If only I could tell you, “Sure! Cut off Uncle Seamus and never talk to him again. Raise
your eggnog and laugh heartily at the joy of not having a stressful family interaction this year. Wahoooo!!!!”
Nope. I can’t tell you to do that.
Life doesn’t work that way, does it? There are no easy fixes, no scissors that we can use to cut the cord to a job we hate, a neighbor who annoys us, or a decision we don’t like that affects us. Same with relatives, hon. But here are some pointers and a little Christmas story to help.
Uncle Meanie used to scapegoat Latanya at family events. Uncle Meanie would call her names, act rudely to her, and then say stuff like, “Relax. You are always so emotional. You need to get a thick skin. I didn’t mean nothing.” Family would roll their eyes and tell Latanya that he’s harmless. This left Latanya feeling frustrated, hurt and unsupported.
Latanya has a menu of options.
- She can not show up to family gatherings with Uncle Meanie, spend time with her friends, or spend quality time celebrating by herself. Or, she could practice loving detachment by doing these things:
- She could go to the celebration, stay away from Uncle Meanie, ignore him, and tell him she doesn’t want any interaction with him if he tries to talk to her.
- She can simply move away and go into another room whenever he is around.
- She could use a sense of humor to “handle” Uncle Meanie and tell everyone that this is a drinking game. Anytime Meanie directs any rudeness towards her, everyone has to do a Creme de Menthe Christmas shot. (She then has to bring the bottle and shot glasses around with her so she can yell, laugh, and make people drink.)
- She could try to see her uncle through the lens of someone who is ill, and hasn’t had the wonderful things she has had in her life—strong bonds with others who actually enjoy spending time with her.
- Latanya could seek counseling and try to understand her family role and why she gets so upset at her family’s reaction. (Insight can really help us turn the corner on repetitive pain.)
In some cases, it is best to not be around people in your family, especially if the situation is one where you have tried lots of different healthy options to protect yourself. In conclusion, I suggest a 5-pronged approach for dealing with difficult relatives this holiday.
- Practice Healthy Detachment.
- This doesn’t mean you have to actually leave, it means protecting yourself with emotional boundaries.
- Get support from family members who will support you.
- Use a sense of humor.
- Practice gratefulness on a daily basis to help strengthen your holiday reserves.
In Latanya’s case, she didn’t choose the drinking game but implemented a bit of all of the above as her game strategy.
“What if I still think I need to stop all contact?”
Cutting off a parent, sister, brother or other and choosing not to spend holidays with one’s family is a much more complicated decision. However, some people are so toxic and cruel that this can be a life-saving decision. If you are thinking of doing this with your parent or someone in your family, consider counseling with a professional for clarity beforehand. This book by Dr. Susan Forward could be a useful resource: Toxic Parents: Overcoming the Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life.
I have a very good friend who had to do this with her parents and her whole family. She still has hard days, but she doesn’t regret it at all. She has a supportive network of friends and is a member of a 12-step group that helps her manage. Garnering support is always smart.
Take care, everyone.
Cherilynn Veland is author of “Stop Giving It Away” a self-advocacy book for women. Stop Giving It Away is the product of 20+ years of social work and counseling individuals and couples. Cherilynn also blogs about home, work, life, and love at
www.stopgivingitaway.com (look for new developments).