12 Mental Tricks To Help You Survive The Holidays With Your Toxic Family

Photo: Elzbieta Sekowska /
vintage photograph of a family at dinner

Your sister walks into the house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, a Passover Seder or any another family gathering, and instead of feeling joy at being able to spend time wiht her, all you can feel is anger.

Your son shows up with a date who has more tattoos than a sailor and a terrible attitude. Your brother, the youngest sibling, commands all the attention.

And your sister-in-law is vegan, dislikes chocolate and about thirty other ingredients. She brings a casserole that everyone takes but doesn’t eat. 

Even though you just saw your mother three days ago, she gushes as if it’s been months, which gets on your nerves.

Your family always seems to push your buttons, activating old wounds and triggers.

Yep, you’re in it, waist-high. 

Lingering animosity or unspoken conflict is an unwelcome house guest. Fortunately, there are pre-emptive steps you can take to stop any ill feelings from ruining the day. 

RELATED: 7 Practical Ways To Prioritize Your Emotional Well-Being When Hosting Family

How lingering resentment can fester — and lead to conflict

You feel like a walking time bomb. Any minute the right thing is said the wrong way and the emotional waters begin to rise.

What is in your emotional library that is so sensitive, so fragile, that a blade of grass might tip you over?

What "unfinished" business do you carry around that so easily triggers high emotion?

I ask you: What are you so angry about?

Clearly, you want something resolved that you feel you are owed.

Maybe it's an apology for something that was done to you, that has gotten swept under the rug, and you feel dismissed.

Or maybe it’s the void that is so painful, vacated by someone you were invested in years before. Or maybe it’s about losing a job or closing a business you held dear. 

The one reality you can be 100 percent sure of is this: You are not on firm, familiar ground. Something else is holding you hostage and making you feel so vulnerable that you are defensive. 

Who or what has control when you start to feel defensive?

No matter what the source of your inner unrest is, it's vital that you harness it to preserve the family's peace — and your own peace of mind.

RELATED: 10 Tragic-But-True Reasons People Cut Family Members Out Of Their Lives

Here are 12 tricks that can help you survive holidays & family dinners when your family feels toxic

1. Try to compartmentalize volatile emotions

Don’t drag your job, business issues, or love life into the mix. You need a clear head when dealing with volatile family dynamics.

2. Remove yourself from the situation

Take a step back. Take 10 steps. Seek a different perspective. As you shift, the whole picture changes. 

3. Be mindful of your breathing

Breathe deeply. Slowly. And tap your heart — it’s a chakra point.

4. Analyze your feelings

Play emotional password … keep asking yourself why you feel angry. 

5. Make sure your thoughts are clear

Get very clear, 100 percent positive. Is the story you are replaying in your head true?   

6. Try to be as objective as possible

Tell yourself that you cannot exaggerate the truth in your favor. 

7. Be persistent as you seek the truth

If not true, keep looking until the right words show up. 

8. Acknowledge your own actions

You own the truth, unpleasant as it may be.

9. Take your share of the blame

Whatever happened, whose fault was it?

10. Make yourself accountable

Being accountable for your words and actions is the key to getting control.

11. Prepare your mind for potential emotional turmoil 

When you know ahead of time that you will be seeing the person with whom you have friction, start getting ready. The goal is to stay pleasant and keep your real feelings off to the side. 

12. Proceed with grace

Be respectful and keep your distance.

RELATED: Why We Need Love To Resolve Conflicts

Don't let them push your buttons

Keep in mind that your relatives have a history with you. They expect you to act like you did the last time they saw you. 

But now you are in control of your feelings and behaviors.

You are not going to take the bait.

How long it takes to heal old wounds is really up to you.

Remember … your emotions live in you. Unless you choose to release them, only you are aware they even exist.

This distancing technique can be used in a text, telephone conversations, emails, and any other form of communication.

RELATED: Why Having 'No Contact' With Family Members Is Perfectly OK

Pegi Burdick is a published author and certified coach helping people sort out their emotions from their money. Her experience as an entrepreneur and Financial Whisperer Coach helps her to teach others to achieve financial freedom.