What will he (or she) do this Christmas?

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

This is a rerun, but an important reminder for those who have to handle holidays with narcissistic people. Although the references are to a male narcissist, we all understand that wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, and other women can be narcissistic as well. I hope this helps you to have a blessed holiday. I am also including a response that I made to a comment. I think it will help with some perspective. And, finally, I want to encourage to to read (again?) the post on The Narcissist at Christmas. With some preparation of your heart, you might find the holiday to be a little more bearable.  These ideas won’t fit every situation, but you might be able to adapt some of the thinking to your holiday experience.  You are also welcome to ask for ideas from our little community in the comments.  Some of these folks have a lot of wisdom!

***This post is not about giving in to the N. It’s about finding ways to control the N or at least minimize the damage. Some people feel very stuck and very afraid. They feel they must appear for the holiday and dread what will happen. Maybe there’s some hint in this of some help, at least for one day. If nothing else, I want victims to understand that they may be able to find ways to manipulate the manipulator. Narcissists are easy to see as terrible and overwhelming forces. In reality, they are small people with big mouths and an inability to understand the hearts of others. Why should a family holiday be ruined by a narcissist? If there is some way to marginalize the N, I say that’s quite fair.***



Narcissists aren’t very good about holidays or family gatherings. Unless they can be the center of attention, they sulk or tell odd jokes or intrude on conversations or something strange. He might even flirt with your sister! Chances are the narcissist doesn’t know what he will do until he gets there.

You, on the other hand, can plan ahead. Play this like a game and you may find yourself in a better position to win. Here are some ideas:


Keep comparisons to a minimum. Family gatherings are often filled with comparisons of anything from kids to cars to dinner entrees. Comparisons are to the narcissist like gasoline is to the fire. If you can find some way to keep conversation away from comparisons, you may avoid some tense situations.

Remember that the narcissist needs attention and affirmation. To sit and watch others express love is painful for him. Love, for him, is being told how wonderful he is. Now, you can do this for him. You can tell some things to your family that build him up in their eyes. I know this will be hard for some to read, but remember your goal is to have a peaceful, even happy, time with your family. Be sure you tell these good things in front of him and don’t let him be put on the spot. If he embellishes the story or the accomplishment, don’t contradict him. Let him have his time.

Give him small victories. If he wins some things he may not need to win them all. Let him choose some of the dinner entrees or set the time for the meal. You know. Victory affirms him. When you think that he seems to want to change and control everything, maybe he would be satisfied with a few victories. Try to do things or talk about things where he has knowledge. Leaving him with your “know-it-all” brother to watch Jeopardy might be as uncomfortable for him as talking with Aunt Edna about how a turkey “should” be cooked would be for you. Never forget that the narcissist feels inferior and deals with that feeling by making everyone believe he is superior.

Tell him straight out that you want to have some time with your family and ask him what would be best for him. In other words, set your boundaries and inform him that they will be kept, but let him have a way to express his needs. This is tricky. He will see your boundaries as a challenge, so you may have to exaggerate a little in order to get what you want. However, he may say that he needs to go for a drive. Let him. Don’t worry about him. He will come back for you and you will have time with your loved ones.

In our frustration with the narcissist it is easy to forget that he or she has needs also. In fact, his needs are actually stronger and more uncompromising than yours. He is just very bad at dealing with his needs. If you want a happier holiday time, you might find success by playing his game. You don’t have to compromise yourself. One of your boundaries is that anything you do for him must never compromise who you are. But if you want to keep a relationship with him and with your family, you will probably have to find ways to meet his needs.

And, if at the outset he says that he has no intention of going with you for the visit, then go by yourself. You choose. What seems like an attempt to control you may be a statement of abject fear from him. He just has to say it in a way that doesn’t betray the fear.

I understand that some will have trouble reading this and I admit that I have had some trouble writing it. These people make us angry and we want to get back at them. But is your family visit the time for that? Probably not. You will have to carefully evaluate the things I have written above to see if they make sense for you. Maybe you can come up with something for your own situation that I haven’t mentioned.

