The holidays are a time for family, friends, and fun. But what do you do when dealing with toxic family members impacts your mental health? These relatives seem to drain all of your energy and make the holidays less enjoyable. These are the people who always manage to ruin your holiday cheer. They might be critical, judgmental, or just plain annoying.

Most times, when dealing with toxic people, you can distance yourself reasonably easily. With family members, it’s more complicated because there will most likely be occasions when you will see them and have to interact somehow. Family gatherings, weddings, funerals, and other family-oriented functions make it hard to avoid them altogether. And depending on other family members’ relationships with the person, the dynamics can get messy.

It can be hard to navigate the holidays- and life in general if you have toxic family members that you have to contend with. It can be stressful, and dealing with people like this can be emotionally and mentally draining. Dealing with them can be difficult, but it is not impossible.

How do you recognize toxic family members?

Chances are, you’ve encountered a toxic person somewhere along the line. There are some common characteristics that toxic people tend to share. They might try to control or manipulate the situation and those around them to get what they want. They may also be verbally or emotionally abusive in their manipulation. They love to gaslight. This means they will try to make you question your reality and make you doubt yourself. They might do this by denying things you know to be true, making you feel like you’re overreacting, or trying to make you feel guilty for something you didn’t do.

They are self-centered. They often think only about themselves and their own needs and wants. They might be oblivious to or even ignore the needs of others. Toxic people are excessively critical. They are always quick to point out the flaws of others but are in denial or blind to their own faults and shortcomings. They love to give unsolicited advice and are usually very judgemental.

They have no filter and see no reason to control how they express themselves. They have no regard for anyone else’s thoughts, feelings, and needs. They tend to be pessimistic and have a negative outlook on life. They might also be quick to anger and lash out at others. They thrive on drama. Toxic people tend to create drama and chaos wherever they go. They might enjoy stirring up conflict or creating drama for their own amusement.

They seldom take responsibility for their actions and often blame everyone but themselves for things that are wrong in their life. They do not like to admit when they are wrong, and they rarely, if ever, apologize for their actions.

How to handle toxic family members

When you’re around someone like this, you tend to feel worse after they leave. Being around family members like this can be enough to make you want to avoid any type of holiday gathering, but you shouldn’t miss out because of them. Toxic family members are difficult to deal with, but there are some coping mechanisms you can use.

Establish boundaries

It may take some time to figure out if you’re not used to setting boundaries. Family members who cross boundaries often do so because they know they can control someone more easily when that person is readily available and accessible. Remember that many people have loose boundaries with people they feel uncomfortable saying “no” to because most people avoid conflict. Creating personal limits helps reduce this type of manipulative behavior.

Some ways that you can establish boundaries with a toxic family member are :

  • Openly communicate your limits.

  • Reiterate and uphold your boundaries.

  • Don’t be afraid to tell them “no.”

  • Limit how much time you’re around them.

Keep communication minimal and to the point

This is easier said than done since there will be occasions where seeing toxic relatives is imminent. When you have to communicate, one important thing to remember is not to share any personal information that can be used against you later. You can also use the “gray rock method.” This involves making yourself about as interesting as a rock. It means giving short, straight answers to questions and trying to have a flat affect (hiding your emotional reactions) to the things a person says or does. The theory is that they’ll move on if they can’t get any emotional responses or feedback from you.

Avoid getting drawn into arguments

It is essential to avoid getting caught up in any interaction, especially when it might lead to an argument. Sometimes it’s hard not to speak up when you witness someone saying or doing something inappropriate, but it’s crucial for your well-being to learn how to control yourself in these moments.

Anything you say may be used against you to control and break you down so that the toxic person can easily manipulate you. Try to avoid getting yourself cornered alone. This makes it harder for them if they want to try and initiate an argument. If they do get confrontational, don’t engage- just walk away or leave the event if possible.

Make sure you have a support system

Even if you can’t always avoid toxic family members, you can surround yourself with people you get along with to create a positive support system. Having people you can rely on will make dealing with any problematic situation easier. Some of them may even have the same concerns and reservations as you.

Be prepared for pushback

When setting healthy boundaries for yourself, you will probably get some pushback from the toxic family member. They might become angry, argumentative, or try to guilt you into breaking your boundaries. It’s essential to stand firm and not give in to their manipulation. If they continue to push, you can always leave the situation or end the conversation. You might also want to consider speaking with a mental health professional such as a therapist or counselor, to help you deal with the toxic family member in a healthy way.

Cut off contact

When you have done everything you can, and it is not working, it might be time to cut ties with a toxic family member. This means that you stop trying to have a relationship with this person. You have tried everything you can think of, and it is not working. Sometimes people try to communicate differently to make the relationship work, but it does not help. Sometimes doing this is necessary for your mental health and well-being.

If you’re stressing out about how to handle toxic family members during the holidays- or any time of year, talking to a therapist can be a big help. A therapist can provide support and guidance as you deal with difficult family dynamics. Serene Health has a wide variety of behavioral health and mental health services under one roof and flexible appointments available through our Telehealth platform so that you can speak to a therapist online from wherever you choose to get the help you need.

Call us at 844-737-3638 or visit to schedule an appointment.