We all have a few toxic relatives that we really dread seeing at reunions. They’re like the proverbial lechon: part of every party and okay in small doses but, after an hour or so, you can really feel the spike in your blood pressure.
So how do you prevent family members from ruining holidays like Christmas? Well, you can pack your bags and travel far, far away. Kidding! Or maybe not. We know people who schedule holiday trips just to avoid reunions. Or you can create an emotional distance and stay in a happy bubble until it’s time to make polite beso-beso and leave.
Here’s a few tips to help you survive your toxic family reunions
Give up hope
Harsh? But that’s exactly how life coach Martha Beck put it. "The hope that our families will act perfectly — or even reasonably well — sets us up to be incapacitated by the dysfunctions we'll almost certainly encounter."
So stop hoping this year will be different. Accept that you can’t change your relatives. Accept that they will drive you crazy. Accept that you will never like them, nor do you have to.
You’ll still be annoyed as heck, but at least you won’t get emotional and ask, “Why did she say/do that again?” You expected their obnoxious behavior. It’s practically a family Christmas tradition!
Make your exit strategy
How long can you handle being with your relatives? Think of an excuse to leave early and announce it from the beginning. “Sorry, we can’t stay long because we have to go to a wedding later…”
Or devise a system of clues, since nudging and glaring looks are way too obvious. “My husband knows that when I start distributing the ampao, I already want to leave,” says Karmela.
Pretend it’s a TV show
One quick way to emotionally distance yourself from the family drama is to treat it like a drama. Mentally exaggerate their behavior and turn them into the telenovela stereotypes that are so fun to watch: the meddling mother-in-law, the drunken uncle, the frenemy cousin. When they start acting up, hum the soundtrack and sit back and enjoy the show.
Play Dysfunctional Family Bingo
You don’t actually have to print out bingo squares, but check off each time your relatives do something that drives you crazy, like:
- Says, “Tumaba ka!”
- Humble brags
- Retells the same embarrassing story from your childhood
- Gives unsolicited parenting advice
- The more they do it, the bigger the chances you have of winning!
Hide behind your kids
This is one of the reasons I love being a mom! When you feel like going crazy, you can disappear from a conversation on the pretense that you have to breastfeed/check on the kids/put them down for a nap. It’s also socially acceptable to leave a reunion early because of the kids. You say, “If he gets overstimulated he gets really fussy! We should go before he starts crying and throwing things.” In reality, of course, you are talking about yoursel.
Don’t react, at all costs
It’s like what they teach SWAT teams: “Do not negotiate with terrorists.” When a relative says something so insulting or annoying that you feel you just have to speak up, don’t. It only prolongs a pointless conversation, which you know you’ll replay in your head for days. Just say, “Uh-huh” and get a cupcake.
Don’t forget to emotionally detox
Those negative emotions can be draining and depressing. Expect that you’ll be affected, even a little, and let it out after the party. Talk to a friend (avoid the husband because he can’t be objective because he’s part of this family, too). Treat yourself to something special. Do yoga, kickboxing, or anything that will let you physically release your anger.
Look at the bright side
No matter how bad it gets, the misery ends when you leave the door. Be glad that you don’t have to live with them unless you bring their negativity with you. You can’t control your relatives, but you can choose:
- how much they’ll affect you
- how you’ll raise your own family differently
- how often you want to deal with them for the rest of year
At the end of the day, family reunions are just a few hours of Crazy before you go back to your own life. Just like holiday traffic on EDSA, this too shall pass.