How To Deal With Toxic Family Members During The Holidays

With the holidays coming up, there is a lot of excitement around gathering with friends and family to celebrate

Toxic family holidays

Photo: Pexels/Budgeron Bach

With the holidays coming up, there is a lot of excitement around gathering with friends and family to celebrate. In fact, we are due for celebration, especially after surviving 2020. A lot of us are eager to gather and celebrate safely again. But, for many of us, realizations of unhealthy family dynamics may have surfaced. While the holidays are made to spend with the people we love, we need to identify the love we need first. 

The Latinx family dynamic can be complex. Culturally and traditionally, we have been raised with the importance of respecting our elders and putting family first. The issue is that this can mean both our abuelos and our older siblings, who may not be much older than us. We are also taught to honor family, good manners, and celebrate traditions. The problem with this is that with so much emphasis on the expectations of how a person is supposed to behave, a person’s ability to argue, express, and stand up for themselves may be shut down by these exact family dynamics. 

For this holiday season, here are some steps to follow to help you maintain your peace and your grace while maneuvering through some toxicity. 


Communicate Your Boundaries

From a young age, we are taught to respect our elders, including our older brothers or sisters. This expectation prevents us from speaking our minds, which can ultimately confuse our self-esteem, self-awareness, and even our sense of boundaries. Despite how you were raised, the people who love you should not consider your boundaries a personal attack and if they do, that’s a red flag. However, to respectfully communicate your limits, you need to clearly understand why you need them. Before gathering with your family members, do a quick checklist of what aspects you don’t want to share (dating life, personal decisions). Then, assess who you feel comfortable sharing with. Some people we feel safe with, others we don’t. To communicate healthy boundaries, make sure you state how the person crossing the boundary makes you feel. Remember to be open and compassionate. Lastly, be prepared for some pushback, but remain graceful. Phrases you can use to re-establish your boundaries in these settings are:

  • “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that but thank you for asking”
  • “I feel a bit invalidated. I want to make sure I am being heard correctly”
  • “I respect your beliefs and opinions. However, I don’t feel my beliefs and opinions are respected when you try to convince me to feel the same way”
  • “I am practicing respect for my personal space. I am happy to see you, but I rather not hug.” 

When expressing yourself, remember that boundaries are not placed to hurt others. Boundaries are a form of self-respect and empowerment. Even if the other person doesn’t react appropriately, you honor yourself by setting and expressing boundaries. 


Preserve Your Energy

Some things do not require your time or your energy. In fact, when you entertain interactions that require you to operate from your lower self, it empowers your ego. Your ego is the frontline of defense. It is designed to attack. In our psyche, the ego protects us from feeling pain and disappointment. It does that by, essentially, taking everything personally to keep our line of defense up. Ego behavior doesn’t allow us to operate from love, openness, and compassion. Some environments, people, and discussions will not be fulfilling to you, and in fact, may leave you drained. This happens because sometimes, others are not in the same healing space you may currently be in. That’s OK. It’s essential to understand each person evolves at their own pace. Before going into any environment that may be triggering, you must realize that some people will not respect your needs while you are healing because they haven’t started their own healing journey. 

In these moments, you must maintain your emotional distance by stepping away from interacting with people and situations that cannot fill your soul; otherwise, you risk regressing to older, unhealthier behaviors that you are trying to move away from.

Preserving your energy allows you to protect your energy. When you don’t participate in conversations or environments that make you behave from your lower self, you are honoring the person you are becoming.  


Speaking Up Is Not Being Rude

To think that we were brought up being taught that we are better people by not expressing ourselves – Calladita te ves más bonita. Make it make sense! Phrases like this one are designed to oppress people. For us, Latinas, this saying carried complex messaging that impacted our identity and suppressed our emotions. For a lot of our family members, this is a saying they still believe. For them, it reinforces gender roles, encourages masculine household leadership, and it discourages a woman’s challenge. But our generation is working towards healing the misconception that women’s concerns, opinions, and insight don’t matter. When you feel the need to speak up, speak up. Standing up for yourself and what you believe is right is empowering. It reinforces your purpose and courage in this world, inspiring another family member to do the same. 

Latinx families suffer from a lot of inherited trauma that can be traced back to colonialism, poverty, immigration, racism, and the prejudice our parents, grandparents, and ancestors have experienced. To survive, we, as a culture, were taught to assimilate. For us, assimilation meant “don’t make a scene.” So, calladita means más bonita. In many ways, not speaking up meant keeping the peace. But no one ever discussed the personal chaos suppressing your feelings would create. When you speak up, make sure it’s with good intentions. Make sure you are composed, respectful, and open to opposition. Make sure you are doing it to care for yourself or another. In speaking up, you are setting a new standard of how you and others should be treated.


Step Away

When dealing with a chaotic environment, you must practice introspection and stillness. To fully know how you want to behave in the external world, you must know who you are internally. This also means you have to know how to find your peace at any given moment. That can often be tough to find in family gatherings since everyone is celebrating, mingling and chismeando. However, you must take time away to make sure you remain aligned in moments of toxicity. To do this, remove yourself from noise, movement, and interruptions. If you can, go into nature (backyard, front yard, or even step outside), it may be easier to recenter. Close your eyes for about 5 minutes and if you pray, ask for patience and gentleness. Regrouping can work wonders not only for your behavior but also for your mental health. Meditation helps filter out the unnecessary stressors in your life, like others’ opinions, judgment, or rude comments. Meditation can help you manage how you cope with the outside world, and it can help you manage your triggers. Breathwork is good to relieve stress. So, in moments of extreme pressure or stress with family, take time to check in with yourself. 


Connect With Your Ally

Even in complex family dynamics, we all have one ally. Every safe space is only safe because of the person we feel safe with. If your favorite cousin, tia, or sibling will be at your family gatherings, make sure to devote some time to them to reconnect. Allow this person to fill you in on how they’ve been, where their life is now post-2020, and allow yourself to equally open up. Reconnecting with someone like-minded and like-spirited can help you feel more comfortable. If your ally understands your family dynamic and the same toxicity you do, it would be wise to establish a safe word to express stress, anxiety, or fear. Additionally, make sure you and your ally are checking in on each other. Remember, you are not obligated to interact with anyone who doesn’t make you feel loved, safe, and celebrated. 


Go With Your Gut Feeling

Long before we mastered the world of social media, and even long before we learned to maneuver in the modern world, we were animals making second-to-second decisions off of instinct only. Our instincts warned us when predators were near and similar to our primate ancestors, we still have our instincts for threats. However, our instincts are not as apparent as they may have been for our ancestors. Instead, we have what we know as “the gut feeling.” We don’t know what, but we know something is off. Part of taking care of yourself in a toxic environment is to listen to that gut feeling. Your mind and your spirit are working together to warn you that something here will not serve you. If any part of your being is telling you to step away, do so. Ways your body can warn you of an unsafe environment (before you even notice it) is through migraines, nausea, feeling drained, feeling anxious, or even dissociation. If you are feeling any of these physical symptoms, remove yourself from the situation right away. It’s okay to leave. 

In our cultures, we don’t take mental health seriously. Our parents and grandparents did not have the luxury to consider how to help themselves when they were helping everyone else. In our culture, we survive. But thriving off of survival alone can cause trauma that often gets handed down through generations.

So wanting to even confront any unsettling interactions or experiences can be challenging for a lot of us. However, one thing that is helpful when protecting your energy is this — you can’t be good to anyone if you’re not being good to yourself. 

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