I pray that your holiday time will be good.


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35 responses to “What will he (or she) do this Christmas?

  1. Cookie

    Thank you for this post – it is so timely. Dealing with a N parent at Christmas has been a problem at Christmas for many years. Around Thanksgiving, she always makes the pronouncement that “I won’t be celebrating Christmas this year – I will not be doing any Christmas shopping for anyone and I will not accept any gifts given to me.” If it were just my husband and I, this would be okay, but it is puzzling to my children. She claims that she is too old to shop for presents, but then tells us all about the presents she purchased for her friends. Last year, I decided to let her have her way with no resistance. I explained this to the kids and we showed up at her house with only a small basket of homemade treats that we could all enjoy that day. She then pulls out Christmas gifts. I can’t win because the rules of how we are allowed to celebrate Christmas are always changing. We also get the guilt trip of “your visits last about 20 minutes” when, in reality, we drive close to 4 hours, stay overnight and all day. It is her decision to live 3.5 hours away from her only grandchildren, but tries to make me feel guilty for the natural consequences of her choices. I do my best to honor her, but realize that we can never make her happy.

    • st

      Cookie, I hear you. My mom is the same at Christmas. Except my Mom goes overboard. One year my kids were in tears after six hours of opening gifts. It wasn’t fun. We requested a simpler Christmas to her and she cried that we were taking her joy away because she loves shopping with my Dad for presents. One year she agreed to one simple gift for each person and when we got to her house, there was a new camper waiting for us in the backyard with a whole to do of a homemade ice rink and skates and hot cocoa and music, etc. I asked her what was up and she whined, “Well, sue me for being nice!” I feel like I could bear my realationship with her if it weren’t for my children I have a responsibility to protect. Like when I overhear her saying to a three year old, “You can have this cookie if you tell me who you love more, meee or Gramma L?” We decided not to do Christmas with them this year and told them. My Mom said, “Well Dad and I will probably stay at a hotel by your house anyway so we don’t feel lonely.” What???

      • Ann

        “My Mom said, “Well Dad and I will probably stay at a hotel by your house anyway so we don’t feel lonely.” ”

        Wow! trying to lay on the guilt!

        As hard as it will be, I hope you don’t respond to that or give in in any way.

      • st

        Thanks, Ann for the encouragement. It still blows me away that there are people out there, like here, that understand!

  2. Laurie

    I have been reading Zephaniah 3:18-20 “The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you.” Although we don’t have the Jewish feasts as Christians, we do have other Holy days (holidays). I so look forward to the day when there will no longer be sorrows, and the oppression is gone and that we will be a gathered people. We can cling to this promise from our LORD. Amen and Amen! We have an opportunity to be a Light in the darkness that covers this earth and the thick darkness that is over the people. (Isaiah 60:2) I can do nothing without Him. O Lord, help me to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8) so that you may be glorified forevermove.

  3. Ann

    Just seems like more eggshell walking and ego stroking around an already insatiable attention glutton. Just reading those suggestions made me feel anxious.

    • Rachel K

      They make me feel anxious too Ann. I suppose Dave is suggesting some tactics which may be useful to some of us depending on our situation. The gospel does tell us to be “cunning as serpents and gentle as doves” which makes me think we can use our brains to soften the edges of our horrible experiences. I find this so hard to do, having been so thoroughly trained by my N husband over more than twenty years.
      The other difficulty is that each circumstance is different. Protecting children from the relationship is a duty for Christian and non believer alike. My situation is that my four children and me have all been emotionally and verbally abused and two of the children and myself have also been physically abused, the other children have seen all of this. Depending on the circumstance, boundaries may need to be tighter or looser. For me, my boundaries are set very tight at the moment, because family services and domestic abuse support are involved and my husband has left the home. I am answerable not only to my children directly but to others who are are supporting us as professionals.
      I think the most important thing is to star to toke back control of the situation, even if it is by one small step at a time. But never, ever, compromise on your safety or that of your children. God blesses us for protecting ourselves and then if and when needed.
      Blessing to you and all revaders here for a Holy and Peaceful Christmas, may Jesus make it wonderful for you!

