How to Deal With Narcissists During the Holidays
Let's talk about something many people are dreading and that is dealing with narcissists during the holidays. We all know the best thing is to stay away from the narcissists that you've identified in your life, but for some people, there is at least one time a year they feel forced to interact with this person, and that is the holidays. Holidays are very difficult for people with narcissistic loved ones. Celebrations, get-togethers, and family time are invariably left in a shambles by these people. They throw tantrums, start arguments, some even destroy property or get into fistfights at gatherings. They destroy the mood, they create havoc, and they will not be happy until everybody is as miserable as they are for whatever reason has stuck in their craw this time.
So what do you do? Well, you can always:
1. Choose not to attend.
A lot of people don't necessarily realize this is an option. You can indeed choose not to participate in activities where the narcissist will be in attendance. If your narcissistic sister or narcissistic stepfather will be at Grandma's house, maybe you just don't go this year. Or maybe you go visit Grandma after they leave. Some people protest that this is allowing the narcissist to ruin the holiday and that's at least partially true, but let's tell the truth: aren't they going to ruin it anyway? At least this way, you decide what will happen, rather than getting there and walking on eggshells and having to participate in a big screaming hysterical scene anyway. It's probably going to get ruined either way, so at least if you don't attend, you don't have to hear the screaming. Now, you may the recipient of some nasty comments for this and if you are, keep strong boundaries. You don't have to explain yourself or your feelings, but if you choose to do so, tell the truth: You don't feel like having your holiday ruined.
Nobody has to be around anyone they don't want to be around. That's the beautiful thing about being an adult. In most situations, you can simply say, "I'm done with you," and walk away. People sometimes say things like, "Well, I know my mom is a narcissist but I want my children to have a relationship with their grandmother." A fair question to them would be, "Why?" People often feel beholden to family or obligated to do things a certain way, regardless of how their family members have treated them. This is not healthy nor is it necessary. You can—and should—walk away from toxic people, no matter what their relationship to you is. Anyone who truly loves you would not want you to put yourself in a situation where you are being mistreated or disrespected.
If not attending isn't something you want to do, you can try:
2. Attending but ignoring the narcissist.
This is a more difficult situation because narcissists hate being ignored and they despise people who refuse to react to their childish provocations. If your narcissistic brother realizes that you are not reacting to his taunts and insults, he's probably going to up the ante. And up it, and keep upping it until you do react. If your narcissistic husband realizes that his comments in front of company don't seem to be embarrassing you, the comments are going to get worse and worse until something works. When your narcissistic aunt is sobbing hysterically about how everyone is against her, no one can have a good time. Holidays are impossible with these people because they don't care about togetherness or love or other people at all. They don't care that Uncle Bill flew 5,000 miles just to be here because it may be Grandpap's last Christmas. What they care about are the imaginary rude comments people are making and the fact that no one even noticed their haircut. Ignoring all of this can be very difficult for a decent person to do, but if you can, you'll still at least be able to see the people you want to see.
If you feel you must attend, hold your temper and don't react. At all. Ignore this person and their drama. If you don't feel you can be civil, simply leave the room when they come in. You can try to clue your family in on not playing into the drama if you think it's wise, but a lot of times, there are enablers in the family who will defend the narcissist, making the problem worse. This usually happens because either they don't want to be the recipient of the narcissist's rage or because they have spoiled and favored the narcissist their whole lives anyway. But if it's wise, and you can clue people in, maybe the whole family can simply ignore this person's nasty comments and attempts to cause problems so that they either stop or give up and leave.
Be advised though, that it is very hard to break patterns of behavior. In situations like the holidays, there are a lot of old issues that can come up, and for narcissists, this can be a difficult time, especially when they don't feel they are getting the recognition or attention that they deserve. They will do whatever they can to get it, and that usually includes causing problems. They may become jealous of the attention, praise or gifts that others are receiving and this always ends badly.
An example might be when one female is receiving a lot of attention from the family for being pregnant. If there is a narcissistic female in attendance, there may be a scene, or she may make a lot of very nasty and cruel comments to the pregnant girl, or about her to others. She may even lie and say she is pregnant, too. Another example may be where a male family member is receiving a lot of praise for landing a really great job. If there is a narcissistic male in attendance, he may begin bragging about something that is made up, or he may run down the job everyone is talking about.
Other examples might be openly flirting with family member's spouses, having a screaming argument with their own spouse, bringing up issues that are years or even decades old between people to cause fights, attempting to embarrass or humiliate others, bringing someone to the gathering that is not welcome and many more. If people are drinking, the problems can become exponentially worse.
So if you must go, practice not reacting. Respond if you must, but don't react. Responding is talking. Reacting is emoting. Keep it in neutral and coast. Remember: this person is miserable and that's their problem. Don't let them make it your problem.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.