Dealing With Loved Ones This Christmas
Christmas is a time where you surround yourself with your loved ones. Eating, drinking, laughing and joking, family days out, games nights in, catching up and spending quality time together. Sounds bliss right? And I'm sure that some of you lucky people will have and enjoy such an experience. For the rest of us, spending a prolonged amount of time with family and loved ones can be overwhelming, stressful and at times intolerable.
Growing up with and being around narcissists for the majority of my life meant that these get togethers were far from fun. There was a huge pressure on keep up appearances. I was always on edge and anxious to make sure that I was behaving myself and that I didn't say anything out of line - which usually meant not saying anything at all. I did anything to avoid dishonouring and upsetting the narcissists (real or perceived by them) as I would fear the consequences and abuse afterwards. But, no matter how silent and distant I made myself, somehow the firing of awkward probing questions, gossip and the competitive showing off would come in my direction. All this with a mix of breaking boundaries, guilt trips, drama, the sheer toxic energy sucking the life from me and a hint of self hatred. Get togethers with the wrong people for long periods of time suffocate me and leave me physically and mentally drained for days afterwards.
Now I know that my experiences are probably more extreme that what yours would be (I hope!) but I do know that being around family can be difficult for a number of reasons for most of us so I wanted to put together this post outlining how important it is to preserve your mental health, how to maintain your boundaries and your personal space at these times so you can continue to feel like you and be able to find these experiences a little easier.
If it hurts, don't go
For me, because of the way my loved ones are, I actually avoid spending any time with most of them. Unfortunately, I miss most weddings, parties and social get togethers and only make short appearances when I feel it's necessary. So the first thing I will say is that if you feel that spending time with loved ones over the festive period is detrimental to your health then put yourself first and do not put yourself in that situation. Yes, this makes them upset but this is for your own self preservation and you should not put yourself in situations where you risk your health just to please others. Do what's right for you - but seriously, if it hurts you, it's not worth it. Instead, spend time with people who make you feel good or even have a nice peaceful solo Christmas.
Take breaks and keep your personal space
If I do attend, there are a number of techniques I use to get myself through this time. One of them taking regular breaks. This could be spending a little extra time in the bathroom to catch my breath, sitting in my car listening to calming music for a while or even a walk round the block if I need it. This helps me to rebalance myself, calm my anxiety and give myself a break from the toxicity. It also gives me the chance to be just myself again. This Christmas, if you feel overwhelmed by the company of others, don't be afraid to take a break. Take as much time and space as you need. Be true to yourself, maintain your mental health and keep your personal space.
Maintain your privacy
Every single one of us has a private life, away from what others see. You have a right to that privacy. If there is any information you feel like you want to keep to yourself, you don't have to share it. Just because someone asks you a question, does not mean you need to answer it. I choose not to answer questions I don't feel comfortable answering or I feel are invasive. I artfully change the subject back to them (people love talking about themselves!), I quickly nip to the loo as they ask or if I am really under the spotlight, I give a very vague and short answer or simply say that I don't want to talk about it and then walk away for a few minutes to avoid the tension, returning to a nicer conversation. This way, I keep the parts of my life that I don't want to share to myself and I side step the awkwardness in the nicest way I can.
Create a base of safety
Usually, when I go to family events, I tend to choose the people that I want to spend the most time with. These are people who know me, accept me, are kind to me and make me feel safe. Everyone else, I'll either make small talk with or a little catch-up or I'll steer clear from altogether. This way, I am in control of who I want to speak to and when. I am in control of who I spend my time and energy on. Knowing that I have people who can give me this safety, I know that I have a base I can come back to if things get a little to much.
I avoid being involved in drama at all costs. So when I feel like I am getting reeled in to someone's drama, I walk away. Drama sucks the energy from me and it negatively effects my health physically and mentally. So I feel like I waste myself on a situation which has nothing to do with me and is usually made to be larger than it is. To maintain your health, your positive mindset and to keep yourself feeling like yourself, don't get involved in drama!
Set boundaries and expectations beforehand
Another way I get through these get togethers is to set boundaries and expectations before I go. If necessary, I tell certain loved ones what I will and will not accept. If they attempt to break these boundaries, I can then draw attention to the boundaries they agreed to keep and then enforce them again. They'll soon figure out where they can and cannot go - although it may take a few tries!
Know you can leave at any time
The last thing I will mention but also the most helpful for me is I know that I can leave, at any point. At any time I feel uncomfortable or upset, I can leave. Regardless of whether you are going to a place or are hosting yourself, know that it is in your power to end the event either by leaving or ending the event on your terms.
Find the little joys and be kind
Remember that even if you feel comfortable around family and you don't have these problems (which is great!), there may be members of your family who do feel like this. So try to be as understanding as you can. Allow your loved ones to have the time, space and freedom they need and to be aware of their needs. And be as kind and welcoming as you can be!
Also, be grateful for what you have. To be surrounded by loving people means you are very lucky indeed. Feel that. And don't forget to notice the little joys during the festive period. Do the things and be with the people you love!
I truly hope that you have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones and remember to preserve your mental health, maintain your personal space and set boundaries if things get a little too much.
I hope this helps,