The holidays can be a bit of a sticky wicket for many of us, who are faced with the daunting task of seeing relatives we might only see once or twice a year. And when we do see them, it almost invariably leads to stress, anxiety, and arguments. We may even begin thinking about the Holiday family dinner weeks before, causing angst and unhappiness for ourselves.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to empower yourself to enjoy your holiday even if it’s spent with toxic family members. Toxic relationships can exist with anyone, including your spouse, siblings, or parents. Toxic family members specialize in making you feel disempowered, both emotionally and spiritually. They may have a history of making you feel belittled, and comment on your weight or perhaps a new love interest. If you feel worse when you left then when you arrived, you may be dealing with a toxic family.

If missing the family dinner is not an option for you, know that there are many things you can do to protect yourself from the toxic energy spewing forth from family members. Setting healthy boundaries around the family can protect you from toxic behavior. The following tips will help you deal with unruly family members and save your Holiday dinner.

5 Coping Skills for dealing with a toxic table at the Holiday dinner:

1.Learn not to take anything personally. What others do or say to you has nothing to do with you. What people do and say come directly from their issues: Don Miguel Ruiz tells us in his book The Four Agreements:

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

2. Make a plan: Begin to strategize before arriving who you will sit by, and the type of conversations you would like to have. Think about how you will respond to Uncle Bob when he begins interrogating you on your love life, or Aunt Mary when she starts criticizing your dress choice for your body size. Preparing what you will say ahead of time will give you an edge in the conversation.

3. Be your own best friend: Know what you need and have clarity on what you will not tolerate from family members. Do not allow anyone to disrespect, belittle, or embarrass you. When they do say something hurtful toward you, advise them that you will tolerate the way they talk to you. You might say something like, “Please don’t talk to me that way, I feel disrespected and hurt by your comments.”

4. Stop and take a breath: When feeling stressed at the moment, stop and take a breath. Reframe in your mind what you are thinking and make it something positive. For example, your mother begins to tell you that you look like you’ve gained a little weight. Stop and take a breath, reframe the thought to, “I’m a healthy weight, and I’m happy in my body” once you have reframed the thought to a positive one, you can then share it. 

5. Leave if they won’t respect you: Finally, you deserve love and respect. If your family doesn’t provide the kindness, you deserve you have to be prepared to leave to show them you are serious. Remember, your emotional well-being is essential, and you deserve nothing less. 

Family gatherings are supposed to be fun and filled with love and support for each other. If you find yourself filled with a sense of dread, panic, and anxiety, you may want to consider an alternative for the holiday. Being with people who love and support you is much better for your emotional well-being.