How To Keep Yourself Grounded Around Dysfunctional People This Holiday Season

By: Megan Muñoz IMH

Spending time with family and friends over the holidays can trigger a long string of emotions that feel like they jump out and surprise you all at once. This can be especially true if you are anticipating spending the holidays with a person who struggles with relational dysfunction. One minute you’re chatting with a family member in the kitchen while putting a dish into the oven and the next you find yourself triggered by a statement or comment they made. Or you might start the day on high alert because you’re already anticipating the hurtful behavior and words you will encounter. Sometimes these words and behaviors are covert, other times they take place right in front of your face. Either way, it can turn a holiday of celebration and thankfulness into a social and emotional minefield.

Often times, we spend our mental and emotional resources focusing on the person who is causing the dysfunction. However, one of the best ways to cope with dysfunctional people over the holiday season is to notice how your experience with them is affecting YOU. Make sure you are giving equal focus to your own thoughts and feelings when navigating these relationships. Doing this will help you ground yourself in your own experience before you engage with or start obsessing about the dysfunctional person.

Paying attention to our own experience is important because it is usually the last thing we think of when confronted with an unhealthy or relationally disruptive person. Most often, this person becomes the main focus. Their behavior, thoughts and feelings take center stage and those who are on the receiving end of the dysfunctional behavior tend to push their thoughts and feelings to the side. When we push what we are thinking and feeling to the side, we are unable to do what is healthiest for ourselves and the dysfunctional person: we are unable to make healthy relational choices and boundaries that honor our own experience and help to create a less dysfunctional atmosphere.

If you tend to focus your attention on someone else’s issues and ignore what is going on inside of you, it will be important this holiday season to:

·         Take 2-5 minutes during the day to stop what you are doing and take a few intentional deep breaths
·         Check in and ask yourself how you are doing; I mean REALLY ask. Not how you wish you were doing or should be doing, but how you actually feel about what is happening around you
·         Choose your next steps: what is the healthiest response? At this point, you will be better equipped to respond to what needs to happen next instead of reacting in the moment.

When this becomes a habit, you will be better equipped to make healthier decisions about what to do, say and think next. Maybe after you check in with yourself, you realize that you have spent most of the day worried that you are not meeting everyone’s expectations. You may realize that someone else is triggering your anxiety and it is better to spend less time around that person or stay away from certain topics of conversations.

When you take time to notice what you are feeling and thinking, it will give you the opportunity to think about what you might need. Maybe you need some quiet time alone later in the day after being around a dysfunctional or challenging person. Or perhaps you need to meet with a trusted friend or professional to process your experience after the holiday. Remember that the dysfunctional person’s behavior and emotions do not translate to negative truths about yourself: who you are, who you should be or what you should do.


Caring for yourself well and identifying your own needs is a key step to navigating as well as enjoying your holiday season with difficult people.

To schedule an appointment with Megan Muñoz,
Please call our office at 407-647-7005.


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