Healthy relationships require empathy, trust, reciprocity, vulnerability, compromise, accountability, and authenticity to endure the test of time. Unfortunately, in families where an individual is challenged with narcissistic traits (or worse), other family members may be “walking on eggshells” around this person, especially at anticipated holiday events.
As I have mentioned in previous articles regarding narcissistic abuse recovery, narcissism exists on a continuum whereby individuals may be challenged with occasional self-absorbed tendencies or may exhibit behaviors that fit the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality. The latter includes grandiosity, egocentric perception of the world, and provision of sources (people or achievements) that fuel narcissistic supply of a fragile, fractured self-concept. The family member with narcissistic challenges spends great amounts of time working to obtain and secure narcissistic supply. Relationships with family members are in one of three stages: idealization, devaluing, or discard. Those who display more entrenched patterns of narcissistic abuse create the most harm in relationships, including those with family members.
Either way, survivors of such relationships—whether familial, love, or work—have much to endure during the holiday season, when family obligations and pressures may make inevitable encounters with individuals with narcissistic challenges. Whether the abusive person is a parent, sibling, or extended family member, adult survivors of narcissistic abuse need and deserve to plan ahead to summon all attempts at self-protection and self-care.
The following are recommended tips to help adult survivors of narcissistic abuse through the holiday season:
- Set clear boundaries. You are not obligated to attend any gathering in which you do not feel emotionally or physically safe. In fact, it’s not recommended.
- Let go of any people-pleasing tendencies. You may disappoint some family members by setting clear limits, but ultimately you must protect yourself by creating safe and healthy boundaries.
- If it is impossible to avoid attending a gathering an abusive person is also attending, avoid conversation and keep contact with this person extremely limited. Focus on those who are safe. If possible, bring a few trusted friends to surround you with emotional support. Set a time limit on how long you will be there, and then leave at the designated time.
- Journal your emotions as they surface. The holidays often trigger memories of old hurts. See a psychotherapist (trained in narcissistic abuse recovery) to process these feelings.
- Self-care means not over-indulging in alcohol or caffeine. Try to eat healthy, balanced meals, and exercise to manage stress.
- Make plans to spend time with your safe circle of support during the holidays, and make those relationships a priority. Limit any engagement with an abusive family member.
- Leave any gathering in which abusive behavior ensues (excessive alcohol/drugs, verbal or physical abuse). Call the police if abusive behavior escalates.
- Host your own gatherings in which you can control who attends. Potlucks can help reduce the stress of hosting.
- Have creative and fun outlets encircle any difficult family gatherings. Create ornaments, bake your favorite desserts, or have a tree-trimming party with emotionally safe supporters. Create your own rituals and traditions from which you derive meaning, purpose, safety, and community.
- If abusive memories surface, devise a letting-go ceremony by lighting a candle and making a positive intention for healing moving forward. I cannot stress enough the importance of revisiting (or beginning) psychotherapy to heal from narcissistic abuse.
The following are book titles which have helped people I worked with in my private practice:
- The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller
- Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina W. Brown
- Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride
- Why Is It Always about You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss
- The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family by Eleanor Payson
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