I am going to be honest, the holidays make me very anxious. I find that old issues and grudges resurface during this time and they make the holidays almost impossible to enjoy.
Visiting certain family members means enduring blatant insults, being judged, openly criticized and manipulated. Certain people will go on and on about all the problems and issues they have without regard for anyone else. In general the entire encounter is draining and often extremely emotionally abusive. I do not enjoy being in such an unhealthy situation and the dread often robs me of the enjoyment of the holidays.
Dealing with these people and issues is not an easy task. All I want is acceptance and tolerance from those certain family members during these gatherings. If everyone could just be on good behavior and try to be courteous of each other things would be more enjoyable. However, as a result of previous attacks I find that I prefer not to tolerate them… This means I am also part of the problem.
Finding a middle ground in all this is has been very difficult for me. I have been struggling with finding a way to spend time together while protecting myself from the abuse and emotional drain. My first reaction was to simply cut off contact with those people so that I could protect myself. This does succeed in protecting me but it is unfair to the rest of the family.
So how do you shield yourself from the emotionally abusive, manipulative and hurtful family members without completely cutting off contact?
It’s all about the personal boundaries! Often times in emotionally abusive relationships the victim has become accustom to “taking it quietly”. They feel hurt or angry over the abuse but do not see a way to end it. Many want to tell the abuser off or attack them back but they are aware of the repercussions and choose to suffer silently instead.
I strongly believe that allowing the abuse only empowers the abuser more. Setting clear boundaries is the best way to civilly put a stop to the abuse but it takes much courage.
In my own situation I have found that I am stronger and more able to set my boundaries in a neutral environment. I do not want to visit these abusive family members in their own home this holiday season. This makes me feel trapped and unable to set my boundaries. It is much like a sports team competing on rival turf, the rival has a “home” advantage.
Finding the courage to express your concerns about the behavior is often the hardest part of dealing with these abusive family members but it is imperative, this is why we will not be visiting those family members at their home this holiday season.
Asserting your boundaries is simply letting the offending party know when they have acted inappropriately. When an attack takes place you should civilly call the person out on their action thus establishing the boundary. Let them know that you don’t appreciate the behavior, tell them how it makes you feel and that you will not allow them to treat you that way. This is the only thing you can do to protect yourself, you cannot change their behavior.
If the offending party chooses to lash out at you for expressing your feelings that is not your problem and you should not worry about this. You cannot not control them or change them. All you can do is clearly and maturely express what it is that you don’t appreciate and if they choose to ignore you or get angry at you that is their own choice. They can choose to respect your choices or they can continue to try manipulating you.
Over time your attacker will begin to see what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not, this is called conditioning. It is much like teaching a child or animal what is right and wrong. The consequences of the said behavior should be consistent so they will eventually be learned. Then it is the attacker’s choice to learn from it and modify their behaviors or deal with the consequences. Ultimately you are not trying to change the person you are just trying to set boundaries and protect yourself, although in the beginning you are giving the offender the chance to learn and modify their behavior. Over time, if the offender does not change it will no longer matter because you have taught yourself how to deal with these attacks without letting them run you.
In the end it is not about the other people attacking you it is how you respond and deal with the situations. Allowing yourself to be attacked will only make you feel bad about yourself, not because of what the attacker said or did but because of what you DIDN’T say or do in defense of yourself.
This holiday season take your personal power back, don’t let those mean spirited/ negative people rob you of the joy of the holidays. Brave those holiday gatherings with a new sense of self love and when you are emotionally or verbally assaulted maturely assert yourself and then move on to enjoy what really matters!
If you are also dreading dealing with emotionally abusive, manipulative and hurtful family members this holiday season try these steps:
- If you can, try to meet in a neutral area (a restaurant, another family members home, a community event etc).
- Assert yourself when the inappropriate behavior takes place (but do not attack back), express how it made you feel and explain that you cannot tolerate that type of behavior.
- If the attacker lashes out at you for expressing your feelings and chooses to continue victimizing you calmly explain that you are choosing to remove yourself from the situation. Then leave.
- Don’t hold a grudge against the attacker. Let them know that you continue to love them but that you cannot tolerate some of their behaviors towards you.
- If they choose to hold a grudge don’t take it personally. It is your right to stand up for yourself and define what types of situations you want to be in. This does not make you a bad person.
- Visit them and speak to them just as you would before you asserted yourself. You are not holding a grudge and you don’t want to play into their game.
- Continue to assert yourself and remove yourself from the situation if more attacks take place. Repeating this process whenever an attack takes place.