It’s the coziest time of the year–time to grab a pumpkin latte, get acquainted with your favorite sweater and head out on a road trip to enjoy the autumn colors with someone you love. It would be fun to chant over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go–unless grandmother is more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
If you are like my friend Tiffani and thousands of other ACoNs, this exhilarating season can bring on the twin enemies of life–anxiety and depression. That’s because the holidays are just around the corner and for the ACoN* soul, the holidays are anything but cozy.
Tiffani was a people-pleaser who did her best to try to make everyone happy. She was often pitted between her narc mother and narc sister at family dinners. Every year when she began to think about the holidays, she got sick and missed work for days before the holiday even arrived.
One year on a whim, Tiffani’s husband convinced her to go to Hawaii instead of meeting up with her family. It turned out to be the best holiday she had ever had. No sickness, freedom to express herself and enjoy the special meals and time with her children and husband. That was the year she and her husband decided to start their own traditions. It’s been five years and Tiffani has never been healthier or happier, but every year about this time she is inundated with guilt and shame producing memes and emails from her family members.
This is the time of year when the Narc sends out the flying monkeys to say “Life is short, don’t stay away because you never know who will be alive next year.” I fully understand this sentiment. I’ve lived by this sentiment my entire adult life. I’ve tried for decades to let everyone I love, know I love them. This has been a pattern my entire life, but I noticed a few years ago this is NOT a pattern in narcissistic family member’s lives.
If it seems crazy that spending time with family could bring on an illness like Tiffani experienced or an anxiety attack, then you are lucky. Most ACoNs struggle to be themselves around family at the expense of their own health.
When we feel obligated to hide who we are because we feel threatened or bullied to comply with the Narc’s design for our lives, there’s not much to celebrate. Eating a dinner with people who constantly criticize and belittle you and tear down what you believe, is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
Because the Narcissist shows no respect for people who don’t do things their way, it’s always up to ACONs to bend and morph to meet the Narc’s needs. The Narcissist will never give in because life is a control game for them. Narcs
see life as a game where they must always win and being right is more important than having a relationship. So when people say “life is short, come hang out with the family,” this concept of life being short goes both ways. Here are at least five things to take into consideration:
1. Is the Narc Hosting the Meal?
If the meal is in neutral territory, there could be a chance for peace. OTOH–if the meal is at your house, but you will end up being the slave to the Narc’s high expectations, this is where you need to consider because this could turn out to be the Worst Thanksgiving Ever. Life is indeed short—too short to live up to other people’s expectations.
2. Has the Narc been talking about you?
Has the gossip of the Narc affected your relationships? Have family members stopped speaking to you? Do flying monkeys call to give messages from the Narc without any empathy for how you have been treated by the Narc? Does the Narc say, “Oh for Pete’s sake, get over it!” Despite never apologizing for their rude behavior in the past? Then this is where life is too short to put yourself through such emotional abuse.
Going to dinner could go either way–you might find yourself shut out or outnumbered by a flock of flying monkeys or you could go, be yourself and prove the Narcs wrong. This is where you will need to decide how much your relationship is affected by the Narc and how much you care about the other people at the table. Another option is to invite people over to your place another time–without the Narc so you can stay in touch and clear up some rumors.
3. Do you end up feeling as though you were torn by shrapnel?
Could you be seeking some Walton fantasy while ignoring the foreshadowing that your family is more like the Borgias? Trust me, life is too short to allow yourself to be shot emotionally over and over and over. If this happens you will eventually end up like the walking dead.
4. Do you have somewhere else you would rather be?
When we simply feel obligated to spend time with the Narc, it’s important to remember obligation is not a good reason to spend time with anyone. The excuse that life is short just doesn’t ring true when it comes to being shunned or belittled vs. laughing and enjoying yourself with friends who care. Go where you are celebrated.
5. Does being around the Narc affect your health in any way?
If being around the Narc makes your heart race and gives you panic attacks, this is a no brainer. None of us can’t afford to waste our health by trying to please an impossible Narc. Remember the Narc only cares about his or her health, they have no concern for how they might affect yours. Life is short and you only get one trip around. Now is the time to take care of yourself both emotionally and physically.
Some of these people who claim life is short have made life seem very long for the rest of us. Their desire to control others is shortening lives around them every day. So yeah, life is short—too short to be bullied and shamed for not living up to other people’s expectations. Too short to be gossiped about and belittled for not obeying the Narc’s commands.
While the Narc and their flying monkeys might try to persuade us to come to their abusive family dinner by claiming life is short, if they really believed this, they would accept us for who we are instead of worrying about the food we bring or the way we spend our money or who we date or who we might vote for. Life is just too short to put up with all the gaslighting and mindwarps.
It’s really that simple. If they really want us around, they can start by treating us better.
*ACoN Adult Children of Narcissists