Semi-recently, while having a conversation with a couple of my clients, the wife loudly sighed when I asked her and her husband what their holiday plans were. When I asked her to translate that sound effect for me, she said, "I hate to say this but when it comes to trying to run things, I honestly don't know which side of our family is worse. I love my relatives, but I hate this time of year because there's always some sort of drama that goes down."
Y'all, between some of my own DNA that I can take a hard pass on, the non-stop stories that I hear from people about their issues with their family folks, and articles like "Americans Hate Their Parents….Is That a Good Thing?", while it might be unfortunate, it is indeed a reality that many of us don't find the idea of slicing turkey and drinking eggnog with our relatives something to look forward to. And while there are probably a billion different reasons why that is the case, what I tend to hear some variation of, quite a bit, is folks feel like their family likes to gaslight them and they don't quite know how to handle it.
If that's you (or someone you know) and so, just the thought of Thanksgiving and/or Christmas approaching is causing you to low-key hyperventilate, I want to share some tips that can make getting through the holiday season with the people who like to "torch you up" so much easier to bear. Promise.
Get That Gaslighting Is ALWAYS a Form of Manipulation
Since it's used so much these days, I'm sure that when you hear the word "gaslight", you've got some sort of idea of what it means (check out "Are You Dating A Gaslighter? Here Are 6 Ways To Tell." and "Gaslighting, Love Bombing & 5 Other Triggers To Call Out In Your Relationships"). Still, just to make sure that we're all on the same page, a really simple way to define gaslighting would be when people try to get you to question your own reality. For instance, your aunt knows that she was verbally abusive to you while growing up, and yet when you mention it, she acts like she doesn't recall. Gaslighting. You tell your mother-in-law that you and your husband aren't interested in having children any time soon and she shows up with Christmas presents in the form of baby clothes anyway. Gaslighting. You ask your sister to not bring her totally disrespectful boyfriend and she shows up with him and says she didn't hear you say that. Gaslighting.
The problem with all of these instances is not only are they totally dismissive of your feelings and needs, but they're also a passive-aggressive form of trying to control you and situations too. What's worse is usually gaslighting is done in such a way that if you snapped, you would be the one who's looking crazy because it's not typically so offensive that it appears to warrant that kind of drastic reaction from the outside perspective of others.
Here's the thing, though — if you feel like you are being gaslit, 8 times outta 10, you probably are and no one enjoys feeling that way. So, the first step that you need to take is validating your own emotions because the main thing that gaslighters want you to do is to ask yourself, "Am I crazy?" so that they can continue to pull their puppet strings.
Be Realistic About What You’re Dealing With
From personal experience, something I know that used to keep me fit-to-be-tied about gaslighters is the fact that, in between the times of having to deal with them, I'd hope — almost to the point of expecting — them to be different the next time I would see them, especially if I had already pulled them aside and set a clear boundary. Oh, but I've got one relative who, it's almost like they must get paid under the table to defy every boundary that I set with them. It's like the more I tell them "no", the more they want to turn it into a "yes". Can there be anything that's more disrespectful? Somehow, I doubt it. And while I'm personally someone who doesn't subscribe to that, "Some folks are too old to change, so you just have to deal with it" line of thinking (because as long as you have breath in your body, you can change), what I have gotten to the place of is, "Your patterns show how you are, so I will stand firm on what I will or will not do, based on said-patterns".
While, on the surface, being like this might read as anger and resentment, it's actually a form of acceptance because since I'm not looking for them to be someone other than what they've revealed themselves to be over and over again, it's harder for me to get frustrated when they show out — over and over again. And when I'm calmer, I can handle things so much easier.
TRY to Deactivate Your Triggers
I think the hardest thing about being around family is there usually is no one who can trigger you quite like they can. Makes sense too when you get that the definition of a trigger is something that sets off a memory or flashback that's tied to some form or level of trauma. For instance, even if I were a holiday observer, I still wouldn't be the biggest fan of caroling because I have a relative who used to basically force us to do it while growing up. I mean, take us in a room and threaten us if we didn't and then come out of the room acting all "holiday cheer-like". So now, when folks try and get me to participate, I emotionally wince, just a bit.
While I'm still a work in progress when it comes to this, knowing that it triggers me and why has been pretty empowering. That's why I recommend you take out a weekend afternoon to pour yourself a glass of wine, pull out a journal, think about the folks in your family who trigger you, and ponder why. If you can get to the root of what causes them to make you "feel some type of way", you can better figure out how to avoid those triggers and how to not let them get to you…at least, at the level that they have in the past (check out "How To Handle Folks Who 'Trigger' You").
