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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

How to Survive Toxic Relatives over the Holidays

Do the holidays cause you stress as you anticipate THAT relative or THOSE relatives that you’ve concluded are narcissistic, abusive, psychopathic, or otherwise toxic? Are you trying to figure out the following with respect to family gatherings –


  • Do I just resolve myself to say nothing and “suck it up” during my visit?
  • Do I set a time limit as to how long I’ll stay?
  • Do I make an ultimatum and tell my loved ones I’ll only attend a function if so-and-so isn’t there?
  • Do I book a cruise during the holidays and avoid family altogether?


Yes, these situations can be challenging and it makes sense that you would want to figure out a way to have peace and tranquility during the holiday season.  That is the purpose of this article. I want to provide a “toolkit” of sorts, to help prepare you for those difficult encounters.

I know this may sound cliché, but psychopaths and narcissists will trigger those areas in your life that you haven’t healed within yourself yet. For instance, of course receiving the silent treatment hurts; but, in order for you to learn to survive a toxic person’s silent treatments, you need to look within and understand how that impacts you psychologically.

Ask yourself, “What is the worst part of this for me?” And, “What does it mean about me that this person isn’t speaking to me?”  Once you explore the inner triggers within, you can see what you need to heal in yourself to move forward and remove the narcissist’s ability to manipulate and hurt you.

Once you can heal the underlying hurts within yourself being triggered by the other person, any dysfunctional behavior toward you will lose its edge or sting. This is very liberating.

Following are some suggestions for managing yourself when faced with toxic relatives over the holidays:

  • Change your expectations. Try to treat the toxic person differently than you would treat any other people in your lives. Don’t expect this person to be reasonable, kind, “normal,” or capable of real human connection. Think, instead, in terms of “special needs.” The difficult, but not impossible. Lowered expectations can prevent a lot of disappointment on your part.
  • Do not defend yourself. If you start feeling defensive over something your toxic relative says, have an internal “check in.” Notice the feeling of defensiveness and take an internal inventory. Have a silent dialogue with yourself and give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself that you don’t have to defend yourself and simply refuse to participate in the interaction. This can be done by politely changing the subject or excusing yourself to walk away.
  • Don’t personalize your toxic relative’s dysfunctional and insulting behaviors. You are not responsible for other people’s choices. Afterall, everyone has a right to be who they are and choose what character traits they want to possess. If the other person wants to be a jerk, who are you to decide differently? Your only power is to choose who you want to be and what behaviors you are willing to display.
  • Learn how to respond rather than react to a narcissist. Response involves logic and thinking. Reactions are emotional. If you feel emotional, don’t act on it; rather, stop and think and respond without any emotional energy. The best way to do this is to use reflection. This is to simply reflect back what you see or hear from that person.
  • Give up trying to explain yourself or your point of view. The toxic person is basically not interested and is not going to listen. Plus, once you start explaining yourself you have fallen in to the narcissist’s trap.
  • Set personal boundaries. Remember, boundaries are internal. They are not about the other person. People with personality disorders do not respect other people’s boundaries. Realize what you will or will not do and act accordingly. If you decide you will not be disrespected, when a person starts treating you disrespectfully simply walk away. This is a boundary. Remember, you have no power over another person’s actions or choices, only your own.

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The Little Shaman (Nov. 6, 2018) Your Emergency Narcissist Toolkit. Published by YouTube. Retrieved from:

How to Survive Toxic Relatives over the Holidays

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2019). How to Survive Toxic Relatives over the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from