If you struggle to spend time with family because of their toxic behaviour don’t worry, you’re not alone.
From yearly conflicts to personality clashes, and unpleasant relatives. Here are 11 top tips for enduring time with toxic family members and actually enjoying trips home.
The first time my friend Stella told me she wasn’t going home at all in 2021 I was shocked. As you know most Africans make the trip home at some point during the year.
But here was Stella telling me that previous trips had been more traumatic than enjoyable. Stella explained that her mother is highly critical and would bombard her with questions of “utaolewa lini?” and “shouldn’t you be hitting the gym?” While her drunkard brother chooses this time to turn abusive and her sister loves to show how much better than Stella she is doing. And so this year Stella has said no, and so this year is spending all her time with friends.
There are more Stellas out there than we’d perhaps like to admit. So, if your family is always filled with conflicts, personality clashes, and unpleasant relatives here are a few pointers to make the time a little more bearable.
Step 1: Admit that you have a toxic family
They say the first step to healing comes from acceptance. It can be hard to admit that you come from a dysfunctional family. Maybe it’s because you don’t want people to judge you but you shouldn’t lie about it. Be honest, at least to yourself
Step 2: Plan Ahead
Being around a toxic family may make you feel out of control because no matter how hard you try every time you are with them you are faced with emotional chaos. They may put you down, abuse you physically or verbally, manipulate you, or make demands you can’t meet.
Planning ahead of time will give you some sense of control. Ask yourself questions like ‘How much time can I spend with them?’, ‘Who do I need to avoid?’ and ‘What made me angry the last time?’
Then if you have to visit, use these answers to help you set healthy boundaries and develop strategies for keeping sane.
Step 3: Lower your expectations
Don’t expect to heal childhood wounds with one trip. The person who irritated you last year will probably end up doing so again this year. Yes, it will suck but people don’t change overnight. Lowering your expectations will enable you to deal better with family disappointments.
Step 4: Adjust your attitude
Worry will spike your anxiety, so do something relaxing before making the trip. Practice yoga, listen to music, go dancing, or go for a walk. Once at home try to minimize your contact with difficult relatives. Keep conversations simple. Avoid getting sucked into arguments or getting drawn into the family drama. Don’t apologize, defend yourself, or make excuses. Just focus on getting through it.
Step 5: Avoid sensitive topics.
Try not to engage when faced with inappropriate and insensitive questions. Especially if faced with criticism about how you choose to live your life. “Will you ever get married?” and “why don’t you have kids yet?” will always hit a nerve even though they seem harmless. Instead, come up with a general answer that steers the conversation away from touchy subjects. If you find yourself getting angry, walk away.
Step 6: Practice gratitude and tolerance
Tolerate other people’s behavior with the knowledge that we all do things that irritate others. If nothing else, remember you only have to tolerate the irritation for a little while. Your family may have hurt you but try to think happy thoughts or find a distraction. Look at cat videos on Youtube or read funny texts from a friend. Hang out with family members you like or do anything else that makes you smile. This can go a long way towards relieving stress.
Step 7: Focus on self-love
Spending time with a toxic family can feel like entering the lion’s den. You may find yourself doubting your worth. So make a list to remind yourself of everything that’s great about yourself, because you’re worthy of love and respect.
Step 8: Bring a plus one
Bringing a friend or partner home may force your family to be on their best behavior. But if your bestie can’t come at least ask them to text back when you reach out. Some friends are willing to support you and always remind you that you are awesome. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself.
Step 9: Have An Exit Strategy
If things become impossible to bear make sure that you know how you’ll leave. If you can’t leave, volunteer to go to the grocery store or just for a walk. Consider taking younger family members with you for the company and to get them away from the drama.
Step 10: Debrief with friends
Watch your family closely and pay attention to the drama with the aim of sharing everything they do with your close friends. Tell stories of your respective family get-togethers, then vote to see whose experience was the worst. This recounting may help you to start loving your family unconditionally. Or reaffirm that you are not just crazy.
Step 11: It is OK to stay away
You may force yourself to go to a family gathering because of guilt, shame, and a sense of obligation, but are these more important than your mental health?
Not visiting your family doesn’t have to be out of anger. Taking time apart may help you and them value each other more, and if not it will help you develop new habits that will make you happy. After all is said and done, you need to live your best life for you and sometimes that means spending it away from your dysfunctional family.