What do you do when your extended family is just plain crazy?

Or at least you FEEL like they’re crazy? Today on the podcast I’m talking about how to handle toxic family members at Christmas. Listen in to the podcast here:

How do you know if a family member is toxic?

I tend to define toxic people in one of two ways:

  • They’re abusive and bullying, trying to make themselves feel superior by making you feel inferior, through belittling, insults, or constant criticism
  • They manipulate and try to control what you do, and do not accept or tolerate disagreement

If you read the book Boundaries (which I highly recommend), it explains how our thoughts, attitudes, and choices are all within our realm of control. So think about your life as a series of fields, with the things that you are responsible for in your yard, all fenced off. Now, if your mom tries to break through that fence and tell you what to do or manipulate you, she’s violating your boundaries. And similarly, if you think that you’re responsible for other people’s feelings, then you’re living a boundary-less life. It’s a great concept to understand.

So what do you do if your family members do this all the time?

Well, I had three different scenarios that I looked at on this podcast:

  1. What to do when family members refuse to see you in an attempt to punish you for something
  2. What to do when you wonder if you should walk away from family members
  3. What to do when you don’t like what some family members are doing–but they’re not actually toxic? Living a lifestyle you disagree with, or doing things you disagree with, does not mean that the person is toxic, after all.

I covered the first two, and then Rebecca and Connor chimed in with another scenario, because I’m getting over a cold and my voice wouldn’t allow me to do the whole thing! But that last one is really important to understand–not everything that we don’t like is toxic.

The big point that I made in this podcast was this:

In unhealthy families, loyalty matters more than truth.

So if you’re trying to walk in truth, you’re going to seriously upset toxic family members. I don’t have time to write a full synopsis of the podcast, but these two articles sum up the first two points:

What Do I Do If I’m Estranged from Family at Christmas?

How to understand why family members may cut you off, and why people may side with them, even if they love you.

Save Yourself from Toxic Family Members this Christmas (Gary Thomas)

Gary Thomas has just written a great book about dealing with toxic people, and here’s some of his thinking where it has to do with Christmas. But I really recommend that you look at:

When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People

Here’s Gary’s new book–what to do when you have toxic people at work; in friend groups; at church; in your extended family–even if you’re married to toxic people or your child or parent has become toxic. It’s a really great book that shows you how Jesus walked away from toxic people, and allowed toxic people to walk away from Him without giving chase. Sometimes being like Jesus means walking away. If you’re having trouble this Christmas, this is a great read.


I also mentioned these things in the podcast:

It’s Not Your Job to Make Your Husband (or Others) Happy

A recent post about boundaries–it’s great to love people, but you are not responsible for how they feel.

My Soul Ties Series: What to do if you have unhealthy emotional bonds with kids (or parents)

Extended families are tricky! And here’s a post about how to make sure that you aren’t forming weird bonds with your kids, like the one in the scenario that I used in the podcast.

No, Having More Sex will Not Stop Your Husband’s Porn Habit

Podcast on Effects of Porn on his Marriage

Last week’s podcast! If you haven’t listened, you should. It’s a really important concept, and I am determined to break this misperception.

And Rebecca mentioned these things: 

Why I Didn’t Rebel: A 22-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow–and how Your Kids Can, Too

I was talking in the podcast about some of the signs of healthy families, and I referred to some of the research in my daughter Rebecca’s book. If you haven’t checked it out, please do! It’s a great read, filled with stories of millennials and generation Z kids who grew up, some who rebelled, and some who didn’t. And she looks at the protective factors in families that tends to keep kids from rebelling. One of the main ones? In healthy families, kids are allowed to tell the truth, even about doubts about their faith.

10 Conversation Starters to Have More Meaningful Conversations Around Christmas Dinner Table

Great ideas to get your extended family talking about important stuff!

Finally, if you’re not signed up yet for my email list, I mentioned a few times in the podcast some things that went out in emails lately that weren’t on the blog. So sign up!

So what do you think? Have you had to navigate toxic family members at Christmas? Or family members that you just find difficult? Let’s talk in the comments!



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