How to Survive a Wedding with your… | Counseling | Therapy

How To Survive A Wedding With Your Narcissistic Family Member : Therapy

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil , LCSW — Therapist, director of intern program, director of rhode island office

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How To Survive A Wedding With Your Narcissistic Family Member: Personality Disorder Therapy and Counseling Services in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville

Wedding season is upon us. Weddings can be fun - a time to gather with loved ones and celebrate the start of a new chapter. But for those of us with a toxic narcissistic family member, weddings can feel like a trap: an obligation to attend, plus alcohol, plus your narcissistic family member equals nightmare. Protecting your own sanity while supporting your friends and family can feel like an impossible choice. If you have a narcissistic family member here are some things you can do to navigate any upcoming weddings you’re both invited to.

1. Pass on the Invite.

Do you really want to go? Many people with narcissistic family members have learned over time that things go more smoothly when they put their own needs second. This can result in doing things that are unnecessarily damaging to you like, for instance, attending your second cousin’s wedding with your narcissistic parent. Check in with yourself: do you want to go, or are you worried about disappointing people? How much push back will you actually receive if you turn out to “have a work event” that weekend?

If you truly can’t get out of the wedding, or if you truly to want to go because you love the bride/groom, consider the options below.

2. Pick a buddy. An informed buddy.

If you have a plus one, bring someone who understands what you’re about to walk into. Bring somebody who knows about the dynamic between you and your narcissistic family member, or someone you feel comfortable explaining to. Bringing a friend or date that doesn’t know what’s up will cause you additional stress as you try to manage both your narcissistic family member and your buddy’s experience of the wedding.

If you don’t have a plus one, scan the guestlist for someone you trust and ask if they’d be willing to be your buddy at the wedding - someone you can rely on to be a good buffer and source of support.

Talk with your wedding buddy about how they can help you avoid conflict. This could look like: asking them to keep a look out and warn you when your family member is near, agreeing to hit the dance floor or the bathroom if things get too confrontational, or asking them to sit between you and your family member.

3. Think about who you do want to spend time with.

Identify before the wedding who you want to focus your energy on. Make a list of who you want to talk with and then focus on finding them and spending time with them. Making a list of who you want to connect with will give you a mission – thus capturing your mental focus.

4. Create some booze boundaries.

Alcohol can really ramp up the tension in any situation: a drunk narcissistic family member will likely have heightened bad behavior. If you’ve been drinking, it’s likely that your sensitivity and response to your relative will be heightened as well. Since you can’t control the drinking of your narcissistic family member (we can only control our own actions, right?) think about:

  • Refraining from drinking yourself, or setting a 2-drink limit
  • Giving your toxic family member a wide berth once they start drinking
  • Leaving the wedding if your narcissistic family member gets drunk.

5. Know your triggers and share them with your buddy.

It can feel like narcissistic family members know exactly how to get under your skin and make you lose control. Think about what subjects or behaviors are hot buttons for you. Do you lose the ability to speak when your mom asks you about having kids? Do you become enraged when dad tries to take a photo with you? Share them with your buddy and make a plan for changing or exiting the conversation when these come up.

6. Make an exit plan.

How will you get home from the wedding or reception? When will you know it’s time to leave? What parts of the evening will you be expected to participate in, and what would be less noticeable if you missed them?

Make a plan with your buddy for signaling that it’s time to go, and how you’ll get home.

If the wedding is smaller and you worry that an early exit would be noticeable - check in with the bride or groom ahead of time. Let them know that if you leave early it’s because you are sensing trouble being stirred up and that your goal is to not create a scene because you want to ensure their day is special.

6. Create an after-care routine.

It can feel really frustrating that you have to do all the planning and compromising and leaving-early when it’s your toxic family member who exhibits the bad behavior. Make sure to take care of yourself and do something nourishing after you the leave the wedding, whether it’s getting tacos from your favorite place, taking a bath, watching a good movie, or going for a run.

Remember that although you have identified your narcissistic family member’s behavior as toxic, your family might not. It can feel crazy-making to be the only one who is unwilling to put up with their bad behavior. Your family might try to make you feel crazy for disrupting the dynamics already in place. Trust yourself! Implement a plan and you’ll make it through wedding season intact. If you want further support processing your relationship with a toxic narcissistic family member, consider making a therapy appointment today.

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