How To Avoid A Toxic Thanksgiving | Toxic People | Help & Advice
Do you plan on visiting relatives on Thanksgiving? Are you hosting a family dinner? Are you traveling and can't easily leave a bad situation? Do you have a lot of people coming over to stay at your house and you find it stressful? Trust me, a lot of others feel the same way about all of these situations.
I'm going to relate some strategies and give you some advice for dealing with these situations and toxic people in your life. This advice doesn't have to be used just for Thanksgiving, it can be used for any get-togethers on holidays and celebrations. They can also be used for any toxic person in your life.
You're probably come across toxic people in your life. You may have one or several toxic people in your life right now and you can probably think of exactly who they are right away. You may find yourself stressed out even thinking about interacting with them and often try avoid them if you can. They may be co-workers, family members, acquaintances and yes, even friends and significant others. Sometimes we may know these people are toxic, but we can't seem to end the relationship or instill boundaries to protect ourselves from their toxicity.
How do we know if they are toxic? Well, anyone who drains your energy, makes you feel bad about yourself or your life choices, abuses you, uses you, doesn't support you and generally makes you feel negative after interacting with them is most likely a toxic person. It's up to you to evaluate the people in your life and decide if they are toxic people.
The way I evaluate people is to evaluate them and their actions as a whole; do I feel better, happier and energized after interacting with them? Do I feel drained, unhappy and hope that I don't have to talk to them for a long time afterwards? If it's the latter, then for me, it's better that I either maintain distance and instill boundaries when I do interact with them or end the relationship altogether.
If you identify a person in your life as toxic, how can you instill boundaries if you still plan on having them in your life? There are several ways. You can tell them directly how you expect to be treated, you can enlist the help of someone you can trust to help you (more on that in a bit) or you can "grey rock" them, which is a technique used with people who have narcissistic personality disorder.
If you would like to tell them directly, think of expectations you have for how you expect to be treated by people you want in your life. Every single person in your life is a chosen person in your life. By that I mean, you don't have to have them in your life; it is your choice to include them, no matter who they are (family included). Whatever your expectations are, it is up to you to make them clear and have clear instructions for the consequences that will follow if they cannot follow your rules.
For example, my expectations for anyone in my life is to be respectful of me, my husband, my home, my ideas, etc., to treat me with kindness and empathy, to support me and expect support from me, to be honest with me, to have integrity, to do what you say you will do and to remember to always have fun.
Anyone who disrespects me, my husband, treats us badly, lies to us or others and shows themselves as people without integrity and kindness won't be in our lives. I don't have to have a bunch of superficial things in common with people to get along; at the core, I want them to be good people, people I can trust and know won't lie to me, will support me and treat me with respect and kindness. There's just no room for someone who isn't like that in my life.
Which brings me to the question, what do you expect? What will/won't you tolerate and what do you expect from others? If you think about it, you can come up with a list of things that you can tell anyone what your boundaries are and what will happen if they violate those boundaries.
You might feel uncomfortable with instilling boundaries. I understand; confrontation and being assertive is intimidating and not everyone is at the point in their lives where they are able to do that. Another option is to bring someone with you when you visit with toxic people.
This would be someone who is on your side, understands that the person or persons is/are toxic, that you need support and empathy and are able to be neutral in tense situations. This person should also be willing to help you leave the toxic situation, should it occur. Think of this person as your bodyguard; they are there to monitor the situation and help protect you should you be in danger (of being treated poorly).
This is also beneficial in that you have a witness, so if you become a victim of gaslighting, abuse, etc., you have someone there who can validate your feelings and thoughts. This can be extremely beneficial for those who visit toxic family members around the holidays or celebrations such as their birthday. In those situations, I find it typical that the toxic family member or members are usually surrounded by enablers. These enablers watch the abuse happen, but do nothing to stop it and sometimes even help the abuser continue the abuse.
Having a "bodyguard" will often prevent the abuser from engaging in abuse because they don't want to abuse their victim in front of a witness who won't help them abuse their victim. You might even feel like you are treated better overall at events because the toxic family member or members might be on their best behavior, so as to not tip off the "bodyguard" that they are a bad person.