  4. Gabrielle

    I still have trouble wrapping my heart around the idea that we should play mind games with family members who are so manipulative. The mind games, the verbal abuse leave me broken and unable to function. I can’t let go of feeling like “this is family-they should care whether I live or die or am in pain” but it’s a battle for their precious self-image every time.

    • MeganC

      I understand what you are saying, Gabrielle. I think that this blog is *tactical*, which is important when you are fighting a battle. If your goal is a peaceful evening, or something that benefits the greater good, then it is a small (or large) battle. If you gain victory, you will see that you really are the one who is in control, or is Spirit-led, rather than the N., who would like to control YOU (which is sinful to do and sinful to allow). Sometimes, we have to be tactical. We see it with King David (and other warriors) all the time in the OT. As long as it is a means to a godlier end. I hope this helps. Hugs, Gabrielle.

      • Ann

        “If you gain victory, you will see “that you really are the one who is in control, or is Spirit-led, rather than the N., who would like to control YOU”

        “As long as it is a means to a godlier end.”

        I feel confused by these statements; could you help clarify for me Megan. I still feel controlled by him if I’m finding ways to keep him from revealing his true self whether in front of family and friends.

        I don’t see how trying to keep the lid on his narcissism by xy or z makes for a godly end. Seems like a cover up, fake.

        Just seems more juggling and stress on our part.

      • I understand, Ann. I was thinking more in terms of “just getting through” until one can get away or manage a very limited relationship with serious boundaries. No one should be controlled by a N. The “godlier end” I was thinking of is a release. If I were planning to escape a N., and had to get through the holidays, I would take the advice spelled out in this blog post. Or, if I could not escape, I would be taking steps toward boundaries and this would help me, I believe. What I am trying to explain is that there is no sin in being tactical. In fact, it might feel empowering.

      • Becky

        I have found with my N husband that giving in, even in the slightest way, to his narcissism only fuels it. It is much easier for me to hold my own and have him sitting around pouting and sleeping (or pretending to be asleep) than to let him think he is in control and the center of any situation! Playing up to him only releases the N monster, and it is far easier to keep it contained than to let it out even for a moment or two to try to appease him. It doesn’t help him or anyone else to play the game with him. I have had to move past being concerned about his self-image.He is concerned enough about that for all of us!

      • MeganC

        I am sure that everyone is different, Becky. I am sorry for what you are dealing with. One resource that helped me, many years ago, is a book called “The 33 Strategies of War”. It is not a Christian book but it helped me to realize that different tactics are called for in different situations with different personalities. Blessings.

  5. Ann

    “Love, for him, is being told how wonderful he is. Now, you can do this for him. You can tell some things to your family that build him up in their eyes”

    It took me awhile to digest why the above suggestion bothers me so much. It’s because many of us have suffered abuse by a narcissist–be it verbally, emotionally, financially, spiritually or physically. Our families and friends for sure will think we’re lying if on one hand we want to reveal the truth that we’re being abused, but we’re building them up at family gatherings. Building them up feeds into the facade the abuser works hard to manufacture and all the happier will the abuser be if we help him in his endeavor.

    • joy

      i used to do this building up, just because I was still crazy about him. It was easy on holidays because he was doing the “superman” image to the max. Unfortunately, it did make people wonder when I finally left. They wondered why I left, when I’d pointed out his good points many times through the years. No one realizes how hard you are struggling to make sense of the good guy and the neglectful, hurtful guy, and also that, until you learn what narcissism is, you are trying hard to believe in his image and in your relationship. They only see the good guy. If I had it to do over, I would not stroke his ego so much in front of other people. I’m sure it probably did make that particular day go smoother, but it was confusing to people in the long run.

