Holidays are a time of celebration. When you have to deal with someone narcissistic, they know how to kill the joy and fun during the holidays. I have witnessed this fact too many times. Today, I will talk about how to deal with a narcissist during the holidays because this is a hot topic. First of all, I always say, “Everything is temporary”. The holidays are temporary. It will help save your sanity if you keep this truth running in the back of your mind. Every moment you spend with this narcissistic person is temporary. You have the ability to walk away, to set healthy boundaries, to incorporate self-care tools when you are around them, and to create a schedule that meets all your needs – mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.
How we show up in any situation is our choice. You can be the guest or host during the holidays. You can hope for others to be different, but being self-aware is key. The truth is, the only thing we truly control is ourselves and our reactions. It is best to respond, instead of react because that is what the narcissistic person expects from you – a triggered reaction. So, here are some holiday sanity suggestions.
- Where is your head at?
It is essential to know where your head is when dealing with a difficult person or someone narcissistic. You can have past negative events, but hopefully, the past can be kept in the past. What I have learned over time is difficult people like to use leverage against you. Many times that leverage is unresolved past events. You might think you resolved your differences, but difficult people like throwing ammo into the fire. Therefore, be prepared for ammo and how to dodge the bullets. The best way to dodge a bullet is to setup boundaries. If you notice the difficult person is trying to start drama, bait, or provoke you, you need to put your foot down. You can say, “Today is a day of celebration. Today I am here to enjoy everyone’s company. Therefore, creating drama and talking about the unpleasant events is off the menu. We are here to celebrate the holidays, life, family, good food, and each other. I want to thank everyone for supporting me with this daily/weekly goal. Thanks.” Say these words is your way of doing the BIFF. You are being brief, informative, friendly, and fun. It you need to write this down to remind yourself later, do it.
2. Self-Care Check-in Points
Self-care is critical when it comes to dealing with difficult people, especially someone who is narcissist. These people know your triggers, past, dark secrets, and how to bait you. That is why you need to have at least a handful of self-care ideas when you are around them. You can create a mantra in your head, such as, “this is only temporary.” You can say that over and over again in your head.
You can utilize your breath. When you feel yourself getting triggered, you can excuse yourself to the bathroom. Once you are in the bathroom, you can listen to some calming music, practice a mini breathing meditation, watch a uplifting and fun video on your phone, or take a hot bath. The bathroom can become your temporary sanity getaway room.
You can also create a self-care schedule for yourself. You can schedule nap time, meditation time, take a walk, game time, build a snowman, visit a neighborhood friend, go to the movies with a friend, or go to bed early and read a good book. All these scheduled breaks are important for your sanity.
3. What are your triggers?
Family and friends know your triggers. Do you know your own triggers? Have you ever sat down and journaled about what has triggered you in the past with various difficult people? If not, I would suggest doing it. I will share a few of my past triggers and how I dealt with it. You might be able to relate.
I have one very negative family member. She is always fault-finding and blame shifting. She takes a molehill and turns it into a massive mountain. She also likes to gossip behind your back. When I deal with this person, I can always see the disapproval on her face. Nothing I can do is good enough. She is highly judgmental. When this person talks to me, I am very brief. I do my best to avoid talking about myself or other people. I like to stay busy in the kitchen, and I use cooking as a tool to prevent gossip or from feeding her too much personal information that can used against me later. I do not like to say this, but this person always has a hidden agenda. They know I used to be a people pleaser. Therefore, when they made me feel bad about myself in the past, they would ask for something from me. They have noticed the changes in me, but she is still trying to figure out how to take advantage of me. One way, in the past, was to make me feel guilt and shame. I no longer play those games. When I am communicating with this person, I am incredibly self-aware. I am fully listening, and I know I have a choice in how I want the conversation to go – uphill or downhill. I have learned the art of re-directing her by changing the subject to something more light hearted and positive. Remember, the conversation does not have to be one-sided.
Another thing I have learned is to set a time limit for socializing. I can invite this person to come over a few hours after other people have arrived. This allows me to enjoy other people’s company without worrying about the drama this one person likes to create. I can enjoy snacks and socialize before the main feast. Then I can set a time limit for when everyone must go home. If this person is staying in your home, you must set self-care boundaries. I have learned that I need to limit my time around this person. I try to see if there is another person they can stay with instead of my home. If it means splitting the hotel fee to keep your sanity, do it. Excuses can become your friend.
4. How to deal with a narcissist during the holidays
Here are some steps to help you deal with a narcissist during the holidays.
