Holidays can be difficult anyway. Society grooms us to think that celebrations should be these perfect events where everyone gets along. Social media adds to that misconception. (Didn’t you see the neighbor’s Instagram post? They all wore matching pajamas and posed by the beautifully lit Christmas tree. Even the dog was smiling in the picture).
But this isn’t real life. And if you experience holidays with a narcissist, it often feels like all you can do is try to survive. Because of the narcissists in my family, two weeks before the holidays arrived, I was a train wreck. I would experience anxiety and depression and lose focus at work. I was usually accurate in predicting what the narcissist would find wrong with the dinner, the kids and even the friends we invited over. Then after the holidays passed, it would take me two weeks to recover. I found myself exhausted, tearful and once again, depressed. Why couldn’t my holiday be peaceful and joyful? I knew there was one reason: the narcissist.
Here are some measures you can put in place to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse during the holidays.
- Understand that narcissists hate the holidays.
Remember that for narcissists, it must be all about them. Two of the consistent traits among narcissists are a sense of entitlement and a need to be the center of attention. Narcissists hate the holidays because the celebrations usually revolve around everyone, not just the narcissist. To watch others happy and grateful is something the narcissist cannot stand.
- Accept reality.
The narcissist won’t change, even for the holidays. During a time that others put on their best holiday attire and attitudes, the narcissist cannot and will not alter his personality. Narcissists consistently have high control and low empathy. This will translate into the same actions or more during the holiday season.
Some examples might be that the narcissist wants the holiday dinner to be exactly has she has planned. Anyone that deviates from her plan will be punished. Bring a dish that everyone brags about instead of hers? Watch out. You might get the silent treatment. Give a more expensive gift than the narcissist bequeaths? She will find everything wrong about your purchase. Your children aren’t perfectly behaved angels the entire visit? You will hear what a terrible parent you are.
Remember that their words seldom ring true. The Grinch is the Grinch. The narcissist won’t suddenly become magnanimous like the green creature did at the end of the movie.
- Limit the length of the visit.
Perhaps you typically go home for a week to visit for the holidays. Shorten that to a few days. Less time with a narcissist means less exposure to abuse. The narcissist will likely be unhappy with this scenario, but remember, it’s your life and your well-being. You must take care of you. No one else will.
- Know your safe person.
It always helps to have a “safe” person when you are around the narcissist. Is there anyone else in the family or in your group of friends who understands what you are going through? Step out on the back patio and talk to that person when you can. Vent. Cry. Then go back and you’ll have a better mindset.
Remember that there are flying monkeys around almost every narcissist. Flying monkeys is a term used in popular psychology mainly in the context of narcissistic abuse. They are people who act on behalf of a narcissist to a third party, usually for abusive purposes. The narcissist has recruited them to help carry out his mission. Don’t make friends with a flying monkey. Try your best to stay away from that person as much as you try to avoid long interactions with the narcissist.
- Have an escape plan or take small breaks.
If you fear the holiday togetherness will grow too toxic, have an escape plan going into the event. Find a friend who needs you or volunteer for a shift at a soup kitchen. Then, when things intensify, you have a legitimate reason to leave. You must protect you. The narcissist isn’t going to take care of you. Think about it. You don’t want to spend the rest of the year recovering from what should be a tolerable, if not peaceful, time.
If an escape plan doesn’t seem plausible, then take small breaks throughout the holiday events. I often walked my dogs every few hours as an excuse to get outside and away from any drama. (The dogs were extremely happy and so was I). You can also retreat to the guest room or a bathroom and call friends to vent and get a touchpoint of reality. You’ll need a breath of fresh air, sometimes literally, so make plans to schedule a respite from the narcissist.
- Prepare for the narcissistic injury.
One of the ways the narcissist usurps the holidays is with a narcissistic injury. A narcissistic injury occurs when narcissists react negatively to perceived or real criticism or judgment, boundaries placed on them, or attempts to hold them accountable for harmful behavior. The narcissist is really the perpetrator but is skilled at slipping into the victim role. Why? Because look who is now drawing the attention: the narcissist.
One way to combat this is to ignore it. Let the narcissist go sulk like the small child she is pretending to be. Stay on task for the rest of the holiday celebration. This didn’t happen in my family once, and we all ate a cold dinner. The narcissist didn’t approve of the napkins used for the holiday meal, and she left to go buy more. When she returned, we were all hungry and waiting. And eventually, yes, eating cold turkey and dressing.
Another way is to let the flying monkeys handle the injury. You step away. This is about you and your self-preservation, not keeping the narcissist happy. That is impossible anyway, so let others fail at that assignment.
- Don’t answer questions you don’t want to answer and deflect criticism.
Narcissists are consummate critics. If your child isn’t a perfect kid during the holiday celebration, then be certain you will hear about it. The narcissist will tell you that little Susie needs more discipline, or she will elaborate on how great of a mother she was. Don’t take it personal and change the subject. Say something like, “I see. Now tell me about how you made the cranberry sauce. It was delicious.” Narcissists love talking about themselves, so think of some ways to get them started.
Also, don’t answer questions that make you uncomfortable. You may constantly get the question about why you are still single or about how your children are performing in school. You can use the same technique above and turn the tables. You might say, “I don’t want to answer that right now, so first tell me about your recent doctor’s visit.” If you want to be firmer, you can kindly say, “That’s really not something I talk about” and walk away.
Finally, if you use some of these strategies, then perhaps your holidays won’t be full of drama or trauma. We can all survive if we take care of ourselves first. And we can all be grateful that the holidays come only once a year.