      • HDG

        Joy,glad you posted this! I did the same thing and regret it. In the short term it made the day easier. It bought more time with the “good’ guy and helped keep the “bad” at bay.I fell for the “charmer”, admired the truly talented man and felt sorry for the poor,broken boy inside (bad childhood)he’d described to me.I loved him and supported him”as a godly woman is called to do”.He,I now think,wanted to be worshipped-not loved.-nothing I did/said was ever enough. I finally ended it(he became abusive) my words of praise,love and support are being used against me.I am cast in the role(by N) of cruel,heartbreaking,rebellious,disrepectful while he portrays himself as devastated,sad,pious,physically ill due to heartbreak.I am called a liar by some and shunned by many of “our” friends as he is treated with compassion,respect and admiration.I pray for us both everyday. Still glad I’m out of it but the repercussions of the” relationship” still haunt me.

  6. Lee

    I just put the last present under the tree and stood back to take a look. I thought, wow, that doesn’t look like the usual amount of presents. I had gotten my son, (from a former marriage) a gift certificate to Wally mart, some pistachio’s, a sweatshirt & fleece lounging pants, and two flavors of incents. My best friend would be coming over, so there was a Gift certificate to Home Depot, a pair of cat socks, a cat candle holder, (She is a cat person), and some kitchen chopping mats. A few toys for my cat….
    Wow, what a difference………..

  7. Ann

    Thank you Megan for helping me understand.


  8. Dear Pastor Dave. I wanted to let you know that I came face to face with my ex-friend/narcissistic abuser this weekend. I wrote to you about her about a year and a half ago and you gave me wonderful advice on how to move past and heal from being in an extremely narcissistic relationship with this friend/neighbor. Anyway, I hadn’t seen nor spoken to her in 18 months. While we have been invited to several of the same parties over the past year, I always declined in order to not see her. This time, this past weekend, I decided enough was enough and I was going to the cocktail party we were both invited to. I am so incredibly glad I did. I truly saw her for what she is, a scared, anxiety filled little girl….living in a grown up’s body. I could literally feel her anxiety all night as she flapped around the room seeking attention and being loud and bawdy. She made it a point to say hello to me in a lame attempt to intimidate me and I gave her a direct hello back and ignored her for the rest of the night. I would never have been able to get to this point without your blog and education about narcissism. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. God Bless and Merry Christmas! Julianne

    Julianne McLaughlin – Weight Loss and Nutrition CounselorWhole New U – Weight Loss & Nutrition Counselingwww.facebook.com/WholeNewUwww.wholenewu.orgwww.saladforbreakfast.wordpress.comIt’s not “will power” that you need….it’s skill power!

    Date: Fri, 19 Dec 2014 13:05:24 +0000 To: mclaughlin50@hotmail.com

  9. Ann

    After re-reading MeganC’s and Rachel K.’s responses it brought this true encounter to mind:

    I was shopping in one of those discount warehouse stores when I was walking by an older man giving out food samples. I politely declined the food, but for some reason we began a conversation. He said something that had me thinking he was a Christian and he revealed he attended a well known church in town. At this time in my life with my abusive husband I was just starting to expose the abuse. I actually asked this total stranger what as a Christian he would counsel someone in my situation. At first he he was reluctant; he felt uneasy pointing someone to divorce. Then he asked if my husband ever put his hands on me when I said yes, that was a game changer for him. He then shared some wisdom from his mama.
    “Living with an abuser is like having your hand in the mouth of a lion. You must be careful to pet that lion (do some nice things for the abuser) all the while you slowly withdraw your trapped hand (get some education, training, get a job, make a safety plan for getting away, etc…) from his mouth. Then when your trapped hand is freed (you are ready to leave), kick that lion in the butt and run!!!

    (Unfortunately I slipped during a heated encounter and my intention to leave slipped out; the “lion” clamped down harder.)

  10. savedbygrace

    Dear Ann thanks for sharing your story- it is a very vivid and instructive word picture that his mama has passed on … sometimes the ‘handler’ needs to call in backup when working with a lion..things just get too risky, please stay safe, make a plan so you can get the help you need..

  11. Ann

    “What will he (or she) do this Christmas?”

    He goes to bed. 2 minutes later he comes back in the livingroom and sees me looking at the tags on the gifts he put under the tree.

    Him: What are you doing?”

