70 Genius Ways to Shut Down Awkward Family Convos This Holiday Season’Tis the season for nosey relatives.
’Tis the season for deliciously comforting meals, lots of socializing, sparkly snow days, your fave ugly sweater, annnd awkward questions from your family and their friends that kill the festive vibe. If maneuvering uncomfortable encounters makes you feel insecure and vulnerable (to say the least), we’re about to break down how to end those weird conversations. This gift cannot be redeemed for cash value, but it can make your plans a lot less stressful (and maybe even fun? IDK).
While saying the perfect thing to shut it down is satisfying, we should probably discuss a few details before you come in hot. Before the celebrations kick off, think about how you’re going to show up this year. If you know your patience maxes out after 48 hours at home, be proactive in letting everyone know you have limited time. It’s easier to avoid the pressure to stick around that way, says licensed psychologist Jenny Wang, PhD. Think: “I won’t be going to every white elephant party, your annual Christmas movie marathon, and to see the tree lighting because I also want to visit my friends. But I will be at Christmas dinner and around to watch one movie.”
Once the groundwork is done, think about who and what topics typically make you feel unpleasant feelings at these shindigs and who you can lean on when you need it, advises relationship therapist Moe Ari Brown, LMFT. When you have an ally, they can slide in to help, be there for your vent session afterward, or help you brainstorm ways to end a convo in the future, Brown and Dr. Wang add.
Then, it’s time to nail your exit strategy. Remind yourself that if anyone upsets you, you can be direct and address how they just made you feel (if you have the capacity to do so) and what you’d rather talk about instead, advises Dr. Wang. “It's not easy to do that. At the same time, when there's no clarity, they don't know what they're saying is getting under your skin,” she adds. If it helps, you can also blame your newfound assertiveness on your therapist, says Dr. Wang. “You could be like, ‘Well, my therapist and I are working on how I can speak up for myself,’ or ‘This is my homework—to practice how to tell people what I really want and need in relationships.’”
If they don’t listen the first time, you can be a broken record and repeat yourself until they get the message or you can just get the hell out. “You don’t have to convince someone why your boundary is valid and needed,” Dr. Wang continues.
But even with all that filed away in your mind, when you’re actually in someone’s presence and need to stand up for yourself, it’s understandable if you’d like to rely on some canned conversation-ending responses and make a swift getaway. Here’s how to ditch any thorny interaction this year.
When comments about food and/or your body won’t stop…
What is it about gathering around tasty food that makes people think it’s OK to make some really judgey comments about what everyone is eating!? When your family struggles to mind their own business or spew some horrible diet culture messaging, Dr. Wang suggests saying something like, “I don't know that I can have this conversation without feeling poorly about myself. I'm going to end this here. I still love you, and I'm glad I got to see you this year.”
Another script you could borrow from Dr. Wang: “I'm really trying to have a better relationship with myself this year. When I face comments about my body or the food I’m enjoying, it makes me feel poorly. It actually makes me not want to come to these family gatherings. I'm going to respectfully ask that you not comment on my looks.”
If your family is the type to be all, “OMG, yay, you lost weight!” (which is problematic for so many reasons), you could be like, “I know you're trying to compliment me, but I'd appreciate compliments related to who I am as a person rather than comments about my weight,” Brown suggests.
You can also earn a (metaphorical) body neutrality badge by whipping out a response that challenges the idea that our bodies exist purely for aesthetics, Dr. Wang says. That would sound like, “This line of conversation makes me uncomfortable. I don't see my body as just what it looks like, but rather what it does for me. I'm grateful I got to wake up this morning and do my job without pain.” They won’t even know what hit ‘em.
More quick ways to nip that convo in the bud:
1. When you talk about my body like that, it really sucks and hurts my feelings.
2. I thought we were past talking about people’s weight in 2023?
3. Your comments on my body won’t make me shapeshift to a form that’s more pleasing to you, so let’s talk about something else.
