Holidays with Toxic Family: A Mindful Person’s Survival Guide


We’ve all got them—those family members that derive pleasure from making us uncomfortable, whose beliefs are the polar opposite from our own, and who kickstart negative family patterns we’ve worked for years to break. 

Is it possible to stay healthy and centered when toxic people have a seat at the table? It is! Simply use these four tactics to have a happy, healthy, and mindful holiday. 


We’ve all got them—those family members that derive pleasure from making us uncomfortable, whose beliefs are the polar opposite from our own, and who kickstart negative family patterns we’ve worked for years to break. 

We may be able to keep them at bay for much of the year, but the holidays present a time when we may be in close quarters with those who drain us of our hard-won mindfulness. 

Is it possible to stay healthy and centered when toxic people have a seat at the table? Can we manage to have a happy holiday, rather than one filled with stress, weariness, sickness, and tears? 

It’s absolutely possible. Here are 4 techniques for having a mindful, happy holiday: 

1. Use a Shield:

Many people get sick during the holidays, and it’s no wonder! Combine dealing with emotionally draining people with trying to live up to high expectations for a “perfect” holiday event, add in any energetically negative family dynamics, and it’s a recipe for a worn-out immune system. 

From an energetic perspective, the immune system is very much connected to the idea that we are part of groups that protect us. When we have a breakdown in that important dynamic (such as a toxic family), the immune system gets depleted. 

A great way to build the immune system and protect your energy is to visualize a shield of protective light all around you before entering any event which may include negativity and stress. Simply ask yourself what color you associate with protection and safety, then imagine that color of light forming a shield or aura about three feet around your body, front and back. You’ll be centered and strong as you encounter even the most difficult people.

2. Shift your expectations

No matter how challenging past holidays have been, many of us go into each holiday believing that this will be the year where we make it an ideal experience; one filled with laughter, love, and joy. 

While optimism is a good thing, wishing to change the essential nature of the people involved and to shift deeply set family dynamics can set us up for great disappointment.

Think of it this way: Can you change a maple tree into an oak? Or a dog into a cat? Or your mean aunt into a nice one? 

Not so likely. Instead, accept the people involved for who they are and allow them to have the holiday they wish to have. By doing so, we disconnect from the frustration of trying to make others into something they aren’t, creating the freedom to fully enjoy the holiday we wish to have as well. 

3. Have an escape plan

Accepting others for who they are doesn’t mean tolerating bad behavior. On the contrary, it allows time to prepare for the bad behavior and have ready responses.

Instead of being ambushed by the nosy aunt or cornered by the bullying grandfather, try these exit strategies: 

  • Excuse yourself to the bathroom…urgently. 
  • Partner up. Have a game plan with a like-minded family member to break in to any conversation that’s going badly. 
  • Offer to help cooking, serving, or cleaning up. By staying moving and with a job, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m needed in the kitchen!” and move on. 
  • Unable to remove yourself? Try saying, “I appreciate your concern, but I am not discussing that.” or “I’d prefer not to get into that.” If they don’t stop, keep repeating the same sentence. People usually will give up once they realize you are not going to engage.

4. Be mindful of falling into old patterns. 

We all have roles we play in our families, and others can be very invested in keeping us in those roles, even if they do not fit us anymore. 

We might have done a lot of work to stop being the peacekeeper or the problem-solver, but when mom starts crying or uncle starts getting drunk and disruptive, that old pattern can be triggered. 

Before going to a holiday gathering, make a list of the old roles that no longer serve you. List things that will trigger you to react from a pre-programmed place. Then, list ways you can stay centered, present, and true to your new self even in the face of a strong trigger. 

Stay present, and when something happens that begins to trigger an old, unwanted response, take a deep breath and begin using the tools you’ve prepared. 

If it’s overwhelming, go back to #3 and use an escape plan to buy time to recenter. Then, put the shield back up, and try again. 

While dealing with toxic family is no fun, putting these practices in place can make this holiday season healthy, mindful, and joyful.

Author Bio: 

Tara is an internationally-respected coach and speaker who uses her own empath nature as a gift throughout her work, helping others to heal. She’s also the author of the award-winning book The Flow Method: 40 Days to Total Life Transformation. Find out more about Tara’s work and take the empath test here: Follow Tara on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. 

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Comment by Tara Meyer-Robson on October 10, 2017 at 1:27pm

Thanks, Kristi! I appreciate the feedback. Is there anything I need to shift for it to be appropriate for the publication? Have a wonderful day! 

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