This Little Gaslight of Mine.

My family used to be so big on holiday get-togethers. We’d have the big Thanksgiving dinners, a Yule log party, a Christmas Eve dinner…the whole nine. Everyone would get together, and we’d all have a really good time, enjoying food, family, gifts, etcetera. It was lovely, and honestly, I miss it. A lot.

But things weren’t perfect. There was a lot we ignored, swept under the rug. We often put on fake smiles around certain people, just to keep the peace. We ignored behaviors and words. I know, everyone does this. In some instances, that’s perfectly healthy, normal, adult. But in others, it isn’t healthy. It isn’t normal. Frankly, that differs from person to person.

In the past few years, there’ve been events that have transpired in my family that have all but shattered the family dynamic. They’ve brought some ugliness to light, and if I’m being completely honest, have caused a lot of pain. They’ve created awkward moments. Painful moments. But at some level, they’ve also been necessary. I’ve begun to refuse to allow toxic people to hurt me any longer, and that’s changed a lot of things.

My family dynamic has changed. And while that hurts more than I can express (some days, much more or less than others), I also know one thing to be certain: I have more respect for myself now. My mental health, inner strength, personal accountability, and my proverbial spine have grown so much stronger. I can stand up for myself now. I can demand to be respected, not abused. That, I’m grateful for, and proud of.

I know my situation is far from unique, but I also know that, especially during the holidays, sometimes, people struggle with the results of having cut toxic and/or abusive people out of their lives. So here are some little tidbits I’ve learned during my personal growth that maybe you need to hear this year. Maybe you need reinforcement for choices you’ve already made. Maybe you need encouragement to step forward and make those decisions. Maybe you just need to know that someone else understands what you’re feeling. I don’t know, maybe you don’t need this at all. But if you do, here goes:

  1. You are the only person who can dictate how others treat you. No one can has the right to abuse you. NO ONE. (Side note: that doesn’t mean people aren’t allowed to call you out when you’re being a shitty human. That means they’re not allowed to engage in abusive behaviors toward you.)
  2. When you do this, people will come for you. There will be abusers, gaslighters, etc. It will be uncomfortable. They will blame you for the abuser’s behavior. They will tell you to “be the bigger person.” They will fault you for the breakdown of the family. They will do anything and everything to try to make sure you feel as shitty as possible about the whole thing. This is one of the hardest things to deal with when you begin to stand up and demand that you be respected, but every time you stay strong against these attacks, it gets easier and easier to do it again.
  3. If you find support during these processes, hold onto it; you’re gonna need it. A sounding board to remind you that you’re doing the right thing, or to tell you if maybe you’re going too far. My husband and my best friend (The Loud Girls cofounder, Queen Elizabeth) have been life-savers throughout all of this. They’ve stood by me and listened to me vent and cry, while reminding me of my worth, giving me advice when I’ve needed it, and just overall supporting me. That has been invaluable.
  4. Don’t let anyone try to pressure you into “forgiving” or “being the bigger person” if you aren’t the one who has been abusive and/or toxic. The onus of repairing someone else’s fucked up behavior does not lie with you. You are responsible for yourself.
  5. Take this time to examine your own behaviors. Abusers and toxic people often put themselves in the position of the one who was wronged. Their behaviors are never the reason why things have gone sour. It’s always someone else’s fault. So, be realistic with yourself. Look at what role you’ve played. Be honest. Were you in the wrong? Did you exhibit hurtful behaviors towards others? If so, why? If you’re honest with yourself, you may find that you’ve been the abuser all along, and if that’s the case, you can start down the path to recovery, if you so choose. You can begin to make changes in your life to prevent this type of behavior from happening again. You can, if possible, start to work toward repairing broken relationships, or at the very least, making amends where possible. Personal growth is hard and often painful, but it’s almost always worth the price of admission.
  6. During the holidays, if you’re still participating in family functions, keep in mind that it’s okay to be honest about why you’re having reservations. You don’t have to be mean or rude, but be firm. Stand your ground. You deserve to demand respect. Have an exit strategy. If things get to be too much, remove yourself from the situation.
  7. If you’re not participating in the larger scale family events, try to have alternative options. Try a “Friendsgiving” dinner, or volunteer to work at a homeless shelter for the holidays. Do something that starts a new tradition, where you can be amongst people who value you for who you are.

Remember these things: no one has the right to tell you what you can or can’t feel, and you are the only one who can mandate how others treat you. You make the rules about your own self, no one else. You matter. Your feelings matter. You are valuable in this world. Your mental health is important. You deserve to live your life free of people who desire to harm you. And above all else…you got this.

To quote Jerry Springer, “Take care of yourselves, and each other.”

Happy holidays.

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