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How to Deal with Difficult Family at the Holidays

Updated: Dec 16, 2021


Family around the table for holiday dinner

The holidays are a time of joy, togetherness, and generosity, but what if not everyone in your family is a joy to be around? Here are some of our best tips for reckoning with difficult relatives during the holidays.


How to Handle Family Over the Holidays


Know the Triggers to Avoid


If you’re dealing with a toxic family member, you know how challenging holidays can be. It’s important to use past experiences with this person or people as room for growth. Do not expect the toxic or difficult person to do the work; this is unfortunately largely on you. What topics or discussions set them off? Politics, religion, or even things like college football can all get people ready for conflict. You cannot change or fix a difficult person generally. You may care about this person deeply, as they are a relative of yours. But trying to fix or change a person’s ways is rarely the right way to go. If a person doesn’t want to change, they won’t. And trying to change them may only galvanize their beliefs. Instead, try to keep things civil any way that you can. If a topic is brought up that you know is about to start a disagreement, be direct with how you feel. If you’re not ready to talk about difficult personal matters or fundamental differences in beliefs, tell that person. Do not accuse the other person of starting conflict or being unchangeable. Point out that both of your sides are not likely to change from an argument. Deflect to another topic, or politely disengage from the discussion.


Respect Yourself


It’s very easy for some people to shut down and allow a toxic person to trample all over them. Maybe you tell yourself it’s easier to just agree with a difficult person or accept their abuse because standing up for yourself will only breed conflict. Maybe you only have to see this person twice a year, and you don’t want to make others uncomfortable. You should stand up for yourself. You are important, and your thoughts and feelings should not be diminished or dismissed. Be direct, and communicate how you feel without ascribing blame to the other person. Set boundaries. Establish your own limits with difficult or toxic people. Not every difficult family member is rude or confrontational. Some may try to inject themselves into your personal life. This is just as toxic as other behaviors. Advocate for yourself, and don’t waver in that advocacy.


You Can Leave


Remember that there is no scenario in which you need to feel unsafe. You don’t need to endure verbal abuse or bend over backwards for a difficult person. If you feel like you can’t control yourself or just need space, just leave. You also don’t have to go at all. The holiday season is rife with pressures, especially when it comes to family. But your mental health and well-being is the most important thing. If you aren’t able to cope with a toxic family member, leave. You may disappoint some people, but it’s not your fault. Express how you feel to others in your family or to the difficult person themselves. Sometimes, what’s obvious to you may be completely missed by others. There can be hurt feelings, and sometimes it’s best to give yourself distance and time. If you have to leave, for any reason, do it. Nobody deserves to endure abuse or uncomfortable situations to preserve their family’s comfort.


There are so many different situations that family gatherings create, and the holidays are full of opportunities for difficult people to corner you by the buffet. If you’re looking for more coping methods or just want someone neutral to talk to, reach out to the experts at The Collective today. We can help.

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