Who can forget the amazing fragrance of baking turkey, fresh yeasty rolls and pumpkin pie wafting through the air like a blessing on Thanksgiving morning? My fondest memories are of Grandpa, glasses on nose and knife in hand, expertly carving the turkey. Surrounded by his four granddaughters, his big turkey-grease-smeared fingers shoved the most tender morsels of turkey into our waiting mouths like hungry baby birds.

But there are other memories too. Our hostess’ victim playing that soured every holiday. So now, I stay away. Thanksgiving may be a non-event, but it’s also peaceful…and I crave peace. Always have.

If you have chosen, or are somehow obligated, to spend Thanksgiving with your narcissistic relatives, here are a few clues for surviving that day. Because no matter how earnestly they inquire after our health over the turkey, appear genuinely caring over the stuffing or wreak of graciousness over the pumpkin pie…they’re still narcissists. Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity for them to charm all kinds of juicy details from you, the very stuff of future gossip.

But if you find yourself obliged to meet with your narcissists over Thanksgiving, here are some tips for survival that I learned from my mom.

My mom is an expert on maintaining contact with narcissists. I was about to say “while keeping your soul intact” but it wouldn’t be true. Her experience has proven that even setting boundaries and gray-rocking will not making a relationship with a narcissist all hunky-dunky. The narcs will hurt you, no matter whatcha do. They “gitchya” by hook or by crook.

That’s why I chose No Contact. But if you haven’t quite gotten to No Contact yet, or it isn’t an option for whatever reason, here’s some tips on how to survive Thanksgiving with Narcissists.

  1. Strategize: Like a wrestler or athlete planning, practicing and psyching-up for The Big Game, have your strategy all mapped out. Will you give the narc the “cold shoulder”? Avoid them at all cost? Grayrock, play stupid and/or lie to them? Divert the attention by keeping them talking about themselves? What? What’s your strategy? My father always said, “Failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Pretty good advice.
  2. Rehearse: Like you, I have balls of iron when putting the narcs in their place through glittering imaginative repartee in the safety of a hot shower. But when it comes to the actual meeting with the narcissist, I find myself falling under their mind control spell. I turn into a simpering little mealy-mouthed sweetie-poo-pie coward aka exactly what I was raised to be. That’s why rehearsing is so important.

    You probably have a good idea of the kind of intrusive questions and subtly snide comments they’ll fling your way, so rehearse like you’re making your Broadway debut. Like you’ll be tredding the boards of the Old Vic for the first time. Like Sir Laurence Olivier is attending your performance. (I could do this all day!)

    Plan your lines. Rehearse them. Memorize them. Tattoo them (backwards) on your forehead. Inscribe them on your soul in letters of fire.

    It works! You’ll be amazed to find yourself setting a boundary or rebutting an insult with those rehearsed lines as opposed to struggling to ad lib a strong response to the narcissist by flopping around like a fish out of water, red-faced, ears itching, yammering like a complete idiot and worse, sounding like a liar (which you aren’t; it always happens in moments when the narcissist says something unabashedly inappropriate, doesn’t it!)

  3. Plan Your Escape(s): My family always had a set time when we were going to leave holiday gatherings. Come that time, we were out the door, goodbye’s said, hugs given. No quarter asked and none given.

    But you may feel the need for several mini-escapes during the event. And I am the Master of the Mini Escape! For example, give yourself permission to spend some quality time with The Dog. Dogs like a little light conversation after a hard bout of begging during Thanksgiving Dinner. Escape the narcissist and enjoy some truly intellectual conversation with that most pure-hearted of species, The Dog.

    A book on introversion advises its readers to “give yourself permission to only speak to people six years of age and younger.” Kids are honest and you can confide anything to a baby. (They can’t talk yet!) Escape the narcissist and spend some time at the Kiddie Table.

    If you’ve exhausted the dog and kid escape hatches, there’s always the bathroom aka Nirvana from Narcissists. It’s embarrassing to admit how much time I’ve spent hiding in bathrooms during my socially anxious life.

But even those three tips are so, so, so complicated!

Why not just go No Contact? It’s so much easier.

Photo by Mike_fleming