    Me: What does it look like I’m doing?”

    Him: Looks like you’re *rummaging* through the gifts.

    Me: (now standing up) Only an abuser would use language like “rummaging” to describe me doing absolutely nothing wrong. Just go to bed!

    He walks away to the room I sleep in, and opens the doors (it’s the coldest room in the house [and tonight it’s 34 degrees outside]. The doors must stay closed to keep the heat in when its on.

    And this is only 1 hour into Christmas morning. THIS is what he does.

  12. LoyaltoJesus

    I find myself emotionally very controlled by my N husband. I was seeing my brother and his wife and young children for the first time in almost a year this week. My husband logged onto our bank account via his phone and there and then with my family present demanded to know what I had spent less than $3 on in a certain store. I refused to answer but I hate that he can steal my joy with his behaviour. I have to fight to get it back but precious time gets wasted.

    • Something that has helped me with all the questioning is answering with a question. If that’s not safe to do than disregard.

      For example:

      Me: “Why are you asking me that?

      Him: (there’s always some fumbling in his speech because he expects immediate compliance) “Because I just want to know?”

      Me: “Why”

      Him: “Just tell me what you bought!

      Me: “Do you always tell me what you’ve bought?”

      At this point he usually mumbles something and leaves the room. He doesn’t want to be accountable for what he does.

      • LoyaltoJesus

        Hi celestebella, thanks so much for your encouraging response, it is so kind of you. I am slowly learning how to challenge some of these things.

        What I find truly difficult is not then having my heart full of anger and hurt. I know he didn’t want me to be so happy to see my brother and behaved badly so my attention was on him and not someone else. I still get shocked by the lack of love (despite the empty platitudes – the evidence says otherwise) and the sadness can be consuming. Any advice on how to cope emotionally without ending up hard and cold?

  13. Laurie

    During our Christmas family gathering my N Mom made an announcement in front of everyone including her new boyfriend that “We’ll get along just fine so long as you do whatever I want”. It sends shivers down my spine. How sad.

  14. LoyaltoJesus,

    I’ve been right where you are for most of my married life and that’s a LONG time! It’s only recently that I see that the anger I felt was o.k., it was given by God as a warning. Once I stopped stuffing it and acknowledged it, it was easier to give it to God who will measure out perfectly what do with my husband.

    A lot of our sadness I think is generated by what another group calls “hopedom”, the state of perpetually trying to make things better and thinking that maybe he isn’t *that* bad. Loyal, trust he *is* THAT bad. We keep getting devastated by their behavior, because we keep treading the wheel of hopedom; time to jump off! The shock loses its power when we accept the reality that they are narcissists and there is nothing we can do to change or fix them. Time to invest in yourself and your children and anyone else who is respectful of you. I wish I could get back all the years wasted absorbing all that hurt; my health has suffered a great deal because of it and he is healthy as a horse!

    My husband is SO jealous of any happiness I have with family (and that includes our own children!) and friends. I use to dampen down my joy so he wouldn’t get angry. He conditioned me to do this with his bad moods and angry facial expressions while company was around, and then with false accusations after they left. My family said they noticed I had become withdrawn and a counselor once told me, “it’s like the real you take one step forward in our conversations and then 2 backward.” I don’t allow that anymore. Now I give full vent to my happiness while talking or laughing with my friends and family. By not allowing him to steal my joy with others, it keeps the cold and hardness away. Am I warm and fuzzy with him—no. I just don’t lash out and I don’t try to reason with him or get him to understand how much he is hurting me—-because sadly, he wouldn’t care anyway. I am realistic and that means knowing he is not to be trusted. He earned that by how he has conducted himself all these years.

    • UnForsaken

      celestebella, this is a wonderful point I hope to share with my sister. I do think each situation calls for different plans. For me, allowing my joy to show would be counter productive, although I can focus on it in my heart. But as their game plans change, so must our tactics!

