(Situations and relationships altered as requested)
There is no question that sitting across the table from people who have been very openly verbal in their dislike of you creates stress and discomfort. Just being in the same room with toxic people who have targeted you, easily increases your blood pressure and gets your heart pounding. Here are some things you can do to make the coping easier.
First, it is important to remember that no one can make you feel uncomfortable without your total cooperation. It is not easy to refuse to buy in to awkward feelings when in a difficult situation, but it can be done. If, indeed, you have no reason to feel bad or guilty about your interaction with people who dislike you, which is often the case with toxic people, then why do you? You really do have the power to calm yourself. Remind yourself that you are not going to allow someone to ruin your good time. You are not going to let them “win.” You have every right to be there, every right to enjoy yourself, and that is exactly what you intend to do.
(Well spouses, who may already be dealing with more stress and less self-confidence than most of us, will find this harder to do- but it can and has been done.)
Remember that you may be setting a pattern for the future. Toxic people have a lot in common with terrorists and giving in to them by either not attending or reacting with discomfort may only encourage more of the same threatening behavior. If you display a calm exterior and enjoy yourself, they may see that their threat didn’t work; and the threats of this sort may not repeat themselves in the same way so quickly.
However, toxic people are unpredictable and don’t necessarily see things in the same way as we do. Not giving in to threats they make could just as easily cause the behavior to escalate and the same type of threats may now come even more often. Because there is no way of predicting or controlling the behavior, in the end you must do what is right for you and makes you happy. Basing your behavior on how it will make them feel or react is futile.
Before entering the room, center yourself. Try to find the calm core inside you. Take three deep breaths very slowly. Each time you take a breath, breathe deeply into your nose. Hold the breath for as long as is comfortably possible and then slowly blow it out through your mouth. Repeat this three times. This can actually bring your blood pressure down and help you feel calmer.
Wear comfortable clothes and jewelry that you know you look good in and that make you feel good. Looking good always helps a person feel more confident, so give yourself that extra boost. Items like clothes and jewelry often have memories attached to them. Wearing a bracelet given to her by her late husband during a happier time might just be the support needed by the girl’s mother as she copes with her apparently toxic machitanim. Just touching that bracelet can momentarily take her back to a different, calmer time. People have told me, that touching an object of comfort, that they have deliberately worn during stressful times, helps them feel the support of the person who gave them the gift, even though that person is long gone.
Invite a buffer. Make sure there is someone you like and whose company you enjoy sitting between you and the toxic person you are dealing with. This person does not need to know what is going on or even why s/he is seated where s/he is. Having that bit of distance between the two of you will help you cope.
Plan ahead. For my well spouse letter writer having Shabbos dinner with her apparently toxic machatanim, that means making sure she does not do all the serving and helping, or find herself serving dinner directly to the very people causing her stress. Ask your buffer to help serve them their plates. Or just bring out items on serving pieces to be passed around the table.
No matter how you’re feeling, try to appear comfortable and relaxed. It will help you begin to feel that way. Smile a lot. It will help lower your stress and help you actually enjoy yourself. Remember you are at a simcha, your simcha, and G-d has just given you a beautiful gift by virtue of the fact you are having a simcha to celebrate. Show Him your appreciation by enjoying His gift that He lovingly gave to you.
Be pleasant and polite to everyone including your toxic relatives. This doesn’t mean you need to engage them in excessive conversation, just don’t totally ignore them. Take control of yourself. If you need a break, excuse yourself for a few minutes and use the washroom to regain your composure.
It is very hard to sit at the table facing, or even being in the same room, with someone who has been so open in their unjust dislike of you. But without your total cooperation, no one can make you feel stressed out or uncomfortable or inadequate. I hope some of these ideas will help you the next time you need to be in direct contact with toxic people.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org