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  • T-Kea Blackman

Blood Is Not Thicker Than Water: How To Deal With Toxic Family During The Holidays

The holidays are typically viewed as a time of giving, love, and joy, as many spend it with family and friends. For some, it is a reminder of trauma and grief as it triggers feelings of guilt and resentment. Also, we may feel obligated because we are conditioned to believe that “blood is thicker than water.” Is that true for the woman who continues to see the uncle every year that molested her as a child? What about the daughter who desires to feel love from her emotionally unavailable mother? Or what about the jealous sibling who competes and belittles you? Is your stress and anxiety intense during this time of year? And it is not because you want the perfect gift for your loved ones, but you feel the need to be around people who make you feel unwell. Here are six tips to help you through the holiday season.

1. Schedule Alone Time.

If you find that staying with family is overwhelming, consider staying with a friend, getting a hotel room (or Airbnb) so that you have time to decompress. If your family insists on you staying with them or say something like “you think you're too good to stay here with us," you can tell them you need time to rest and get work done. It will provide an escape for you to refocus and clear your mind.

Plan time to be alone instead of spending all your time with family. This can include activities such as visiting childhood friends or going for a walk.

2. Have A Text Buddy.

Let someone know you are going out of town and ask them to be your text buddy so that you can express your thoughts and feelings. However, if you need to talk over the phone, that’s fine too. It can prevent you from bottling everything on the inside and feeling like you are going to explode.

3. Communicate Clearly.

Communication is not as simple as we think. You must be clear, say what you mean, be concise, ask questions, and repeat yourself (when needed) to limit misinterpretation. Be assertive and mindful of your nonverbal communication, such as tone and body language. You want to make sure that you aren’t speaking from a place of anger or resentment, so check your emotions beforehand.

4. Set Boundaries.

Easier said than done, but boundaries set the tone for how you treat yourself and teach people how to treat you. If you do not stick to your boundaries, you are more likely to allow others to cross the limits you set for them. Clinical social worker, Sharon Lawrence of Selah Wellness and Therapeutic Services, says that you should “start small and set boundaries for yourself.” “Once you respect your boundaries, you will expect others to do the same.” For example, if your mom always barges into the room when you visit her for the holidays, ask her to knock first. If she doesn’t respect that, then revisit tip one of this article and stay with a friend or at a hotel.

You may find that there are some family members you enjoy and want to be around. Use the time and energy that you are there to enjoy them. Set a boundary for yourself to plan a time to leave the holiday party before it ends or schedule a separate time to see the family members you do enjoy.

5. Make Your Own Family.

If you are not married or do not have children, but you have coworkers, church family, or friends you’ve grown close to over the years, ask to spend time with them. Consider creating an annual Friendsgiving or Christmas party with people where love and respect are mutual. Remember, you should celebrate the people in your life, not tolerate them and they should do the same for you. I saw this quote at someone's house and live by it daily. "A family is a group that dreams, laughs, plays, and love together, always present not only in the good but bad. Never determined by blood, but by behavior, and that is the most precious gift."

6. Don’t Go.

Some of us tell ourselves, “I have to because it is family.” That’s not true. It is what we choose to believe and end up making decisions that we later regret. If your family (or a particular family member) is toxic and you feel sick to your stomach when around them, or they trigger your depression, do not go. Self-care is not merely manicures and pedicures; it is saying no to people and things that cause you to be unwell.

The holidays are not the time to subject yourself to toxicity just because someone is family. “Blood is thicker than water” does not apply to family members who abuse you (emotionally, physically, or mentally), makes you feel guilty, disregards your boundaries, judges you, and makes you feel unsafe.


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