‘Tis the season to be jolly (falalalala lalalala!), yet for many, Christmas is just not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a time of year where families come together, and family matters, it’s quite often the value we hold highest. So how do you cope at Christmas when one of your family members display narcissistic behaviours?
We all act narcissistically at times; narcissism exists on a spectrum. From normal, healthy, with a few narcissistic traits, to a full blown personality disorder. The hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder include grandiosity, a sense of entitlement and superiority, a constant need for attention and admiration, and manipulative behaviour. Underneath these behaviours is a critical lack of empathy; that is their physical capacity for empathy is stunted.
The Narcissists at Christmas
Christmas time with a narcissist is not much fun. It can be draining. Like mood-hoovers and energetic vampires, their mode of operating can suck the life out of others in the room. In the mind of a narcissist you are supposed to give your power to them, they come first, they can’t recognise your needs or the needs of others. They’ll call the shots on when, where and how Christmas will happen. Often using the concept of family and Christmas to guilt-trip or shame you into doing what they want. If you try to make other plans, they often see this as a personal rejection, an attack, a threat to their identity and reputation - ‘what will people think!’. This could go nuclear, as they aim to counter, by hitting you where it hurts with their words. They may cut you off and ignore you, or cancel Christmas all together. After all, in their eyes, you’re nothing without them.
Because the narcissist sees themselves as truly superior, they expect special treatment. Don’t be surprised if they get narked because there was a lack of a fanfare on arrival, they weren’t seated in the prime position, they didn’t get ‘good enough’ presents. Some turn up late. Some expect to be waited on hand and foot.
You may find they like to dominate conversations and have the last word. It’s rarely an adult-to-adult interaction, and their oppositional nature can make navigating dinner-table conversations a minefield. To a narcissist your feelings and opinions are irrelevant, so let go of the belief you can change their point of view. Their mind is not wired to be that flexible, it is quite possibly impossible. However narrow their mindset, and regardless of the excellent evidence you present, you can’t reason with unreasonable people. Expect them to turn conversations to focus on the vulnerabilities of others - picking apart their job, relationship or family status, for example. This could be well-meaning concern, combined with a lack of social awareness and tact, or stealthy attempts to make others play small to inflate their supremacy. By taking the bait, you will likely find yourself jumping into their drama triangle; and playing the roles of rescuer, victim, or persecutor.
If a narcissist has offered to host for Christmas, they may well hold unrealistic expectations of themselves, and take on more than they can skilfully handle. Their reluctance to show vulnerability means they probably won’t ask for help. If it doesn’t end well, be prepared for it to be your fault or someone else’s. The narcissist’s poor insight and selective memory means they won’t learn from their mistakes - you can’t learn from what you refuse to see. Which is why they so often lie to cover their tracks. If it goes well they expect high praise and admiration, to them you owe them your gratitude and more - anticipate strings attached!
For families with a narcissistic parent, Christmas can be a reminder of everything that never was. Like slushy snow, tainted with anger, anxiety, sadness or grief. However grown you have become outside of this dynamic, it can feel like your Everest. It’s not unusual to regress, as each family member is shoehorned into repeating the scripts they were given when they were young. It is a challenge. But we DO have a choice.
Taking care of it
As testing as these times may be, ultimately it’s your responsibility to protect your mental health and take appropriate action. You might decide to remove yourself entirely from the toxic environment, after weighing up the consequences, if you find it truly benefits you to do so, go for it. Plenty of people take themselves away for Christmas, or keep their celebrations closer knit! You don’t owe them anything.
Pause and take time to think… What matters most to you? If you could redefine your family on the basis of heartfelt connection and genuine love, who would you choose to spend quality time with at Christmas? In a world without limits, what other opportunities are there?
If you find your best option is to make the best of Christmas with your narcissist, it may help you to know that narcissist are not born but made. It’s likely that during their early childhood they were hurt by others, so they developed this way of coping that was necessary for their survival. This strategy served them well in the past, but now has them snared in a trap. Keeping them frozen in a child-like state. A visual technique you can try to help you when faced with your narcissist is to imagine their head on the body of an eight year-old. Visually shrink them down and view them at the developmental stage they’re stuck within. Tune their voice into that of a child. Now imagine them on the inside of a snow globe. They’re living in their own bubble. Their forcefield keeps them safe but it’s impenetrable to real human connection, love and intimacy. They’re trading the best things in life for falsehoods, fantasy and to keep up appearances. It’s a lonely and fearful world they live in. Tap into your kindness, compassion and empathy, and let go of your desire to fix them. You can’t rescue them or change them. Only they can change their behaviour, IF they want.
What you can own is your response to them. Lower your expectations of them and the quality of relationship you wish you could have with them. The fact is they have limited capacities, it’s an invisible illness. And they’re not all bad or all good, no one is. Focus on investing your time and energy on the people who have the capacity to listen, understand, validate, encourage, and truly love you. Appreciate all you’ve learned about what makes the best relationships, those you do enjoy that are comfortable, uplifting and energising. Let go of the unhelpful beliefs you hold, that makes the narcissist responsible for you feeling hurt, angry and not good enough. You are enough and you are loved. And no one can make you feel or do anything. Don’t give away your power by reacting emotionally to them. They’ll only use it for rocket fuel. Stay within your power; assert your boundaries, be brave, be real and be kind to yourself.
Wishing you a merry Christmas and every success and happiness in 2019, to lead the life you love!
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