12 Ways to Cope With Narcissists at the Holidays
- Do you feel tense when thinking about family holiday visits?
- Do you find yourself thinking more about how to avoid problems than how to enjoy the time?
- Do you anticipate not feeling free to be yourself around family members during this holiday?
- Are you visiting family members more out of obligation than choice?
If you answered yes to two or more questions, here are 12 things you can do to have a more nurturing holiday.
1) Know your path
Being around narcissists can feel like an endless series of battles. One effective way to sidestep skirmishes is to declare that you are on a path to whatever you value most. Perhaps it is healing, growth, learning, love, peace, self-confidence or being the best version of you.
If your number one priority around a narcissist is surviving emotionally, you’ll be focused on survival. If your number one priority is not being controlled, you will focus on avoiding control. Focusing on surviving or avoiding control can make you feel small.
On the other hand, if your number one priority is growth, learning, or being the best you can be, that will be your focus. When something upsetting comes along you can ask yourself, “How can I incorporate this into my path?” “How can this help me learn?” Doing so allows you to make use of anything that happens, no matter how upsetting in the moment.
2) Share judiciously
Narcissists often use personal information you share against you. Be judicious in sharing sensitive information especially about loaded topics such as your love life, finances, diet, politics, religion, lifestyle, goals, feelings, health and work. With extreme narcissists, that may not leave much to talk about! But better to reserve those topics for safer, more trusted people in your life.
When confronted with intrusive questions, borrow a page from political spin doctors. Instead of answering the question you were asked, answer with a topic you want to talk about. For example, if an intrusive family member asks whether you are sticking to your budget or diet, you could talk about how great your job is or how much your nieces and nephews have grown. Or you could simply ask the narcissistic person about something you know they would love to talk about.
Who cares if you change the subject. You do not have to answer questions that make you uncomfortable.
3) Have realistic expectations
Holidays can be wonderful but stressful. Many of us tend to regress to earlier family roles or mood states. It is okay to have conflicting feelings. You may feel bored, frustrated, angry, sad, anxious, happy and more. These feelings will pass.
Don’t expect to put a year’s worth of catching up or saying all you have to say in a holiday visit. Holidays should be about relaxing and celebrating, not working.
4) Take care of yourself
Especially during the holidays, maintain helpful routines that support you in your daily life. Pay attention to eating, exercise and sleep habits. Take time to yourself, even if to go for a short walk. Take a nap, read or do other self-care behaviors. You don’t need permission.
One useful technique is “Nine at Nine.” This means that at 9 pm, look back at the day and list nine things you have done or experienced that day about which you feel positive. You can list anything: doing good things for yourself like flossing, accomplishing some small task you’ve been meaning to do, doing something thoughtful for another, sitting for a few moments taking in the beauty around you, trying some new experience, or earning a paycheck.
There is nothing magical about 9 pm or the number nine. Pick any time that you are likely to have a few minutes free to do this. Studies have shown that taking a few moments a day to note things that you feel good about can increase your mood, confidence and optimism.
5) Be a cultural anthropologist
In tense or anxiety-producing situations, sometimes the best course is simply to observe. Try this experiment: Approach a family holiday visit like an anthropologist.
From the moment you arrive, make mental notices of what you notice. How do people say hello or greet others? How do people express their needs or feelings? What are the norms and apparent expectations? What seems to be discouraged or forbidden and how are those things communicated?
In quiet moments to yourself during the visit, you can think about what you have observed. You can write in a journal or email or call a friend. What do you make about this particular “culture” you are visiting? What is healthy and unhealthy?
Notice, too, how the environment affects you, the observer. Especially notice thoughts with black-and-white thinking, self-criticism or negative labels about yourself. Would you let anyone else say such negative things to you? Then don’t say them to yourself.
The great thing about research projects such as this is that nothing can go wrong. Anything that happens is data from which you can learn. This can take the pressure and attention off yourself.
6) Have an exit plan
You have the right to take time to yourself or remove yourself from a conversation at any time for any reason. Though narcissists may approach it this way, your holiday is not a command performance for somebody else.
You can always look at your phone and say, “Excuse me, I have a work call I must take.” Or text, email, or call a friend or therapist.
You nearly always have more than one option when dealing with a narcissist, even if it may not initially feel like it. In the face of a narcissist’s demands, put downs or attempts to manipulate you, you can say no, excuse yourself, or say you have to think about it.
7) Know where to draw the line
In dealing with narcissists you may have to choose among imperfect choices. To help you make the best choices, think ahead of time about what you will tolerate and what you won’t. Know where you will draw the line. A key question to ask yourself is “At what cost?” How much is too much to pay or give up? Once you know that, it is easier to know when to set boundaries, speak up, let it pass, or walk away.
8) Agree to disagree
If things get heated, declare a holiday truce. Tell a family member, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Find distractions as needed, like a game or movie.
9) Don’t lose your voice
Being around narcissistic family members can be tough. If you notice yourself feeling small or as if you have no voice, take a few moments and answer these questions:
- “What is best way to take care of me and meet my needs in this situation?”
- “Is this how I want to treat myself or others?”
- “How do I want to be in the world right now?”
10) Use mistakes to learn
If you say or do things you regret, instead of berating yourself or feeling like you failed, ask yourself: What might I have said or done if I had not gotten triggered? What would I like to do or say next time if a similar situation comes along?
This is rehearsing, not rehashing. It takes you from regret to action.
11) Remember your rights
You can disagree, say no, or take time to think about requests or comments before responding.
Narcissists assume they know you but in truth you know yourself far better than they do. You know what is good for you. You are the best judge of that, not the narcissist.
12) It’s your choice
It may be worth having an honest conversation with yourself or a trusted friend, partner or therapist about whether you really want to be with family for the holidays.
You may want to list the pros and cons. Ask yourself: What is the worst case scenario if I go or don’t go? You may wish to shorten or adjust a planned trip or forego visiting altogether.
If you want less contact or a different kind of contact, you have the absolute right to seek that. Others may be upset, but that is not your problem. Remind yourself that you are not doing this to hurt anybody. Rather, you are choosing what will take care of you. That’s your right and that’s your job.
Holidays can be a time for connection and renewal. Thinking ahead and making sure to take care of yourself can help you connect and renew rather than disconnect and regress.
Gingerbread family by iofoto / Shutterstock
Turkey by Clickr-free Vector Images / Pixabay
Anthropologist by blambca / Shutterstock
Fighting Santas by mikeledray / Shutterstock
Tree ornaments by rawpixel / Pixabay
Neuharth, D. (2017). 12 Ways to Cope With Narcissists at the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism-decoded/2017/11/12-ways-to-cope-with-narcissists-at-the-holidays/