6 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with a Dysfunctional Family

Thanksgiving is coming around once again, which means steaming turkey, baked macaroni and the joy of seeing your wonderfully dysfunctional family. For some, Thanksgiving is that joyous time of year where you can just get away from school and work, see your relatives, and gorge yourself on stuffing. However, for others, it’s not exactly the grand event we see on Instagram or Hallmark movies. If you have a toxic or dysfunctional family, you know just how disastrous this holiday season can be. So while you’re listening to Uncle Daniel talk about how millennials are lazy and childish, or listening to those wonderful Trump debates, here are a few tips to getting through it without wanting to disown yourself.

1. Make Two Plans – Before and After

Courtesy: Helena Lopes

The anticipation of driving to Grandpa’s house only to be criticized for your choice in major, or to be asked when you’re going to finally get a boyfriend (when you haven’t told them about your girlfriend) can be enough to dissuade anyone. Make a plan about how to handle the toxic ones beforehand. It will be beneficial knowing which topics to avoid and how to put out the fire if you get caught in one. This can be incredibly helpful when you're put into these situations.

Make sure you have a plan to de-stress afterward, as well. If you have a family member who you actually happen to get along with, confide in them about things that have been bothering you during the night. After you have encountered toxic people, make it a priority to spend time with people who have a positive impact on your life soon after. If you can’t avoid a situation, always come up with a plan beforehand so you don’t find yourself trapped with no escape.

2. Don’t Get into Fights

I know that it can be hard to keep your cool when your uncle is sitting there criticizing your life decisions and talking about how millennials don’t deserve a living wage but I’m telling you now, don’t get into fights. Relatives who don’t nurture goodwill to you will find ways to provoke you. Don't take the bait. If you’re the first to throw a punch (figuratively or otherwise), it will only paint you in a bad light, and that’s exactly what they want. Be the bigger person, even if it means biting your tongue.

3. Set Your Boundaries and Make Them Known

While you should not outright start a fight, it is important to stand up for yourself and make your boundaries known. It is crucial to set boundaries with toxic family members. If they broach topics that are particularly sensitive to you – your mental health, your sex life, your career, etc. – don’t feel that you need to sit there and take it just to avoid a conflict. With this, keep number two in mind. If you obviously try to fight them about it, it will do nothing but make matters worse. Instead, try to approach the subject with a more diplomatic viewpoint. Instead of attacking them, simply ask them something like, “Why would you say that?” It will bring awareness to what they’re saying and will either clarify what they mean or bring to their attention the fact that you know they are speaking with the intent to hurt you.

4. Take Breaks

Courtesy: Johannes Plenio

Listening to the same spiel about how you need to get a job and “When are you going to have kids?” can give anyone a headache. It’s important to take breaks from toxic family members when you need it. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, excuse yourself to the bathroom to take a breather and splash cold water on your face, or go for a short walk outside. Because it’s coming from a place that is supposed to be comforting, we often sugarcoat the situation and how it affects us, but that can be draining and only lead to feeling worse. Instead, be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and when it’s all getting to be too much. You don’t have to tell anyone else, but being honest with yourself leads to a more productive approach to the situation.

5. Understand that Your Happiness is in Your Hands

A shared quality with these relatives is the fact that they make you feel like sh*t. Whether intentionally or not, they will not leave an inch untraced when it comes to grinding you on your personal failures and all your wrongdoings – and when your mom asks, “Honey, have you tried Weight Watchers?” you just want to give in and let yourself feel this way. But they are not responsible for your happiness, you are. They can’t make you feel bad about yourself if you don’t let them. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but you don’t need their validation to be happy with yourself.

6. When All Else Fails – Ditch It

Courtesy: Kelsey Chance

This is your reminder that you don’t have to go home. You have no obligation to spend time with people who drain you mentally. There is a social expectation that says that you have to spend these holidays with your family, no matter how they treat you or how they make you feel. But nobody is forcing you to go home. You’re allowed to enjoy this day regardless of whether you’re spending it with family or not. Instead, get a few friends, some decorations, and a lot of alcohol and throw yourself one of those cheesy Friendsgivings instead, and relish in the fact that this chosen family won’t criticize you or make you feel terrible about yourself.

It’s okay to break away from toxic people, even if you’re related. Because, in the end, family means nothing without love.