4. All that matters is I’m happy and any health concerns are between my doctor and me.
5. Every body is different, and mine is fine just the way it is.
6. My body actually helped me do _____ this year, and I’m really proud of that. I don’t appreciate anyone suggesting that I should be ashamed of the amazing things my body is capable of.
7. I don’t need to “work off” this mac and cheese, and you implying otherwise hurts.
8. None of us are actually “so bad” for eating this pie.
9. It’s fine to like eating tasty things that took hours to make!
When people forget about inflation…
Raise your hand if you’ve been at a family gathering and everyone starts acting like their name is J.P. Morgan. Prying Qs like, “When are you moving out of your parents’ house?” and “When are you going to hit [insert financial milestone here]?” without thinking about your unique circumstances.
If people start pocket watching, remind them of your goals and values and don’t feel the need to go into specifics. Brown advises replying, “I appreciate the support of living at home with family. It helps me save money and strengthen my relationships, which is really important to me currently,” or “I am managing my finances well and making progress towards my goals.”
Bank these extra scripts for later:
1. It would appear I bought too much avocado toast and cannot afford a home.
2. If you’re trying to help, I could use some advice on _____. Otherwise, I’m good.
3. That 877-CASH NOW number did not work.
4. I don’t need more pressure in an already stressful economy, but thanks.
5. I’m building a legit (legal!) career, so that’s all you need to know about my bank account.
6. Why don’t you ask me once student loan forgiveness comes through…
7. Instead of investing in a starter home when I was 7, I was enrolled in second grade.
8. Unless this conversation is coming with a trust fund or very large monetary donation, I’d rather talk about _____.
When people become obsessed with your identity…
Questions about your identity, who you like, or how you like to present yourself—no matter how secure you are about it all—is exhausting. When you feel like you’re being emotionally overloaded, signal to your support buddy that you need an assist or escape by going to the restroom or grabbing some eggnog.
You can also diffuse the situation with this script from Brown: “I can see you're curious about my presentation. I respect you a lot, but I don't feel comfortable talking about these topics. I will say that I'm happy, I'm whole, and it's really great to see you.”
Feel free to borrow any extra scripts that might fit your dynamic with said nosey person:
1. How I choose to present myself makes me feel amazing, and it doesn’t impact you at all.
2. My identity has nothing to do with you, so let’s keep it cute and change the subject.
3. This isn’t the time or place to talk about my presentation, and this is upsetting me.
4. I don’t feel like talking about this today. Let’s play cards instead.
5. I’m content and am not looking for any feedback.
6. Your comments on my identity and appearance sting, and I will be leaving this conversation now.
When your relationship status and family planning are under the microscope…
Whether you’re in a solid relationship, have a full dating roster, or are 27 with no money, no prospects, and are starting to feel like a burden to your parents, people love to break out the, “So when are you getting married and having kids?” When that happens, Dr. Wang suggests highlighting all the other things going on in your life. “Help people zoom into areas that you clearly are investing in,” Dr. Wang says. Try this: “You're seeing my life in these areas of lack, but I'm going to tell you how abundant my life is. I have these wonderful friendships, I'm traveling. I’m doing _____.”
Or, as Brown recommends, change the subject with: “Honestly, I would love to chat with you about _____ rather than dating." You might also flip the convo and ask, "How did you know when you were going to do these things?”
If you need more ideas, try:
1. I might not be engaged, but I have _____ going on that I’m happy to talk about instead.
2. I don’t live my life according to arbitrary timelines, so I’ll consider marriage and/or kids when the time is right for me.
3. You want a 27-year-old child to raise a family? Interesting….
4. Seeing as I have plans to do _____, kids don’t fit into the equation right now. I’d rather work on starting a family when I’m ready.
5. When you find someone who meets my standards, let me know!
6. Sorry, but have you ever tried online dating/dating in the 21st century? That’s what I thought….
When your lifestyle changes alter the group dynamic…
When you stop drinking or no longer “take a walk” before eating (IYKYK), you might feel pressure to explain yourself. In that case, you can respond to all those, “but why, though?” questions by talking about what you gain from changing your behavior, Dr. Wang says. Give this a go: “I'm trying this new thing where I'm not drinking, and I've realized there are so many benefits. I can actually enjoy my time with people and be present. I don't have to worry about crossing a line where I drink more than I want to.”
