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Coping with Holiday Gatherings when You Have Toxic Family Members

When you have a narcissist or other toxic family members that you have to cope with, the holiday season can be especially difficult. This is a time of year that is all about family, and going to family gatherings is often expected.

If you don't see your family often due to problematic relationships, then this may be one of the few times of the year that you are seeing them. If this is the case, then it is important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for seeing your toxic family.

Create your own traditions

If possible, create your own traditions for the holidays that you are able to enjoy. This can include spending time with your nuclear family and kids away from extended family, or going on fun outings with friends.

You could go to a tree lighting in your local area, a Christmas market, or go caroling. Or, you could go to a special dinner or a night on the town. As long as you find something special that makes you happy, that is what counts.

You can check your local listings for events in your area that sound like fun to attend. This can also allow you to broaden your circle and meet like minded people with similar interests. Making new friends and connections can help to lower your stress level during the holidays.

Doing things that you enjoy over the holidays can allow you to relax and unwind in-between going to events with toxic family members.

Plan ahead

When you are going to be attending a gathering with a narcissist or other toxic family members, it is important to plan ahead, so that the event can run smoothly.

Make a mental note of all the coping strategies that you can use during the event if you are triggered by something that is said. This can include taking a moment to step away and do deep breathing, monitoring your alcohol intake, or making sure that you can leave early if needed.

It is important to take your own car, not to carpool if you are going to be dealing with difficult family. Your partner, kids, and anyone else riding with you should know that they will be prepared to leave as soon as you say so. This gives you control of how long you will stay at an event. Being able to set this kind of boundary is important for your mental health.

Enlisting help can also be very important in coping with toxic family. If you can attend an event with a supportive partner or friend, or if a close family member is also attending, try to talk to them beforehand about your concerns. Enlist them as an ally against your toxic family member. This way, you know that you won't be alone in a difficult situation.

Be prepared to gray-rock. The gray-rock technique is something that is commonly recommended in therapy for coping with narcissists. It means, give them as little as possible. Give short answers to questions, and don't volunteer information. Make the interaction with them as boring as possible, so that they will not want to linger with you.

Once you have a plan in place of how you will react in a situation with toxic family members, it will make the holidays much easier to handle!

Take time for self-care

It is always important to make time for self-care during the holidays, but even more crucial if you are dealing with toxic family members. These are people who can deplete your energy quickly, so having the ability to take time to relax and unwind in-between events is so important!

You can make extra time for holiday shopping, or go and get a nice hot drink and spend time with friends.

Or, you can use your daily self-care practices that help you relax, and extend the time you are typically spending with self-care so that you are taking extra good care of yourself during this difficult time.

Whether you like to spend time connecting with friends, or connecting with yourself on an emotional or spiritual level, it can help to make you feel stronger and less stressed when you are dealing with stressful people in your life.


When you have toxic family members to cope with over the holidays, it can cast a shadow over the whole holiday season, if you let it. However, there are ways to reclaim the special magic of the holidays for yourself if you use good coping skills and plan ahead.

By incorporating special traditions of your own, and practicing more self-care than usual, you can keep yourself feeling great throughout the holiday season. This way, the 'celebration' with your toxic family will be just a small part of your holiday tradition. Giving this a smaller space can help you to have a happier and more fulfilled holiday.

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