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5 Things to do if Dysfunctional Family Tries to Ruin your Holiday

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Brene Brown

We all have them — the family member or friend who decides the one time of the year he sees you is going to be his permission to test the very things that make you human. You know, whatever’s keeping you from grabbing him around the neck and strangling him right there in the kitchen before the turkey has popped?

Not everyone’s family gatherings are stressed-out, dysfunctional and downright torturous, but if yours are, have no fear. Here are five things you can do before the shit hits the fan, and maybe will help you enjoy the time with your crazy family.

  1. Remember you’re a grown up now. Seriously, you’re not that little kid who has to follow the rules, be polite, and take the crap being dished out. Stand tall, remember your worth, and call your family member out on their horrid behavior. Chances are there’s more than one other person in the room who’s cheering you on, whispering, thank God someone had the balls to say it, to themselves. Afraid of the reaction? That gets me to number 2.
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Seriously, find your zen before you enter the test zone. This works for other meetings, phone conversations or gatherings too. Before you dial, knock or enter, get your calm on. Make it a game. Can you be a calm observer at the movie you’re watching and just notice with interest as it plays out? If you don’t already have the “Calm” app — get it HERE.

4. Take a break. One of my clients told me when they travel to family for the holidays she and her husband take the dogs, so if they need a break from the chaos they have a great excuse to take a walk. I thought this was brilliant and have done it myself in the past. Remember, you don’t really need an excuse. You can choose to take a walk, either way. Your life, your rules. Take a break from the crowd if start to feel drained, tired, irritated or annoyed. You might just save Uncle Fred.

5. Leave. You heard me. If things really are shit, and it’s being directed at you, and you’re feeling sad, hurt, depressed, or angry, leave. Gets me back to number 1. You’re a grown up and you have a choice to remove yourself from any situation that feels bad. If you’re staying there out of obligation, or duty, or because you’re afraid you’ll hurt Grandma’s feelings, believe me, Grandma understands. She’s never been brave enough to do anything about it though. You’re brave. And you care about yourself. And you’re willing to be an example for the rest of your family, if that’s what it takes.

Thinking back, I love the memories of holidays with my family; the food, the games, the laughter, just being together. The “but” here is we kids put up with a lot of dysfunction I didn’t enjoy because we had no choice. The behaviors I recognize now as passive aggressive, disrespectful and narcissistic (I know — all big words coming from a simple gal, but it helps to know psychotherapists) weren’t questioned or complained about when I was a kid. Certainly not by me, but also not by any of the adults who should have had more sense. Why? I believe nobody was willing to trigger the reaction they expected from the person by calling them out. (Fear).

Nobody wants to be Scrooge and ruin the day, especially after eating steaming, homemade ravioli Grandma just put in the middle of the table. But, if you know better, it’s time to do better. Thanks for that one Maya Angelou.

To change the dynamic (think about your sons, daughters, nieces and nephews who are growing up in your family) someone’s gotta speak up. Not just to you after it’s happened in a gossipy way — “Oh my God, I can’t believe he said that to you? I’m so sorry!” But in a protective way — “Uncle Fred! Really? Did you just say that to little Mary? Go to your room!” Just kidding about the room part, but really, we need to remember we choose to be a doormat, or show our kids how to stand up for themselves.

I’d love to hear if you have other tactics that help you survive a dysfunctional family holiday. Hit me up in the comments and add to the discussion; help a gal out!

And may you have a stress-free, happy and nourishing holidays, in mind, body and soul this year. Don’t let Uncle Fred take you down. You got this!

Laura Di Franco, MPT is an intuitive writing strategist, author of spiritual erotica, holistic physical therapist, poet and third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do with over two decades of experience in healing. She teaches the transformational healing tools, and powerful strategy for the expression that’ll nourish your fiercely alive whole self. When you’re ready to begin an adventure to your soul and live the life you crave, she’s your sherpa. Want a workshop that’ll give you practical powerful tools you can use to heal yourself today? Find them at And more free inspiration on Laura’s Facebook page HERE. Grab your free copy of her new eBook: 7 Badass Habits of Next Level Living HERE!

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