- Determine your own goal(s) or intended outcome for each holiday event or activity. Set your boundaries accordingly and make everyone aware of your boundaries. For example, appetizers are from 12:00pm to 2:00pm, 2:30pm is turkey dinner, 4:00pm is dessert, 5:00pm is clean-up, and 6:00pm we all say good night. This schedule can be sent out via email or text. If someone shows up late, it is not your problem. You could add a time slot for games or watching a movie. Remember, this is your event, your house, and your set the rules.
- Check the facts mentally when the narcissist makes a statement or does something that appears manipulative. For example, if you know this person always has a hidden agenda, be aware of what they are asking of you or trying to get you to do. If this person has a habit of baiting you, try to see if you can mentally figure out what bait they are trying to get you to latch onto before reacting or responding.
Here is a good example. A young man comes home from college for Christmas break. While he is helping his mom put the groceries into the car, the mom talks about taking all the kids out for a fancy Christmas dinner. The mom asks if her son has any ideas of where they all should go to eat. The son suggests one restaurant, but mom suggests another place. Mom sets a trap by saying, “Well, I want you to pick the restaurant. I really think this other place I heard about would be best.” To please his mom, he agrees that her recommendation would be best. Therefore, the one who picked the restaurant is now completely responsible for what happens next.
When they arrive at the restaurant, mom is all dressed up to turn heads. Mom made sure they had a specific table picked out in advanced. When mom and the kids sit down, just a few tables away is dad with his pregnant girlfriend. Dad gets up and walks over to the table. Dad is a regular there and mom knows it. Dad is mad because mom has been stalking his pregnant girlfriend. Dad, does his best to avoid making a scene in the restaurant, but it doesn’t work. When the son gets back home, mom is blaming it all on him for picking the restaurant. Mom set him up to take the fall. I know it is messed up, but remember, a narcissist doesn’t want to look bad if everything falls apart.
- Be prepared for disappointment. I do not like to have to suggest this step, but I must. Expectations can lead to disappointment. You think that everything is all good, when in fact, to the narcissist, it is not all good. I have to say it, narcissistic people are notorious for ruining the holidays. That is why knowing the games they prefer to play is key. Do they gaslight, project, blame shift, stonewall, or bait you? Have you figured out the narcissists habits, patterns, and cycle? Are they worse when they drink? If so, have a rule that there is no alcohol. You can buy alcohol free beer. Or, you can have just enough that everyone gets two glasses of wine.
- Count your blessings. You are not them. Try to see the narcissist as just a negative person and plays the victim instead of being hurt by their actions. Remember, when they act immaturely, their core inner child wound comes to the surface and is stuck in their survivor’s brain. They cannot have a rational conversation with you. A person must operate from your cortex brain to have a sensible, empathetic conversation. That is why their behaviors have nothing to do with you. They could be coming from a place of being trauma triggered. That is why you must disengage, get balanced, be centered, shake the bad vibes off, and clear your mind.
Another thing you must eventually accept is that you cannot change this person. It can be so hard to finally accept that this narcissistic person will never be who you want them to be. It was hard for me to finally accept that my father could not be the father I needed him to be for me. Yet, there is something freeing in realizing that you can unconditionally love, but you do not have to like this person. You can realize that no matter how much you want someone to change or how much you feel a sense of loss about this person never living up to what you need them to be, they are who they are. There is really nothing you can do about it. You can love them, but not like them. The main thing to remember is you do have control over is how you respond to them. One of the first rules of dealing with narcissistic person is to “never let them see you sweat.” This type of narcissist feeds off drama and vulnerability. If you know this to be true, learning the art of redirection can be a game changer. Now for some people, they may want to call this person out on their behaviors, but keep in mind two important things: The narcissist doesn’t think they are the problem, and never will. Plus, the narcissist will always have the last word. You can just ignore their comments and walk away, but as you know…the narcissist will chase after you to get in those final insults. Just know that there are times when saying nothing is best because no matter what you say or do, the narcissist will always find a way to cut you down and make you look stupid. Is it really worth it? I say, they are not worth it. You peace of mind comes first. Stewing over the drama for hours or days later is not worth it. Pick your battles wisely.
5. Your first and second line of protection.
Now, your best first option of protection is to not be around this person during the holidays. If you have that option and you don’t get too much guilt, take it. It is totally acceptable to decline an invitation if you know the narcissist will be there and you are not in the mental or emotional state of mind to deal with their crap. You do not even need to give an explanation or even make up a lie. You can just say, “I won’t be able to make it”. This should suffice. If you are pressured and pushed for WHY you are not attending, use the “broken record” technique—repeat again, “I just won’t be able to make it.” If that doesn’t work, you can just say that you are not feeling very well. Covid or feeling unwell holds a lot of weight now a days. If you ever caught Covid like I did, I would accept anyone’s excuse as being valid.
