The holidays can be a minefield when you have gaslighters/narcissists in the family.
Source: Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

Ah, the holidays. A time of fun and cheer—and family gatherings where you might be in contact with your gaslighter/narcissist.

Might some of these recommendations that follow seem unfair since they require you to change your life just because a gaslighter/narcissist is in your family? Sure. But your mental health and safety come first, and you will experience less emotional fallout afterward if you practice some of these options. Choose yourself over the drama. 

Your First Line of Defense

The best option is to just not be around the person. It is totally acceptable to decline an invitation if you know the gaslighter/narcissist will be there. You don’t even need to give an explanation: “I won’t be able to make it” will suffice. If you are pushed for why you are not attending, use the “broken record” technique—repeat again, “I just won’t be able to make it.” If you still would like to spend time with the host over the holidays, add, “But I’d love to get together soon,” and propose a time and date, which makes it clear that you do want to spend time together. Also, setting a time and date in the future usually stops a person from continuing to ask why you aren’t going to be at their gathering. Do not mention that you aren’t going because the gaslighter/narcissist will be there. That information will get back to the gaslighter/narcissist, and you will most likely be “punished” by the gaslighter/narcissist for it. 

Your Second Line of Defense

If you really can’t get out of attending a family function, first ask yourself if this gathering is really mandatory. Let’s say you run a business with your family, and your gaslighter/narcissist uncle will definitely be attending the end-of-the-year holiday party. Not attending the party could impact your relationship with your employees, so you may decide that you want to attend. You may want to attend a family gathering where a gaslighter/narcissist sibling will be present because this may be one of the last holidays you can spend with an ailing parent or grandparent. The point is, you have a choice.  

Once you’ve made a choice to attend a holiday gathering where you will most likely see the gaslighter/narcissist, first, put a time limit on how long you will stay. That time limit depends on how many people you want to talk with, your tolerance level, your ability to deflect barbs from the gaslighter/narcissist, and how much you can “shake it off” afterward. If you are attending with a partner or friend, let them know this predetermined time limit, and work out a nonverbal cue when time is up. Then set an alarm on your phone or watch. Let the host know you will need to leave at that time. No explanation is needed. Then, leave at the pre-determined time. This can be one of the hardest things to do. You will probably be asked to stay. Keep in mind that the longer you do, the more likely it is that the gaslighter/narcissist will get to you. If you do decide to stay, do it only forsmall increments of time. Or do what seasoned survivors of gaslighters/narcissists have learned to do—just politely excuse yourself and get out of there. 

Accept That This Person Will Never Be Who You Want Them to Be

There is something freeing in realizing that no matter how much you want someone to change or how much you feel a sense of loss about this person never living up to what you need them to be, they are who they are and there is really nothing you can do about it. What you do have control over is how you respond to them. One of the first rules of dealing with gaslighters/narcissists is “never let them see you sweat.” This type of person feeds off drama and vulnerability. You may want to call this person out on their behaviors, but keep in mind two things: The gaslighter/narcissist doesn’t think they are the problem, and never will, and the gaslighter/narcissist will always have the last word. Just ignore their comments and walk away. 

Accept That Your Gift to Them Will Not Be Good Enough 

One solution to this is to not get a gift for the gaslighter/narcissist. Another is to not attend a family event where gifts will be exchanged. The gift you give a gaslighter/narcissist will never be good enough, and the gift they give you will either be cheap, nonsensical, inappropriate, or all three. Don’t spend your precious time and stretch your budget trying to find the “perfect” gift for a gaslighter/narcissist. Even if it is the best gift ever, they will criticize it. If you are set on giving the gaslighter/narcissist a gift, just buy something “good enough” and be done with it. Sometimes on the way to the family gathering, couples have a game of guessing what the gaslighter/narcissist is going to say when they open the gift. Why not turn the gaslighter’s/narcissist’s pathological behavior into something at least somewhat entertaining? (See “12 Pitfalls of Gift-Giving with a Narcissist” or listen to the “Gaslighters and Gift-Giving” episode of my podcast.)

Know That Holidays Make Them Worse

You may have been under the false impression that the gaslighter/narcissist was “behaving themselves” recently, and you are considering letting your guard down a little. Because you think, maybe they’ve changed. Nope. Most likely what you have seen is the calm before the storm. Holidays are when gaslighters/narcissists really let their inner pathology out.

Gaslighters/narcissists can’t stand other people enjoying themselves, so they make sure that you feel bad about having a good time (Sarkis, 2018). Or they make sure you don’t enjoy yourself at all. They also don’t like the focus being taken off of them. Something that should be fun, like watching the grandchildren open Christmas presents, now becomes a drama-filled spectacle in which the gaslighter/narcissist demands all attention is on him or her. Be aware that the gaslighter/narcissist may show an even darker side to their personality this time of year. And being aware of that helps you prepare for it (or take steps to avoid it altogether).  

Be Extra-Gentle to Yourself

Self-care is of utmost importance during the holidays, especially when you have a gaslighter/narcissist (or more than one) in your family. Take time every day to do something fun or pleasurable for yourself. Make time to be around people that lift you up and are psychologically healthy. Create a “psychological first-aid kit”—a list of activities that give you peace and joy. Continue your regular routines as much as possible. Exercise every day, even if it means just walking around the block. Most importantly, forgive yourself. You cannot be expected to be superhuman, and you have the right to do less than what you are humanly capable of. And no one should ever expect you to have superhuman powers of forgiveness and kindness toward the gaslighter/narcissist. Allow yourself to be upset about the person they are, the person they were, and the person they continue to be. Talking to a mental health professional or other neutral third-party can help you sort out your feelings about the person who has caused you so much torment, and help you find solutions to having a happier and healthier life beyond them. Above all, be loving and kind towards yourself. 

Copyright 2019 Sarkis Media. All rights reserved. www.stephaniesarkis.com

This content was originally published here.


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