Surviving the Holidays Amid the Narcissism of a Family Member

mother daughter family conflictHealthy 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Self-care means not over-indulging in alcohol or caffeine. Try to eat healthy, balanced meals, and exercise to manage stress.
  6. 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.
  7. Leave any gathering in which abusive behavior ensues (excessive alcohol/drugs, verbal or physical abuse). Call the police if abusive behavior escalates.
  8. Host your own gatherings in which you can control who attends. Potlucks can help reduce the stress of hosting.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in Pleasant Hill, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • dawna

    dawna

    December 9th, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    Every year I try not to let it bother me that my parents still dote on my younger brother like there is no one better on this earth.
    Obviously I am still quite bothered by it :/

  • Frank

    Frank

    December 9th, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    It used to be that I tried to keep up with the Joneses you know, everything had to look perfect and put on this show I guess. I have started trying to let some of that go, to just be myself and do the things that I like… and I am much happier for it.

  • Alicia

    Alicia

    December 10th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    Yep, now I have a gathering every year at my house with the people that I actually WANT to hang out with. Huge difference, huge relief!

  • judy

    judy

    December 10th, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    Narcissism can have many outlets or be co-occurring with other distressing personality problems. One common problem is the need to control other people through manipulation or intimidation (the original meaning of witchcraft, btw). The “drama” that these people create, while still maintaining their persona of being the saint in the equation, can be devastating to those people who have been impacted by their machinations and poison influence. Many of them are sociopathic (i.e., no moral compass in spite of assurances to the contrary). Self-care is paramount. It cannot be over-emphasized. Setting boundaries usually limits interaction; but, if the person insists on making life difficult, it may be time to walk away.

  • Liz

    Liz

    December 10th, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    I was in a romantic relationship with a narcissist. It truly was an experience that taughat me so much. I never knew what it was until I did some online research. Can I ask how does one get over it completely?

  • Britt

    Britt

    December 12th, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    liz, me too. I’ve heard there are stages we go through and I don’t mean the grieving stages. This is one of the toughest experiences of having been in a relationship with a narc! It’s emotionally draining and I feel so sad. So many confusing feelings. At times you feel empowered and better off and than other times you feel lost and miss them. So many lessons is right! Please if anyone can mention, besides therapy, of ways to move on, I’d greatly appreciate it!!!

  • Liz

    Liz

    December 14th, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    Brit,
    I could get into details verbatim if you want me to. I dumped him then tried to reach out as I felt somewhat sad and I wanted to try again. That was anot her nightmare!! Feel free to respond back or I can email you to privately yet not sure how that can occur…Liz

  • Britt

    Britt

    December 15th, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    Liz, I understand what you mean and what your going through. They make you regret being a genuinely kind person Bc that is who we are. They feed off of us like the snakes they are. Once they bit and poisoned us, ate us, they move on to the next innocent prey. I no longer speak or see my narc as he gave me the silent treatment (as he has done in the past) but this time I’m remaining silent back. I think this is gods way of protecting me from him. He was dangerous. Yes Liz you can message me. I am still hurting and went on dates to try to move on but I am not ready as it turns out. Clark, your right. All of the narcs are suffering somehow, someway. That is why it is harder for us compassionate and empathetic types get drawn in to help instinctively with heavy consequences.

  • Dee

    Dee

    December 24th, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    Britt me too. I know how you feel. I felt the same. The beginning of our relationship…amazing 5 months. He was all I ever wanted in a man…then I got pregnant and like a light switch something changed. I couldn’t figure it out til I somehow stumbled across narcissism..it all made sense. But for as many times as I should’ve let go after abuse, verbal emotional and physical my carrying side came out. He’s been through a lot as well, he just needs shown love….thing is is he wanted love his way, when he wanted it. Last night was my final straw and I’m completely relationship fine with him. I can’t do it anymore.

  • George

    George

    December 10th, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    In the old days I would turn to drinking to manage the holidays. I don;t know if it was the actions of other people that would set me on edge or just my own desire to please and then feel disappointed, at any rate it was never a pretty time of year for me. I have given up drinking and now have a hard time coping because I never learned any other techniques for dealing with unpleasant situations. I am constantly on edge and want to drink to sort of smooth out those edges but know that this would not be the right thing for me to do. I can’t avoid the holidays all together even though there are days that I sure do wish that I could.

  • serene f.

    serene f.

    December 11th, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    We tried something new last year and it worked so well! Now we all live fairly close together so this would not work out if you had people living so far away from one another. Anyway we did what we called a progressive dinner, where we went to the first house for appetizer, the next for the main course (and everyone contributed a dish), and then to the last for dessert. It was so much fun, something new for most of us, and something that I think could easily be changed up from year to year to make it even more fun! And I think just the travel and the newness of it all didn’t make for so much snippiness either.

  • jessa

    jessa

    December 12th, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Sometimes you can only grin and bear it, and be thankful that you have family… and that the holidays only roll around once a year.

  • Suzanne H

    Suzanne H

    December 15th, 2014 at 2:12 AM

    Thank you for this very helpful article. It is refreshing to hear a professional give permission for the boundary to be whatever it takes to be emotionally safe — even if that means not getting together. Even over the holidays.

  • Lila

    Lila

    December 15th, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    I try not to let things like this bother me like they did at one time. I think that there are far too many more important things for me to focus on that petty family members bothering me that I see once a year.

  • Clark

    Clark

    December 15th, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    Always remember too that behind all Narcissistic behaviour is a very anxious part of that person who has been hurt in some way too, hence the need to control. Just to keep in mind…

  • Dee

    Dee

    December 24th, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    This is what I struggle with. I just lay night got out of an abusive narcissistic relationship and I’m a very caring person. My struggle is knowing he was hurt most of his life but that doesn’t give him the right to hurt me, especially when I was willing to do the long haul with him.

  • Kaye

    Kaye

    December 16th, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    Back in the day a prime Narc was working her way up the ranks to management. She is now my boss. Yikes! Any advice? I’m terrified. I like my job!

  • Darlene Lancer, LMFT

    Darlene Lancer, LMFT

    December 29th, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Setting boundaries are helpful in with anyone abusive any day of the year. Internal boundaries are important too, so we don’t react or take what is said as truth about us. Healing the wounds of the past can help a child of a narcissist individuate despite growing up without boundaries.

    Darlene Lancer, LMFT
    whatiscodependency.com

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    January 22nd, 2015 at 8:54 PM

    I am glad this article has been helpful. Working with a trained clinician who knows how to help people through narcissistic abuse recovery is essential for healing. I offer psychotherapy/life coaching/telehealth. Please contact me through my profile if interested in learning more. Sincerely, Andrea Schneider, LCSW

  • Karen

    Karen

    April 24th, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Thx for this article. I have a narcissistic younger sister who blames me for why we can’t communicate. Forget about eggshells, it’s more like shattered crystal which leaves you bleeding and then you get punched again because she thinks you have no right to be hurt since you caused the problem.
    It has been a very painful journey with this sibling who keeps reminding me I am the problem and I need help.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    May 3rd, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    @Karen–my heart goes out to you. I hope you can get the support and healing you need and deserve. Andrea

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