If you still would like to spend time with the host (not the narcissist) over the holidays, you can politely say, “I would still love to get together soon.” You can propose a time and date, which makes it clear that you DO want to spend time together. When you set a time and date in the future, it usually stops the person from continuing to ask why you aren’t going to be at their gathering. Whatever you do, do not mention that you aren’t going because the narcissist will be there. That information will get back to the narcissist. Once it gets back to them, you will most likely be “smeared and punished” by the narcissist for it.
Let’s talk about your second line of protection.
If you really can’t get out of attending a family gathering, first ask yourself if this gathering is really mandatory. Let’s say you run a business with your family, and your narcissistic brother will definitely be attending the end-of-the-year holiday party. Not attending the party could impact your relationship with your employees. Things could get worse if you know your narcissistic brother always acts out when you have not attended a holiday party in the past. Therefore, you may decide that you want to attend. You might have to be the peacekeeper, monitor the alcohol bar, create an activities plan so drama can be reduced, etc. There can be other situations where you might want to attend. For example, you may want to attend a family gathering where a narcissistic sibling will be present because this may be one of the last holidays you can spend with an ailing parent or grandparent. Can you suck it up or will you let this person stop you from enjoying the company of others? The point is, you have a CHOICE.
Once you’ve made a choice to attend a holiday gathering where you will most likely see the narcissist, first, put a time limit on how long you will stay. That time limit should be based upon how many people you want to talk with. Next, you need to factor in your tolerance level and your ability to deflect daggers from the narcissist. Finally, you need to factor in how much you can “shake it off” afterward. Staying for one or two- hours should be fine. Remember, you do not have to attend the entire holiday party or family gathering. People can come up with lots of excuses to leave a function early.
If you are attending with a partner or friend, let them know your predetermined time limit. Next, create a nonverbal cue when time is up. Then set an alarm on your phone or watch. Finally, let the host know you will need to leave at that time. No explanation is needed. Then, leave at the pre-determined time. This can be one of the hardest things to do and having an exit plan is key. You will probably be asked to stay, so be prepared to have your exit plan excuse lined up. Keep in mind that the longer you stay at the holiday event or family gathering, the more likely it is that the narcissist will get to you. If you do decide to stay, do it only for only a small increment of time like 30 minutes. You could also do what veteran survivors of narcissist abuse have learned to do—just politely excuse yourself and get the hell out of there.
6. Exchanging gifts with a narcissist. This one can be very challenging. It would be best if you accepted that your gift to them will not be good enough. One solution to this is to not get a gift for the narcissist. You can send them a card in the mail or get a group/family gift instead of individual gifts. Another is not to attend a family event where gifts will be exchanged.
If you are stuck doing a gift exchange, know that the gift the narcissist will give you will be cheap, nonsensical, inappropriate, or all three. The gift might even be an insult, like a gift they regifted to you. Whatever you do, do not spend your precious time or wallet trying to find the “perfect” gift for this narcissistic person. Even if it is the best gift ever, they will criticize and undermine its value. If you are set on giving the narcissist a gift, buy something generic and good enough. I’d like for you to be done with it. There are gift baskets or gift cards. Nothing fancy, just basic and generic. Hey, you could end up giving them my book. The look on their face. That would be a kodak moment.
Now, I need to talk about gifts that have a consequences and hidden agenda attached to it. When you receive a really nice gift that is rather expensive or has some meaning behind it, be warned. The narcissist is not giving it to you without any strings attached. You might think that maybe they changed their ways or they are sorry for hurting your feelings, but prepare yourself for future requests or favors. In the narcissistic person’s mind, you now owe them one and one day they will come to collect. I know it sounds messed up, but this does happen every once in a while. That is why you need to ask yourself if there is anything this narcissistic person has wanted from you in the past and you said, “No”. Maybe they are trying to win you over with an elaborate gift because they will later have a elaborate request of you. Maybe they are trying to butter you up for a raise or promotion. Maybe they are trying to distract you from a sneaky plan they have cooking behind your back. Either way, an elaborate gift from a narcissistic or difficult person is a big warning sign. Watch your back. At times, that gift can be too good to be true and might not be worth it in the end. If that is the case, just give them my book.
I hope you have gotten some good tools for the holiday. Thank you for learning how to deal with a narcissist during the holidays. Take care, and remember, “It is only temporary!”