      I am really impressed with your “hopedom”. This has a major effect on our whole lives. Health, personal grooming, self-esteem and efficacy, and even the choices we thought we made, are all effected by the N’s warped views and our view of them. I just got back from visiting relations who are also Ns and seeing how they are molding their kids lives. I still wonder how God made it possible for me to see, and yet these dear ones are getting more messed up. They can’t be blamed for it any more than I could…..but how I pray for their hopedom to be destroyed with real hope to take it’s place! ❤

      Thank you for your encouragement! Shock does lose it's power, and we become more courageous as we learn to turn to Christ alone for strength. My N is always acting as if the world is ending, but only God can do that and for our good.

      LoyaltoJesus, when I most desire complete trust and can't rely on any person, it becomes absolutely necessary for me to review God's goodness and blessings. Because Ns try to get the attention and harden us to the Real, I ask God to help me not to become grateful to the N, but only to Him. I forget this all the time, but when He blesses with a memory of past blessings, it melts my heart with Joy. Praying He will guide you directly to what opens your heart, as it can be different for all of us. If you are worried about it, and aware of the possibility of a frozen coldness, I think He must already be guiding you . Bless you, Sister! ❤

  15. My brother. I love him, but I really don’t understand this guy. Our dad is terminally ill, and it’s very likely he’s just had his last Christmas. It was small — just me and my folks. My bro and his family live out of town. What did he do this Christmas? NOTHING. He didn’t even call.
    We finally called him after 9 and he and his wife were watching TV and the kids had gone to bed. Like every year, we had to ask if they received our gifts. They did. Our gifts are never acknowledged, and this year was no different. My bro didn’t send me anything anyway, because he said he assumed we stopped. (His wife is the one who picks out the gifts, and they’re getting a divorce.) Years ago he called me on my birthday to say we should stop sending birthday gifts to each other. That’s fine, but it’s always on his terms, his decision, no discussion.
    Last year we got in a huge blowout fight because he told me to take care of mom though dad’s illness. He doesn’t acknowledge that I’m the one who’s here and I spend as much time as I can with them. My response was that I’d like for us to work as a team, as equals through dad’s illness and in general as our lives progress and we have to take on more responsibility for the family. He got really offended and angry and didn’t hear a word I said. Just yelled and yelled about all sorts of BS. He was angry because I asked him not to tell me what to do and let’s work together instead. And do you know what he’s done to help all this time? NOTHING!
    When he does come to visit, he arrives in the afternoon, eats supper and goes to spend the rest of the night with his high school buddy. Then leaves the next morning. Through the years, I have seen both my mother and father cry over him. And now, with the end of dad’s life on the horizon, nothing has changed.
    I do not get this guy. We have all made so many adjustments in our lives to make him happy, and we are greeted only with scowls and surliness all the time. He lies on the couch and doesn’t move over so my mom can sit down — so she sits on the floor!
    He is a teacher, and the kids just love him. He’s so nice! So understanding! Sooooo funny! The best teacher everrrrrr! (I’ve seen the online evaluations — nothing but gushing adulations from his students.)
    We do not know that guy. I fear that my dad will go, broken-hearted over his son, and that my bro will miss this opportunity in his life. There is so much sadness over it. There is a hole in the family where my brother is supposed to be. A void. Nothing. And he doesn’t seem to care.

  16. Lona Buggs

    This is wonderful advice for many occasions. Trips, vacations, dates, dinners, holidays and any occasion that requires our Nar to be in public or around guest, friends etc.

  17. Please pray for me. I am divorced and my ex is dating a missionary. The narcissist spouse is estranged, off to be with her mother, leaving me alone at the holidays. She knows this hurts me and so she does it. And while she’s gone she closes off all communication so I feel even more alone. I am thankful for my dog and cat, my books and fireplace. Most of all for a God who loves me all the time, even when I don’t feel loved. I never knew there were such horrible people in the world until I married one. My prayers for her seem to hit a block wall. All that ever changes is my heart, and that is OK, it is preparing me for heaven. I miss having emotional intimacy with another person, but trying to have it with a narcissist is like trying to love a rock. And I pray for all the others who have a narcissist in their lives. It is like have a thorn in the soul, having your heart attached to an emotional black hole.

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