Hear. Don’t Always Listen.
Hearing and listening are not the same things. Hearing is about paying attention to what someone is saying. Listening is about heeding and/or obeying it; it's a much more intense and intentional form of hearing. And sis, when it comes to gaslighters, they don't even deserve the amount of energy that it takes to listen to them.
Case in point, I've got a friend who can't stand her mother-in-law, and honestly, her mother-in-law has earned it because it's been over a decade of insults, running over boundaries, and dishonoring my friend's living space. For probably the first seven years of her marriage, a lot of what my friend would go off about is replaying nonsensical stuff that her mother-in-law would say, followed by a response along the lines of, "Who does that?" What I and her own mother have encouraged her to do is not listen so deeply to what comes out of her mother-in-law's mouth. Since she's heeded (see how that played out — LOL) that advice, she's able to coexist with her much easier. She still doesn't like her mother-in-law all that much yet she's not as anxious before she arrives or (all that) angry once she leaves.
Some of us struggle in this department because the family members who gaslight us the most are the ones who we had no choice but to listen to while growing up (check out "What If It's Your Parents Who Happen To Be The Narcissists?" and "How To Recover If You Had To 'Raise Your Parents' As A Child"). The good news is you are in a position where you don't have to heed or obey them anymore — even if they try to gaslight you into thinking otherwise. So, you know what, sis? DON'T.
Keep a Safe Place on Tap to Vent
While this one might seem a little bit tricky because the reality is that while you're observing the holidays with your family members, your tribe is probably doing the same when I wrote the article, "Life Taught Me That True Friendships Are 'Inconvenient'," I totally meant it. Just about anyone can be there for you when times are good; true friends are the ones who have your back when times are tough. I've got a few folks in my world who I know, that I know, THAT I KNOW, will pick up the phone, come get me off the side of the road or bail me out of jail (if it came to that), no matter what time of day I need them or what they may be doing at the time when I reach out. And while a good friend certainly doesn't take advantage of knowing this about their peeps, I promise you that if your folks know that the holiday seasons are difficult because you've got family members who live to "light you up", they will be more than willing to be, at least a text away, so you can vent.
By the way, when it comes to this particular point, if you happen to be married and the gaslighters are on your hubby's side, try and designate someone other than him to be your sounding board. Yes, he signed up to love and protect you; at the same time, no one wants to hear "your family is trash" for hours on end, and once everyone leaves, you don't want to have to deal with the aftermath of how he feels as a result of you venting your feelings about his loved ones…to him. While your spouse should be your top relational priority as you are to him, we still have other outlets by design. Using them to get some things off of your chest when you are at your limit is a part of the purpose that your friends serve. Trust me.
Pamper Yourself Once the Holidays Are Over
Personally, I don't get why more people don't follow through on this tip, in general. Because listen, even if you adore your family and everything goes smoothly, whether you're traveling for the holidays or hosting at home, it can still be a little stress-filled. However, if you're someone who has to handle an influx of gaslighters this year, give yourself a pat on the back and something to look forward to by scheduling a pampering appointment to follow the week after everyone leaves (or you come back home). If there is a part of you that's like, "I won't have the money to do it", if you save $20 a paycheck now, you should at least be able to get a mani/pedi, order in your favorite meal or buy a bottle of champagne to toast yourself with. And you will have well earned it.
Always Remember…YOU ARE GROWN NOW
Anyone who tries to belittle the fact that you are now an adult who can say "yes" or "no" to whatever you want to, can address issues that you may have been afraid to in the past and can set boundaries at any point and time you deem necessary…they are someone who is trying to gaslight you.
That said, while there is a certain level of respect that older relatives should receive just for surviving this crazy world for as long as they have, don't you dare let them think that you are not owed — YES OWED — respect because you are now grown. Indeed, one of the biggest gaslights that come from gaslighting relatives is trying to shift you off of the reality that you are no longer the child or teenager who they used to be able to be somewhat dismissive of, purely because of your age.
You know, there is one relative I had who used to maximize how intimidated I was of them, well into my adult years. When I finally told them, "I'm not afraid of you anymore", they didn't know what to do. Exactly.
Gaslighting family can be the absolute most — believe me, I know. Hopefully, this helped to put some things into perspective while also bringing you some peace of mind. Because while you might not be able to avoid gaslighters this year, you can bring them into the reality that you know what they are up to and that it no longer will be able to work…anymore. Give thanks.
Featured image by Giphy