How to Survive the Holidays With Difficult Family Members

By Tiffiny J. Fambro | Uncategorized

Nov 17

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The holiday season has finally arrived. Many families will finally be able to spend time with loved ones after a difficult two years since the beginning of the pandemic.

Even though there may be many family members that you will be happy to see, there is always at least one, or two or three that you would rather not deal with at all.

These are the difficult family members that always bring their toxic, negative behavior to any event they attend. They are the aunt and uncles that ask why you are still not married, or the cousin that harasses you about being selfish because you don’t have kids, or the patronizing older sibling that thinks they are always right, or the out-of-control alcoholic brother-in-law whom no one wants to confront about his addiction.

Yes, these are your dysfunctional family members, and every year you probably tell yourself that maybe they will change, but they never really do. So, how do you enjoy your holidays and deal with these difficult personalities?

How to Deal With Difficult Family Members During the Holidays

Dealing with a difficult personality is tough but especially when that person is in your family. When it comes to the holidays and dealing with a difficult person you must have a plan.

Let’s face it, even the best family sometimes has drama when they are all stuck in the same house for long periods (think about the quarantine). So be willing to acknowledge that there may be some friction and think through a tangible strategy for how you will handle it.

Be mindful of your triggers, aka, the topics that get you upset or the past experiences that difficult family members like to bring up to embarrass you. Many times difficult family members were also childhood bullies to you and will use the same tactics they did when you were a kid.

Once you think through a holiday plan, write the strategy down, and if you have a spouse or partner share the strategy with them so that you both are on the same page.

Below are some tips that you can incorporate in your strategy to navigate dealing with difficult family members.

Portrait of big family celebrating thanks giving eat share stuffed turkey served, dinner chatting house living room indoors

Tips for Surviving the Holidays With Family

Mentally and Physically Prepare for Drama

If the family member will be staying at your parent’s house or the main family’s house then get a hotel or separate accommodations so you can leave when you want and don’t have to see them every day.

Remind yourself that the interaction will just be for a short time and you will not have to see them again hopefully for a long while. Recognize how bad it is for their spouse or the people that have to deal with them daily and be thankful it’s not you.

Response Tactics

Don’t be caught off guard with their communication. Be prepared with verbal responses when the delinquent family member starts saying disrespecting things. Here are some examples:

  • “I came here to have a good time with my family not to be harassed, so let’s be respectful to each other”
  • “I’m choosing to not debate this issue”
  • “I prefer not to discuss that subject”
  • “I don’t have to explain myself to you”
  • “I make decisions that are best for me”

You can also ignore their comments or change the subject

If you feel strong enough, you may confront them on why they bring up past issues or embarrassing childhood experiences. You can use what I call a reversal tactic where you become the interrogator and start asking them tons of questions.

For example, if they say, “remember when your boyfriend dumped you right before prom?”, you can respond with:

  • “Why did you bring that up right now during the holidays in front of our family?”
  • “Why do get so insecure when I come around?”
  • “Why do you not discuss any of your past relationships in front of the family?”
  • “Why is my past so important to you?”
  • “Why are you so obsessed with what I am doing with my life?”

This tactic is a way to take the attention off you and turn it back onto them. They will probably deny that they care about your life or say something silly and that will be your opportunity to take the power position and start discussing the good things in your life.

For example, you could say, “I would like to talk about the promotion I just received at work”, or “I am happy with the business I just started”. Use the opportunity to say something positive about yourself.

Remember to keep a calm demeanor, as you are confronting their behavior.

Focus On Spending Time With the Family Members That Make You Feel Good

Instead of focusing on the difficult family member, give extra attention to the family members you enjoy. Have fun with the new baby, spend time with grandma as she talks about her parents, help your mom in the kitchen with that pie, etc.

Do whatever you can to take the attention off the difficult family member and focus on being with the people that make you feel good.

Avoid Them

When you encounter a difficult family member, say hello and keep walking. Don’t stop to chit chat, and if they are talking just keep going, as they will have no choice but to talk to someone else.

If they walk into the room, you can walk out or start talking to someone else. When they start behaving badly at the table, excuse yourself to the restroom.

Remember, a big part of a difficult family member’s behavior is because they want the attention on them. This is similar to a toddler throwing a tantrum. The best thing you can do is not give them what they want.

Stay Busy

Staying busy is a great way to dodge long periods of time where the difficult family member has time to say anything to you.

To stay busy, you could organize a family game after dinner or go for a family walk outside. You could also go do something fun like play tag football or attend a parade.

If all else fails, cleaning up after dinner is a way to stay busy and be productive.

Decide How Long You Will Stay

Decide before you go on how long you plan to visit. If you are going with a spouse or partner, let them know how long you want to stay and set your phone alarm to go off 15 minutes before the time you’d like to go at so you can prepare to leave.


It’s important to indulge in a little self-care during the holiday and after you have dealt with a difficult family member. Do something fun after the visit so that you have a happy memory of the holiday. Remember, this is your holiday too, and you deserve to enjoy some of it.

This might mean going to the movies with a friend during your visit, or going on a separate little vacation with a partner right after the visit.

You can also plan to get in a workout at a local gym during and after your visit to relieve stress.

Some spa’s may have holiday specials so be willing to take advantage of a good massage or spa treatment after the holidays.


Lastly, if the holiday season truly brings up emotionally painful memories, then definitely seek help. I recommend Online Therapy.com because you can access them anytime and anywhere in the world.

Unlike other online therapy groups, they have a complete toolbox of various resources that you can use to improve your entire life. These resources include talking one-on-one to a licensed therapist to activity planners, worksheets, yoga videos, and more.

Since they are online, you can access them wherever you are in the world. Plus, they have various payment options for different levels of service that you feel you need.


Dealing with difficult family members at any time is not easy, but it’s especially hard during the holidays. Be willing to create a plan for the holiday season, understand where you are mentally, stand firm with your boundaries, and be willing to indulge in self-care activities after the holiday event.

Remember, you are an adult. You are in control of your behavior and you have the right to feel good and enjoy the holiday season. Don’t allow a difficult family member to steal your joy.


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About the Author

Tiffiny has a B.A. in Psychology, and master’s degree in Public Health Education. She worked in consulting for over 16 years, as well as previously owning a fitness and health business. In her personal life, she used personal development, mindset and health strategies to go from being overworked in a demanding corporate career, emotionally drained in a toxic marriage, physically unhealthy, and depressed to becoming an award-winning figure level bodybuilding athlete and entrepreneur. As a women’s empowerment coach, she works to help women get clear on their goals, build confidence, increase self-esteem, take action on their deep desires and create a life they love

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