Are you guilty of party policing and imprisonment?

With holiday parties coming up, I thought I’d discuss a phenomenon I’ve often witnessed and experienced both personally and professionally. I’ve decided to call this concept Party Imprisonment. Now this is not a legitimate psychological theory and is instead a colloquial title I coined to explain a phenomenon I believe to exist. I know the term Party Imprisonment sounds counterintuitive because… how can parties feel like prison, right? I mean, parties are supposed to be fun and carefree, aren’t they? Let’s talk.

The term Party Imprisonment is what I’m using to explain the behaviour of an event host who, directly or indirectly/consciously or subconsciously, imposes rules or pressure on guests in some capacity and is subsequently upset when guests do not behave in the host’s desired fashion. Have you ever gotten angry, insulted, or upset when your party guests are a few minutes late, or don’t eat your food, or don’t mingle with your other guests or leave early or don’t drink your homemade wine? If so, it’s time to consider the fact that you might be craving control and party policing, ultimately resulting in the failure of your festivity.

Look, I’ve been on both sides. I’ve definitely felt like a victim to someone else’s party rules and regulations but I’m also guilty of party imprisonment when I get sensitive hosting an event. Be it a birthday party, holiday event, anniversary party, or baby shower, I have been known to be anxious planning the event and hosting the event. It’s when I began to acknowledge my negative emotions in response to someone declining or cancelling, that I stumbled upon something psychologically relevant and significant.  I was taking very personally, the actions of my guests.  i.e., I would be upset, hurt, and/or insulted by a refusal or cancellation. I lovingly called myself out to acknowledge that my reaction was irrational. The legitimate psychological culprits at the base of this irrational reaction:  SECURITY AND SELF-ESTEEM. It is the feelings related to low self-esteem and insecurity in relationships that trigger negative emotions when someone declines your invitation to an event. If you, too, have realized that you get upset with a benign and innocent cancellation on the part of a guest, it’s time for you to do some self-development work. Ok? Let’s start now.

This is what I want you to ask when you find yourself negatively triggered by a respectful invitation refusal or party cancellation or guest tardiness. What does this refusal or cancellation or lateness mean about my party?  What does this refusal or cancellation or lateness mean about my relationship with this person? What does this refusal or cancellation or lateness mean about me? Now, on the surface, the one answer to all of these questions is: “nothing.” You might intellectually acknowledge that any refusal, cancellation, or lateness has nothing to do with you, your relationship, or your party. But dig a little deeper please. Reach deep down and think about how your heart feels when you get rejected. Truth is, mostly everyone has a negative reaction to rejection and someone who refuses your invitation or cancels on your party or is late to your party may trigger some irrational emotional reaction or irrational thought pattern to rejection. Without realizing it, you may be thinking things like “my party sucks,” “I have no friends,” “people are bored,” “I’m no fun,” and/or so many other possibilities leading to very gross emotions and more party policing.      

So, if you are party policing, it’s time for you to realize that you doing so in an attempt to control the situation and avoid feelings of rejection. You are subconsciously trying to keep your sense of security and self-esteem intact by party policing and imprisonment. The only way to stop this dysfunctional behavior is to realize that you are not unloved or unimportant or… simply because someone cancels on youThe way your guests behave in response to your event has nothing to do with you and instead has everything to do with them. Like in many other situations, you cannot and must not take personally the actions of other people so stop the party imprisonment! Set your guests free! Let them come and go as they please. Fun is created from within. You are (and have always been) the party.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.

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