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Navigating Unhealthy Family Dynamics During the Holidays

The holidays are often a time when we gather with friends and family to celebrate. While this can be exciting and something to look forward to, for some it can also be uncomfortable and even stress-inducing. Do you have someone or perhaps multiple people in your family that you struggle to spend time with during the holidays because of their behavior/views/differences? Does this make it challenging for you to go to functions or family events and have a good time? If so, you’re not alone.

Not everyone in our family system may be supportive, respectful of our differences, or good at maintaining health boundaries. We understand how challenging this can make spending time with you, especially with the pressure of the holidays. Here are several tips to help you navigate these unhealthy or even toxic family dynamics and still enjoy yourself this holiday season.

  1. Get clear on your boundaries beforehand. It’s hard to verbalize and tell someone else what our boundaries are if we aren’t clear about them ourselves. Before you go to any holiday events or gatherings, think about what you’re okay and not okay with. (Example: I’m okay with going to my aunt’s house for Christmas, I just don’t want to be around drinking. I plan to leave after we eat to avoid being around her drinking behavior.) Get clear on what your boundaries look like and how others might intentionally or unintentionally not respect them during the holiday events.
  2. Set firm and healthy boundaries with family/friends. When you’re at an event, it’s important to verbalize and clearly state what your boundaries are. If you don’t want to talk about a specific topic, say so. If you plan to leave early, do it. Be clear with your boundaries and follow through with them.
  3. Don’t force yourself. If going to a specific function, helping out in a certain way, or spending more money than you have on gifts is stressful for you, don’t force it. It’s okay to set limits and flat out say “no” altogether at times.
  4. Use healthy coping tools. While holidays can be fun, they can also be stressful in many ways. It’s important to use healthy coping tools, be intentional with self-care, and actively manage and address stressors when they come up.
  5. Have an exit plan. If you feel you need one, it’s okay to have an exit plan. This could look like you and your partner agreeing ahead of time when you plan to leave an event or what might make you want to leave earlier than decided on. It’s okay to leave early, not stay for dessert, or walk away from the table if the conversation turns negative.

Although we can’t change our families or friends, we can decide what we want and don’t want to be a part of. Having good, clear boundaries with friends and family, knowing your limits, and not forcing yourself to do things just because others want you to do them, can all be great ways to protect your peace and still enjoy the holidays.

If you feel that setting boundaries and navigating relationships is incredibly stressful and are looking for more support with this, please reach out to us today. Let’s work together to help you have the relationships you desire.