In abusive relationships, the holidays are often a season of tiptoeing around whichever person is the ticking time bomb who dictates the mood in your home.
I don't mean the normal stresse and fatigue of added events and winter sniffles. I'm talking about the partner or relative who -- like clockwork -- manages to spoil every fun activity, every single time.
If this happens in your house, you're not alone.
Ruining special occasions and sucking the joy out of everyone else's memories is actually a thing. An abuser's thing.
Here are four ways abuse tends to escalate during the holidays. If you know the signs ahead of time, it's easier to brace yourself, disengage the pettiness, and make a survival plan so it doesn't destroy your holiday Spirit.
1) Spoiling the presents
Let's say you just love giving gifts at Christmas. This means presents are a perfect way to exert control and raise your stress.
Your abuser might do this any number of ways:
- hiding the money so you can't go shopping (or stashing/freezing your credit card)
- telling you there's no Christmas budget (even though they just bought themselves an expensive gadget, so you know that's not true)
- returning gifts you bought for others, without telling you they took them back
- making a huge unplanned purchase with the money you've carefully saved for Christmas gifts
- taking credit for the gifts you chose and wrapped, as tho it was all their idea
- telling recipients what you plan to get for them, or buying the same gift and giving it to them first so yours seems redundant
- any number of other ways to ruin the joy of giving to others.
It's incredibly common for abusive partners (or even parents) to make a point of messing up gift-giving for those they control.
2) Arguing with the family
You know that one relative who just can not keep their opinions to themselves?
Every single holiday gathering, their nasty entitled attitude outstrips their compassion, their courtesy, and even their conscience.
It may seem like they are fundamentally incapable of just getting along, especially when the family comes together to celebrate. Instead of enjoying the companionship, they take it as an opportunity to shine... in all the ugliest ways.
When nobody agrees with them, they'll sulk, pout, or throw a tantrum to make sure they stay in the limelight. No one else's stress matters.
3) Picking a fight just before your big thing
A chronically controlling, jealous, possessive and insecure partner may make a pattern of picking fights just before any important event:
- the school play
- the youth concert
- your office party
- dinner with your parents
- whatever else is emotionally important to you.
This pattern of abuse leaves you trembling, tearful, and in turmoil JUST before you need to deliver a speech, conduct a performance, or wherever else you hoped to be poised, polished and professional.
And presto! Your abuser holds all the cards again. You're not cheered or validated in your efforts to contribute to the community, instead you're stressed out, punched in the gut and trying to gather your wits. Exactly what makes them feel the most powerful.
Bonus points that they tarnished your shine.
4) Dr Jekyll v. Mr Scrooge
Leading up to the holidays, they may sound like they're looking forward to doing festive things together. They might make plans, suggest concerts, or share ideas for gifts and outings.
But then the season arrives and everything flips a switch. Instead of "let's go ice skating together like we discussed!" Suddenly it's "You always drag me places I can't stand."
Or maybe they just vanish and go do their own thing, leaving you home alone with the kids without warning.
I can't count how many survivors have told me their abuser would ramp up anticipation for special things, just to smash their expectations when the moment arrived.
Somehow, every time, the joyful excitement was doused with a hefty dose of Mr Scrooge.
If these things are consistently happening in your family, your marriage, or your friendships... you are likely experiencing an abusive relationship.
It's worth spending some time with a counselor or coach, to figure out a Holiday Survival Plan to help you navigate the minefield of stressful relationships while keeping your joyful memories intact.