How to Survive the Holidays with Toxic Guests

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Even though we aren’t supposed to gather this year due to the pandemic, no gathering is small enough if you have a toxic person in the room. It may be even more painful this year if there aren’t any other people to dilute the ravages that come from a toxic person.

Here are 8 strategies plus a bonus advanced technique to keep yourself sane and even increase your odds that you emerge the victor.

PRE-STRATEGY: The Common Denominators of Toxic People (Everyday Psychos)

‘Everyday Psychos’ is a term I use to encompass narcissists, people with narcissistic personality disorder, sociopaths and psychopaths. There are various gradations of how ‘psycho’ someone can be. This term allows us to group them together because they start with the same core of narcissism but branch out in degrees of severity.

The 3 Common Denominators of Everyday Psychos:

1. Fear of Abandonment

2. Fear of Exposure

3. Fear of Insult

As you can see, they live in fear. If you’ve ever run across a cornered animal, they don’t think or reason. They do anything to survive. Know that you’re not going to be able to reason or love them to come to the middle ground. They will force you to lose and call that a ‘compromise’. So go into battle with the mindset of turning their fears against them.

STRATEGY #1: Keep Mental Note of Boundary Violations

If you see people biting their tongues or looking quizzical after a conversation with the Everyday Psycho, keep a mental note. Chances are the Everyday Psycho will be hard at work both charming and insulting people all night. Make sure you keep a running log of their inappropriate behavior.

STRATEGY #2: NEVER ARGUE OR ‘REASON’

Normal people can come to a common understanding or compromise, given enough time and sharing each other’s viewpoints. Everyday Psychos don’t reason. They only attack. There’s only one winner and everyone else has to be the loser. Don’t waste time trying to get them to see your side. They’ll twist the conversation into crazy town and make you the bad guy.

STRATEGY #3: IDENTIFY THEIR REAL WORLD CRUTCH

Everyday Psychos can’t get away with their behavior on their own. They usually mask it under an excuse that people can’t argue with. It could be that one must put up with Grandma’s insults because one must respect elders. It could be that one can’t push back on a jerky uncle because he just gave you a total strings-attached loan. It could be that there’s no way ‘innocent’ cousin let slip some embarrassing detail intentionally because she’s so kind acting and volunteers at an animal shelter.

Find out what social value or system they’re hiding under.

STRATEGY #4: GIVE THEM AN ACTIVITY TO KEEP BUSY

They need to feel important and acknowledged. So if you need someone to carve the turkey, let them make a big deal out of it. Have them be responsible for basting it too so that they can be confined alone for a while.

STRATEGY #5: BE THEIR FAKE ALLY

Better to not be the target by tempting the everyday psycho with candy. What’s the sweet treat? Your compliments. Your reassurance that they are a valued member of the family. Your promise to keep their secret. Show how you’re going to be a source of positive vibes that could be taken away at any second.

STRATEGY #6: TASTE LIKE POISON

Give them a taste of what not being sweet would look like. If they come at you, don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. If they attack you, attack back at their appearance… but in a neutral manner. Insult the fabric of their clothing. Suggest that it might be better if someone let out their secret. Start challenging the invincibility of their real world crutch by poking holes by comparison.

STRATEGY #7: CLIP THE WINGS OFF THEIR FLYING MONKEYS

The everyday psycho will always have a team loyal to them in order to stack the deck against anyone who may challenge them. They’ve done it either through bribes, promises or threats. The minions who stand up for the everyday psycho have no qualms of joining a bully. However, you can keep them physically separated. And while you do, tempt these weak-willed individuals with the prospect of another strongman or strongwoman that may be a better force to align with. They always go to the highest bidder so test their loyalty to the everyday psycho.

STRATEGY #8: TRAP THEM INTO A SHAMEFUL REAL WORLD CRUTCH

Give them an excuse for their bad behavior by explaining and rationalizing it away for them. However, the real world social value should not be a value at all. It should sound like one but end up being shameful by association. If they lose their temper frequently, you can say their behavior reminds you of Uncle Joe’s and that it ‘seems like it runs in the family’.

They may take the easy bait. You’ve given them a seemingly smooth and unquestionable excuse. It’s a family trait, not a personal shortcoming. Family similarities are good, right? It strengthens their bond to the family, right?

Well, anyone else can see right away that their logic is on shaky foundations and that this real world crutch doesn’t really have any legs. Keep giving them justifications that are wobbly and people will start to question their automatic adherence to the everyday psycho’s other threats that leverage our social values against us.

BONUS TIP: MIRROR THEIR BOUDNARY VIOLATIONS

If you’re looking for an advanced strategy, pull out the list that you compiled for tip #1 – their boundary violations. Then mirror the same boundary violation in the following manner. Let’s say the everyday psycho earlier in the evening rejected a gift from your cousin. The cousin is hurt. Now the everyday psycho is giving you a gift in front of that cousin and doesn’t give them one. (Yeah, they do that. It’s called triangulation.)

Take the everyday psycho’s gift and give it to the hurt cousin. Not only do you save the relationship with your cousin, you are giving the everyday psycho a mental explosion. You can play it off as your concern that you didn’t want the cousin to stay mad at the everyday psycho. So you tell the everyday psycho that giving the present to them is probably the best solution. You saved them from embarrassment! But not really because now it’s clear to everyone else what’s really going on. And that’s the main point – you’re not trying to change the mind of the everyday psycho, but you are attempting to wake the crowd out of their slumber. They need to stop sweeping everything under the rug or rationalizing bad, toxic behavior. Good luck!

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