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Turkey with a Side of Dysfunction: An Empath's Guide to Surviving the Holidays with Toxic People at the Table

The holidays can be an absolutely exhausting time for Empaths, and with Thanksgiving coming up, it’s a good bet that you are going to be bombarded with tension, old family patterns, and a few Emotional Vampires (EVs) coming out to suck your energy dry. 

So, how do you stay healthy and centered when EVs or other toxic people have a seat at your table? How do you actually have a happy holiday, instead of one filled with exhaustion, tension, disappointment, and sadness?

Use these techniques and you just might have a great holiday: 

1. Energetically protect your immune system.

There’s a reason so many of us get sick during the holidays; it's because our immune systems take a serious hit from all the emotional negativity and turmoil coming at us. On top of that, for Empaths, we are also worrying about all the people that are alone on the holidays, all the animals in shelters, all the kids in orphanages without a mom and dad—you know, all the pain and suffering which we cannot solve (but want to!).

It’s a bad mix that ends up energetically driving our immune system into the ground. 

If you look at the immune system, it makes sense—it’s our defense against nasty things like germs and other things that would harm us. It’s a great system–a strong system generally—but it can only hold for so long. When we are being attacked by outside negative energy AND we are emotionally in turmoil with all the pain in the world which we can't solve, it just makes sense that eventually it gives up. 

In addition, If you think about a family dynamic metaphorically, a family is supposed to come together and protect every member of the group–blood is thicker than water, right? However, what if your family is a situation where you’ve never felt protected? Or where one person is allowed to bully everyone else? Or where the dynamics are so dysfunctional that you feel constantly on edge for what the next hit will be (emotionally or physically)? 

If you think of the immune system metaphorically, it’s kind of the same thing—it’s supposed to be a whole family of elements that are coming together to protect you and keep you safe from outside elements. But, if you’ve got a family that turns on you and doesn’t protect you, it sends a strong signal to your immune system that you have no one to protect you, and by God, you get sick. 

The only answer for this is to Shield constantly. Shielding is a technique which I teach in detail in the Empowered Empath Academy, but a simple version is to simply close your eyes and imagine a glowing light force field all around your body. The light can be any color you want; it’s helpful to simply ask yourself, “What color do I need today to keep me safe, healthy, and protected?” Whatever color comes to mind, trust it. See that color glowing like a bright egg all around your body. When the Shield is up, you should feel strong and grounded!

To keep your immune system (and energetic system) healthy during any holiday with toxic people, you want to Shield every single morning at the very least. Frankly, it’s not a bad idea to re-Shield every single time you go to the bathroom (it’s nice and quiet in there, you can do this quickly, and by making it a habit, you'll always be strong and centered). 

If you do that, you will be amazed at how much stronger you'll feel this holiday! Even better, you may find that you energetically repel some of the more annoying people at your holiday tablethey'll sense your centeredness and strength and will (unconsciously) decide to leave you alone. Win-win.

2. Adjust your expectations.

Every single holiday, I start imagining this “Norman Rockwellian” holiday—a happy gathering where everyone wants the best for each other and whose words will sound like harmonious note creating a beautiful melody. 

And every single holiday, I am crushed when it doesn’t happen—and when I can’t MAKE it happen. 

Empaths want things to be beautiful and happy, We want to take away people’s pain. We want to heal fractured relationships. We want peace and joy and love. 

Unfortunately, what we want—and what we try to make happen—may be a great odds with what everyone else in the situation wants or is willing to let happen. 

In my family, I can actually tell you exactly what will happen on any holiday by the hour. I can tell you exactly when the moodiness will begin; I can tell you when the breakdown will start. I can tell you exactly what time the in-laws will start something that will cause drama about who-can-stay-for-how-long-at-each-house, and who-is-getting-to-see-the-kids-for-more-time, and…ugh…

Anyway, even though I know it’s going to happen and can tell you almost to the minute when it will happen, I still end up believing that THIS is the year that I can somehow make everything perfect and wonderful and happy by doing THIS or THAT. 

No more. It’s amazing how much more at peace you can be by letting people be who they are. Yep, someone is going to have a breakdown. Someone is going to pull some sort of crazy drama. Someone is going to be mad, unhappy, and feel slighted. I know ALL of that, and I have finally accepted cannot fix ANY of it.

When you accept it and you expect the likely-to-happen, if anyone acts better than that—guess what? You get to be pleasantly surprised! And if they don’t, well, you're okay with it, because you have to realize that this is the holiday that this person wants. For whatever reasonand it can be because they actually enjoy drama, or it can be some bad experience from childhood, or it can be some power play they enjoy pulling—this is the holiday that they want. 

