can help you survive spending time with toxic relatives, and enjoy the beauty of the season.

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