The last technique is often used when engaging with those who have narcissistic personality disorder. "Grey rocking" is basically becoming neutral and having neutral responses when engaging with an abuser. Toxic people may try to get you to respond in certain ways in order to feel better about themselves. Anything they know might be a sensitive topic (weight, religion, life choices, etc.), they might bring up, knowing it will inflame you and make you unhappy.
Let's say you gained or lost some weight over the last few months and go to your aunt's house for Thanksgiving. You haven't seen any of your family for months because you've been in college. You know your Uncle Reggie and your Grandma Phyllis will notice the gain or loss right away and you are dreading it.
They always say something. You may think, maybe they'll be distracted this time, maybe they'll leave me alone, maybe if I'm just nice enough or smile enough or distract them enough, they won't say anything. They will though. They always will. They know it hurts you and they get gratification from hurting you, so they will continue to hurt you if they get the same reaction every time.
What can you do? Well, grey rocking makes it so they won't get the reaction they crave and after a certain amount of time, they won't target you anymore.
How does it work?
When Uncle Reggie and your Grandma Phyllis come up to you and tell you, "Oh, we noticed you gained 20 pounds, maybe you should avoid the mashed potatoes and pie at dinner. What have you been eating at school anyway?" or, "We are really worried about you, you lost 20 pounds and it looks like you have anorexia. Maybe you should eat more at dinner or you might collapse. What do you eat at school anyway?"
Both of these comments are highly inflammatory, hurtful and definitely inappropriate. Grey rock technique would tell us to say, "Oh, Uncle Reggie and Grandma Phyllis, school has been going great, I'm really happy. I'm so happy to see everyone and I'm looking forward to dinner." You aren't acknowledging the hurtful comments and are showing them you have no interest in engaging in comments directed at your weight.
If they continue, saying things like, "Why don't you want to talk about your weight? We don't understand, your weight is important." Grey rock technique would tell you to say, "Weight is so boring. I've learned a lot in school though, do you want to hear what I've learned about in biology?"
The theory is they will get bored and stop targeting you and it does work, you just have to remember not to engage with them because engaging with you is their goal. You must remember their ultimate goal is to hurt you so they can feel better about themselves. When you don't give them what they want, they will find someone else to get it from.
Ending A Toxic Relationship
Sometimes no matter what techniques you employ, the toxic person is just too toxic to be around. You may find they will bulldoze any boundaries you put in place, finding delight in violating your rules that are in place to protect you. You may find they don't care if they abuse you in front of your "bodyguard". If your bodyguard is your significant other or maybe a friend, they might start trying to abuse your protector or friend or even enlist their help in abusing you. You may find that grey rock technique doesn't work. The toxic person or persons might become irate and physically abusive, trying to get the reaction they crave and need to feel whole.
In these cases, it might be better for you to end the relationship altogether. You are allowed to cut abusive and/or toxic people from your life. You deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. You don't have to visit family on holidays and celebrations. You are allowed to decide to spend time alone or with other, kind and supportive people instead of those who make you feel bad about yourself.
Whether you come across toxic people in your family, at work, or even find that they are your friends or significant other, you are allowed to protect yourself from that toxicity. No one should be in the presence of someone they know will make their life miserable and you don't have to endure abuse.
You are allowed to instill boundaries, bring a protector with you to face negative people and allowed to use the grey rock technique to engage with abusers in a neutral way. You are allowed to use all or a mix of those techniques in order to protect yourself. You are also allowed to say no. No is a complete answer.
If you no longer need or want a toxic person in your life, you are allowed to cut them out of your life. Every person in your life serves a purpose. We learn from others and teach others. If all someone is teaching you is to hate yourself, to question yourself, to not trust your own reality and perception, to seek their approval at all costs (to the detriment of yourself) and to endure their endless, constant abuse, then why are they in your life? It's completely reasonable to want to cut them off and make room for people who will teach you you are worthy of love, that you can love back deeply, that you are a great person and deserve happiness.
I hope this article helps.