Dealing with Toxic Family During the Holidays
(c) 2018 | Rhonda Freeman, PhD
For many the holidays will bring exposure to family members that are personality disordered. And although that is tough for ANYONE to handle, it is even more difficult for the empath or person filled with integrity, morals, and kindness.
Five self-care tips that you might find helpful.
1 Check-in with your body.How does that person make you feel? If while interacting with them you notice your breathing becomes shallow, your neck / shoulders / posture feels tense, your mind is hunting for ways to get away from them – it is likely your stress and pain systems of the brain are activated.
It goes without saying; this is not good for you. Try using a mindfulness tactic – pull your awareness into the here and now. Be an observer of your situation. Use that awareness to take the steps necessary to wrap up the conversation with them. You might even have to boil yourself down to the most boring form of a human possible. Because recall, people who are toxic often feed off our stress, pain, and emotions. If you are interesting or in some kind of discomfort – they become more energized. Disengage if possible.
2. Practice boundaries. If they want to bring up negative topics to the group, rehash a disagreement you had, or ruin your holiday in some way – you do not have to go along with their agenda. Conflict empowers them. At this point, I am sure you have thought of what your personal boundaries are. This is an excellent time to practice those boundaries.
3. Do not educate someone who is personality disordered. You probably have learned enough about pathological narcissists to teach a licensed therapist! But attempting to explain that you understand some of their limitations and want to be helpful will likely create larger problems.
4. Maintain emotional distance.You may say, “It’s a small family gathering, I have no choice but to interact with this person!” That’s fine, you can still protect yourself. Our brain has a way of walling off our vulnerable emotions. We can lower and raise ‘this wall.’ You do not have to be their victim.
The mindfulness tactic I discussed above (i.e., pulling awareness to the here and now) is how you can get your brain to shift into protective mode with that specific individual. You can say to yourself, “He/She is disordered and the horrible things you say will hold no weight with me.” It’s an internal form of ‘no contact.’ Use visual imagery to imagine you have barred the most special parts of yourself from them. But of course you continue to give your beautiful energy and love to everyone else.
It might sound difficult, however I’ve had to do this at a number of family gatherings. And most importantly, shifting into self-protection with specific people while socializing is great practice. This skill will come in handy when you encounter personality disordered individuals in other areas of your life.
5. Remember who you are and that you are darn special! You do not need the toxic person to give you validation. You understand their form of damage. To allow access to 100% of you will easily land you in a world of pain from them. No one tries to cuddle a rattle snake. You will most certainly get bitten; it is what snakes do.
So protect your loving heart; you can interact with them, however with caution, inner self-protection, self-awareness, and no desire for their approval.
All the best to you!