The holidays are a time of togetherness when we can reconnect with the people who mean the most to us. But they’re also a time when we may encounter difficult people, like relatives who can be rude and off-putting—or even toxic.
To be clear, “toxic” refers to relatives who spew out hatred and negativity towards you or who chronically make demands on you. They are not people who just have different beliefs than you or with whom you simply don’t agree.
They are the worst “Marites” in your life who continuously wreck your self-esteem or the politically inclined uncle who is always biased against you just for studying at a public university.
The holidays aren’t a time to deal with the underlying issues of why someone is so negative—and you shouldn’t have to do that on top of everything else! So this article is about how to deal with toxic relatives at the moment without getting sucked into their negativity.
1. Accept that you can’t change someone—not even your family members
Sometimes, this might be a matter of letting go of bad blood from the past; other times, it might be letting go of someone who has never been kind or respectful toward you but demands that you treat them as if they are a close family member.
While it’s tempting to try and see the good in everyone (and it’s certainly important to forgive), there are some people who just aren’t worth your time and effort, especially if they have never changed for the better.
You have to accept that you can’t make your relatives less irritable or more accepting of your lifestyle choices or religious beliefs. You can’t make them apologize for things they’ve said or done that have hurt you. You can’t force them to be more of who you think they should be. In fact, you shouldn’t try it.
2. Create physical distance
First, you need to be honest with yourself about whether you want to be around this person. Remember that you never have to take someone’s bad attitude personally and tolerate their words and actions.
If you can’t get away from your toxic family members, then at least try to create some physical distance between you and them.
You might do this by changing your seating arrangement or even moving to a separate area of the house. If there’s no choice but to be in their presence, then you have to protect your own wellbeing.
One way to do that is through your body language—fold your arms across your chest and don’t make eye contact with them. This sends a clear message of disinterest and can help you feel more powerful in their presence.
3. Learn to steer the conversation away from the topic of your disagreeing relatives or family members
Sometimes you just can’t avoid a confrontation with a toxic relative, but if you can keep the focus of the conversation on them rather than on the topic of their bad attitude towards you, it’ll be much easier to stay out of a heated argument.
You can try bringing up something they said or did that you’ve always meant to ask about and see if they’ll take the bait—if they do, then that means you’re steering the conversation back in your favor.
If they don’t bite, make a comment about something even more peripheral to the original topic—maybe a photo from when they were younger—and then try to steer things in a different direction altogether.
But if they still keep on focusing on you and hurting your feelings, remember these six words: “remind them of their own flaws.”
4. Direct confrontation
Of course, this is easier said than done—but if you’ve tried all the methods of avoiding them, then maybe it’s time to face them head-on.
First, you should recognize your boundaries and don’t let them completely push you around. If someone makes an offensive comment about your family or marriage, call them out on it. Say, “I don’t appreciate what you just said,” or “That wasn’t nice.” If they say something inappropriate about your spouse, calmly reply, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say things like that.”
The important thing is to do this without getting angry, emotionally invested in the conversation, or taking it personally. You are going through the motions of defending yourself and making sure everyone knows that such comments aren’t appreciated because they aren’t true.
Be honest and express yourself. Be firm but calm when you say no.
5. Humor, keep your sense of humor
If you can’t avoid interacting with them, learn how to crack a joke at their expense to diffuse their negativity and make your interactions easier. Try to find a way to make their presence more bearable.
For example, if you know someone who is always trying to argue with you about your political views, you could try responding with a funny story whenever they bring it up. It’ll be less frustrating for both of you, and it’ll give you a chance to laugh at them rather than get annoyed.
A little smile and laugh at anything funny that comes up in the conversation—even if it wasn’t at all funny when they said it—goes a long way too. Everyone likes it when they’re given attention.
However, be careful not to join in when your toxic relatives are being homophobic or emotionally abusive; rather, try to sincerely talk to them or to your other supportive family members about it afterward.
6. Try not to get involved in their issues too much-don’t make it about you
Sometimes, because you have a history with your toxic relative, you tend to invest yourself in what they are up to. Because they always comment about your love life or marriage, you try to keep up with theirs. But you this isn’t you at all. Don’t let them take your precious time and energy that you could have used elsewhere.
Don’t make their ugly situation about you. Recognize that every person has issues that others may not understand. Some people don’t know how to express their emotions in a healthy way and take out their frustrations on other people through hostility.
If you’re around a negative person for too long, you’ll end up in a bad mood and start to behave like them. So don’t let that happen!
People who are toxic can influence you in ways that often drain you and leave you angry, sad, or afraid. But does it have to be that way? If you don’t have the resources to move away from them, then at least you have these tools to cope with their negativity and help you still hold onto your sanity.