Or chalk it up to medical reasons. “Alcohol doesn’t interact well with my medications,” and “My doctor advised against it” are both great options, Dr. Wang adds. And when you’re not down to give a reason, keep it simple with: “I’m just not drinking. You can have a drink for me,” Brown states.
If you need more backup responses, feel free to use these:
1. I don’t like the way it makes me feel anymore.
2. I need to be sharp tomorrow and can’t risk feeling off.
3. I’m just not into it, but please don’t feel like I’m judging if you want to enjoy yourself.
4. Sorry, but my body keeps the score with brutal hangovers these days.
5. I’m all about the apple cider tonight.
6. My late 20s and early 30s are coming in hot, and my body is not liking it.
When you need physical distance...
This season tends to be especially uncomfortable if you’re an introvert or not used to all the hugging. If you expect people to challenge your physical boundaries, consider saying something before the festivities begin, Dr. Wang suggests. That might mean announcing, “Hey, it’s flu season. Let’s keep it real sterile and fist bump or elbow bump instead of hugging,” she says.
When you’re already in the room, try: “I’m not a hugger, but it’s really nice to see you,” before making a beeline to someone across the room, Brown adds.
And if you need a break at any point, tell your family what’s up and when you’ll be back so they don’t think you’ve ghosted everyone. “I’m going to step away for 20 to 30 minutes to take a breather, but I’ll come back in time for dessert,” should do the trick, Dr. Wang says. If anyone gives you grief, consider playfully responding with: “If you miss me, you could say that!” before heading off, Brown adds.
Borrow any of these when you need to break away:
1. My social battery is draining like a 3-year-old iPhone and I need to recharge for 20 minutes.
2. I’m getting hangry and need to chill before dinner is served. I’m going to sit in my room for a few minutes.
3. I got the itis and need to be horizontal for a sec.
4. Woah, there! ‘Rona is still out here.
5. I’m recovering from a cold and don’t want to get anyone sick, so let’s keep some space between us.
6. It’s great to see you, but I have this thing about hugging. Thank you for respecting my personal bubble.
7. I’m actually not a huge fan of hugs, so let’s shake on it.
When any other tough moment comes up...
If anything else pops up that makes you want to unsubscribe immediately (politics, religion, etc.), be as direct as possible with how you’re feeling, but also feel free to use general exit strategies like, “I need to go to the restroom,” “I need a refill,” or “I see someone that I haven't spoken to in a long time. Can you excuse me?” Dr. Wang suggests.
Need a few more clever maneuvers? These work in basically any scenario.
1. I don’t like how this conversation is making me feel, and I’d prefer to focus on _____.
2. I have a better topic we can discuss: Euphoria returning in 2025. Will we still care by then?
3. I think what matters is we all have the common goal of treating each other with respect. Now, let’s watch celebrities lip-sync in 20-degree weather.
4. Certainly you don’t want everyone to get into a heated argument when we could be enjoying the little time we all have together.
5. Actually, I’ve been wanting to ask you about _____! How’s that going?
6. I’m very confident in my beliefs, and I don’t think any tense conversation we have tonight will change that. So, let’s talk about something else.
7. OMG! I just remembered I haven’t done the Wordle today. I have to go before I lose my streak.
The bottom line: You can’t control how other people will act at these holiday functions, but you can choose how you show up, respond, and care for yourself. If emotions start to run high, remember that you can always step away and lean on your support buddy, Dr. Wang says.
Most of all, go easy on yourself if you don’t notice an immediate improvement because, oftentimes, you’re challenging “decades of ingrained ideas or frameworks,” she adds. It’s still worth telling others that you deserve a more comfortable holiday, she affirms. “And each time you maintain that stance, hopefully it creates micro shifts each year.”
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.