How to Deal with Dysfunctional Family during Family Gatherings

Family gatherings can create stress for many people for various reasons.

Our family knows all of our buttons to push and how to push them best! We all have ingrained patterns of behaviors or energetic dances that we do with our close family members.

How many of us leave family gatherings with parents and/or siblings saying something like: “I don’t know why I feel just like I did as a kid when I am with my family! I’m not a kid any more but we do the same dances we did back then!” It is so easy to have our “buttons” pushed when we are around people who know us so well…. they know all of our vulnerabilities and seem to target them when stress or tempers flare… often with the “best intentions”, wittingly or unwittingly.

Our parents or other family members can sometimes also get into a power play with us as, not wanting to give up control and acknowledge that we are no longer children; and we are powerful now as adults in our own decision making ability.

Is it OK to avoid certain family events?

Yes, it is indeed okay to avoid family events that you know are going to create more distress and angst than joy in your life. You are not a victim of your family. You are very powerful as an adult in your choice of who you spend time with. While family traditions may have existed for years, it is okay to develop your own traditions in your own family as an adult.

How do you handle family comments about “you’re not getting any younger,” “are you dating anyone yet?“, “putting on a few pounds?“, “I’m sorry your child still hasn’t gotten in a good school yet but let me show you a picture of MY child’s graduation from Harvard“, etc.? You can do the same old family dance, bite the hook dangling in front of you, and become angry, resentful, guilty, shame-filled, heartbroken, define your self by your age, job, or marital status, or you can choose to transform those old faulty thoughts and negative emotions.

You can choose to shift how you perceive the situation and people who are posing the test and challenge for you. We teach people how to use quick tapping techniques and meditations (The Loving Compassionate Benefactor meditation can help in almost any difficult situation) in our books, CDs and seminars that assist with getting out of negative thought patterns and back into their heart in such situations.

However, if someone still finds it hard to transform the anger or resentment (or they are not yet ready to transform the anger), then we developed a fall-back technique known as the “La Cucaracha” exercise which we describe in our books and goes as follows:

The “La Cucaracha” Exercise:

Picture the person that is making inappropriate statements as if they were a giant cockroach. While this may sound bizarre, it can really work.

Think about it. A cockroach is completely predictable; it will come out in the dark and runs to hide when the light is on. We do not expect the cockroach to act any differently on any given day. The level of consciousness of a cockroach dictates that it will indeed come out in the dark and run to hide when a light is on. We do not get angry at a cockroach for not coming out when the lights are on.

Think about someone who repeatedly annoys you. If you really think about it, aren’t their behaviors pretty predictable after a while? The specifics may change but the pattern probably remains fairly stable over time. Isn’t that person sort of like a cockroach; or, for those of you squeamish about cockroaches, like an ant in one of those plastic ant farms you might have had as a kid? Remember how those ants would move the piece of bread around while you were away at school, or out playing, or while you slept at night? Yet you didn’t sit there and scream at the ant or beat on the side of the fragile plastic walls of the ant farm, did you? If you did, this exercise may not work for you.

Now, think of the person whom you are harboring anger towards and see them as if they are a giant ant or cockroach wearing human clothes, with their antennae bobbing around on the top of their head and their little insect arms dangling off their sides. If you picture this image when you are around the person in question, then you will likely not be so attached to their behaviors and will not take what they say or do so seriously or so personally. You may, however, have to stifle a smile. Sometimes it can help to hum softly under your breath, “La cucaracha, La cucaracha...” The Spanish term for cockroach is ‘cucaracha’. You will have more of a sense of humor towards the person angering you, your self, and the situation in general if you use this technique.

Releasing Reactive Energies

We teach steps in our books and in classes toward becoming aware of the specific energetic dances that we do with each specific difficult person in our life. It is important to become aware of what reactive energies you use to “protect” your self that is actually ultimately hindering you. You really can transform the emotions that bind you to dysfunctional or toxic family without having to spend years on an analyst’s couch. Once you ‘put eyes on’ the energies that tether you to the dysfunctional dance with family or others, you are able to lift those energies to a higher consciousness and create new patterns where you are no longer a victim of the old scripts. When that occurs, it is very difficult for toxic or dysfunctional people in your life to unwittingly pull you back into the dance they are still engaged in.

Of course, you should remove your self from any abusive situation.

Hope this is helpful…. grin.

Happy Family Reunion!! 🙂

Tracy Latz, M.D., M.S.  & Marion Ross, Ph.D. (“The Shift Doctors”)

**The Shift Doctors (Tracy Latz, M.D. & Marion Ross, Ph.D.) are available for keynote talks, classes, events or for seminars (1/2 day or up to 2 day) on personal transformation, team-building, motivation, anger management, intuitive development, or collaboration for private groups, conferences, corporations or corporate events. Contact them at or find out more about them at .


  1. The holidays can bring both pain and joy from family members. I have found that once that I had started my personal and spiritual journey. That the opinions of others didn’t matter anymore. ( couldn’t hurt my feelings or get under my skin.) This has empowered me to seek after my greatness. Because as Les Brown says “There is Greatness in YOU!”

  2. This blog was unbelievably helpful. You’re the man… or should I say ‘You’re the women’? lol … Thanks, Shift Doctors!! 🙂

  3. I have learned the best family gatherings are the ones which I do not attend, with my family at least, with my husband’s family when the group gets too much I just shift into an observer mode and blog in my mind about what I see! 🙂

    I love the cockroach approach, with my family however, it’s them getting into my ‘stuff’ when the lights are out that makes me want to smack them with a phonebook! They don’t change so I made some changes – and they are great!

    Thanks for the super post, sure am glad I followed the link to find you.

  4. I like the cochroach analogy. However I am not in love with a cochroach or an ant. It hurts to think of family that way, especially when you didn’t know that they were cochroaches until you grew up. For me, this could work thinking of someone at a high school reunion as a cochroach, whom i don’t love, but not family. Any other suggestions to deal with family if it hurts to view them negatively – even when they are?

    • You might perhaps see them as robots or cartoon characters…. the point is to view them as someone or something that you do NOT take personally and thus have an immediate reactive emotion regarding them.

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