By letting them be who they are and realizing that it’s neither your job nor is it even possible to fix it, you can actually have the holiday YOU want. 

So, as you are heading into this Thanksgiving, write down this affirmation: I did not create this problem and I cannot fix it. I can simply let each person be who they are and I can be who I am. I can choose my own experience of this. 

No matter how much your family may make you feel like it’s your job to fix whatever this is, remind yourself over and over again that it isn’t. They are adults (at least in age) and they have to figure this out. Repeat the affirmation above until you believe it.

Which leads me to the next point: 

3. Be aware of falling into old roles. 

In any family or group dynamic, you have a role to play. You might be the peacekeeper, the fixer, the helper, the listener, the champion, or the doormat (all roles quite common for us Empaths). 

A great deal of the time, we aren’t even aware that these are the roles we are playing. It’s just something we grew up doing, or it’s how things happened within the group dynamic. 

It’s important to become aware of the roles that you play (and they can be different with individual people within a group). Once you become aware of the roles, then take a moment and decide one of 2 things:

1. The roles you play are ones that you are comfortable with and are authentic to you, or

2. The roles you play are exhausting/restricting and you no longer want to play them. 

Then, when you are with the family or other groups this holiday weekend, make sure to pay attention to the triggers that cause you to immediately fall back into roles you no longer want to play. Maybe your mom starts crying and says that “no one ever helps her,” so you drop whatever you are doing and run over to take over (even if you don't feel like it). Maybe your cousin starts drinking too much, and everyone expects you to look after her (you’re the caretaker, after all!) so that they can keep on having a good time without worrying about her. 

If you can—and this is hard when faced with old triggers—make the conscious decision NOT to act as others want you to, and do what is right for you instead (Gasp! I know, gentle Empath, that’s hard for you to imagine, but try!). If you are in the middle of a great conversation with your favorite uncle when cousin starts to get drunk, let her get drunk and see if someone else will step up. If your parents start to fight about the same thing they fight about every single holiday, this time—DON’T step in and try to make the peace.

I know it will be hard, but if there are roles you have always played which aren't authentic to you and that wear you out, it is worth the discomfort to break the pattern. 

However, as you work on breaking that pattern…

4. Be aware that people may freak out that you are changing your role. 

Change it anyway. 

People in your life are comfortable with you in the role you’re in. When you are always the “peacekeeper” and jump in to stop mom and dad fighting, the rest of your siblings get to relax and watch TV (you get yelled at and develop a pounding headache, but that’s irrelevant). When you are always the “helper” and your mom looks exhausted making dinner (and then leaves you making the whole dinner), your mom gets out of making the effort and you get stuck doing everything else. 

No matter the role you play or how your holiday dynamics play out, there is a reason that you’ve been playing that role, and people in your life like it. When you decide you are not doing it anymore, those that benefit from you being in that role will do everything and anything to try to keep you in that role. 

Prepare yourself for this. You can expect fighting, increased neediness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, manipulations, and—most definitely—you can expect to be called names. These names will be the opposite of who you are, which is why they tend to hit you in the heart and make you want to fall back in line to prove that you are not whatever nonsense they just called you. 

For instance, when I stood my ground and refused to save a particular person for the 200th time (and by "saving," I mean jumping in and doing everything for her with her making no effort), I was called “selfish,” uncaring,” and even “vain.” I am not even remotely any of those things (to the point that it’s laughable), but being accused of these things made me want to try to fight and defend myself and eventually just cave in to whatever the person wanted, just to prove how wrong they were. 

Listen to me carefully here: Defending yourself against false accusations made by a toxic person is pointless. You cannot reason with an unreasonable person, and frankly, their opinion of you doesn’t even matter. YOUR opinion of you does, and you know that you are none of what they are accusing you to be. 

Instead, try this tactic: 

The next time someone calls you names to try to get you back in line with what they want, respond with, “You can think that if you want to. It’s not true, but you are welcome to think that.” 

You see what that does? You aren’t arguing with them, so you give them nowhere to go with it. They’ll likely call you a few more names and try some other tactics to get you to give in, but you can always calmly go back to the same sentence again and again. 

Then, simply remove yourself from the situation. 

I am not suggesting that this is easy, but I can tell you that it is effective. Even better, you avoid an argument AND might actually get to break old habits, which is so worth it. 

Here’s to a Happy Holiday season this year, lovely Empaths! Did you try any of these? How did they work? Or do you have other tactics you use? I’d love to hear them! 


Want to go from exhausted to empowered? Check out the Empowered Empath Academy, which is now open! 

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