What will he (or she) do this time?

It’s Narcissist Friday (a little early)  

(I rerun this post occasionally, thinking that it is 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.  Please understand that this is not meant to empower the narcissist, but to help you have a reasonable holiday.  This is about you and your family/friends.  I would not suggest these for normal use in a narcissistic relationship, but these things might help to make the narcissist’s presence bearable for you and others.  I hope this helps you to have a blessed holiday.)

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 love each other 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.

It didn’t seem right to post this after Thanksgiving.  I pray that your holiday time will be good.


Filed under Narcissism

34 responses to “What will he (or she) do this time?

  1. Lulu M

    This makes so much sense now!! It explains why holidays were always a disaster.
    Another piece to the puzzle.

    Thank you

    • JD

      I concur. The N in my life had a plaque in our kitchen that said “Christmas lives in my heart all year long” yet always found a reason to be hateful to my family and project her misery onto me every Christmas and Thanksgiving. This will be my first narc free Thanksgiving and for that I will give thanks!

  2. joniw

    my narcissists thinks she should be served her way like a little princess and my son-n-law does that. This year she worked at her job on thanksgiving; and not even A thank you for the dinner just serve me, feed me, and take care of my kids for me. This is just metaphorical but it is what her actions say. I trying to have her start having dinners and such at her house so she could learn a proper appreciation for what others do. I don’t confront much i just tell her in my house no cursing.

  3. joniw

    I just had to leave early this year cuz i can’t handle her self-fishness any more.

  4. chico

    Thanks so much for taking the time to give us some practical ways to deal with these situations. There’s a lot of general advice on the web about how to avoid narcissists – but it’s great to get some help like this on how to actually LIVE with one. Keep it up. And give us more!

  5. Pingback: Predictable? | Grace for my Heart

  6. I love this post. I am getting ready to spend some time with the family that I have been looking forward to for a long time. These are good ways to manage my N and hopefully avoid any issues so everyone has the best time possible. thanks

  7. Maggie

    This is very generous and proactive and kind of you Pastor Dave. A million thanks. I have many ideas and feel more open and confident about the possibilities…good or bad.

  8. Penny

    Gosh, Dave–I am having a truckload of problems with this one. Perhaps b/c I have gone “no contact” for nearly 2 years now. I am stronger, I have more discernment, more peace, less angst, more humor, less stress, more sleep, less irritation, more clarity, less confusion. I guess I am really struggling with the idea of “Betrayal of the Bystanders”, with the tendency of those who defend the abuser at the expense of the abused. Why must everyone suffer at the hand of the N? Why is it so important to include the abusive family member at the holidays? Why does everyone think it is normal to accommodate the Ns abuse, but never defend the victims? Why must I set myself up in the guise of small victories? “Small victories” turn into a referendum on my inadequacies, a forum for failure. (Note: one of the WORST Thanksgivings ever was the year that I hosted my entire extended family, made everything from scratch including rolls, pies, fresh whipped cream, yams, you name it, and in an altruistic moment of misguided grace, obliged my N’s offer to make the gravy while I sliced the roasted turkey & tried to get the entire meal on the table while it was still hot. God help me, but it turned into Mount St. Helen’s b/c I make my gravy with flour, and she demanded corn starch. Corn starch became center stage. Corn starch was sending me to hell. Horror of horrors, I had no corn starch, only flour, and she berated my incompetence to the entire family, including my dear, arthritic mother, who taught me to make gravy using flour. Corn starch was my nemesis. Corn starch became the litmus test for my personal worth. I wasn’t good enough to prepare a decent meal b/c I had no corn starch. Suffice it to say that I relieved my poor, pitiful N the horrific humiliation of having to make gravy with flour, and still managed to serve dinner to my family while it was still hot–including lump-free gravy. Made with flour…and giblets. My N then criticized the turkey stuffing, complained the coffee was too hot & she needed ice to cool it down, while the dining room was a bit drafty. Everyone was uncomfortable—except her. I took the opportunity to smile sweetly and asked her to please pass the gravy.) I guess the point here is that it is impossible to meet the needs of an N. They do not want a compromise, they want total control, total power, & free-wheeling abuse. The following year, we foolishly agreed to a small, quiet dinner at her home, but on TG morning my [disabled] son had a grand mal seizure, ended up in the ER, & admitted to the hospital for scans, tests and diagnosis. He was only 8 years old, very sick and very scared. And what did my evil N say then, when we called her from the ER? She yelled into the phone “What am I supposed to do with all this food???”. She was livid; How dare he have a seizure! How dare someone else be center stage! No–she could care less about the suffering of her own grandson; her biggest worry was leftovers. Leftovers… and gravy with cornstarch, no doubt. She never even asked if he was okay. Never. He was in the hospital for 3 days and she never even visited him. This is not about feeling inferior, but rather about feeling superior–so superior that even a child’s suffering is subordinate to her insatiable need for power and control and attention. This is evil and I will no longer entertain it. Please tell me where I am going wrong Dave, b/c I simply cannot bear this.

    • Penny, I understand.

      If you read the second to the last paragraph, I admit both that this will make some people uncomfortable and that it may not fit your situation. We get around 400 unique visitors each day at this blog. Most are silent. Most are here because of narcissism. Most of them struggle with narcissistic spouses. I know because I see the search terms that bring them here. Many of them welcome some small hint of help as they see another holiday approaching.

      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.

      No, it sure doesn’t sound like anything in this post hit your situation. By all means, stay away if you can get away. These people are crazymakers and just plain mean. If you have been separate for two years, good for you. Life has to be better from that distance. I grieve for you and I understand how the pain comes back so easily. But, please, back the truck up and dump the load. Maybe this one helps someone else.

      • Penny

        Yes sir! I trusted you to have a meaningful response,& it was “safe” for me to ask, b/c of what you provide here for so many. That truck has dumped!

    • Cecilia K

      Penny, what disgusting behavior on your mother-in-law’s part. I almost cringe just reading it, yet I also laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of her getting so worked up over corn starch. I know it obviously wasn’t funny to you–at least and especially at the time. I remember experiencing a few ragings/tongue lashings over ridiculously minute issues as well with my ex-boyfriend. Your brain just can’t compute the absurdity of the situation, and you almost think you are on Candid Camera or something – except there is no producer who comes out and says – Just Kidding!

  9. Fellow Survivor

    Penny, that lady is crazy.

    • Penny

      You have no idea…bet then again, I know you do. It really IS enuf to drive you mad, especially when “betrayed by the bystanders” who believe the lies.

  10. Thankful

    Dear Grace for my Heart:
    This letter to you has been a long time coming! This week as I reflect on the many MANY things I am thankful for, it must be said how THANKFUL I am for this website, and the sound advice I have received from you.
    Your words, with a healthy dose of God’s Word, have been my sole/soul tool for survival : )
    I began reading your website around this time last year. Like so many other subscribers, I too fell victim to a narcissist – a textbook narcissist to the bone. In fact, had I not found your wisdom here, I’d probably STILL be blaming myself, questioning my every move, and banging my head against the wall because I could never get anything “right” for him. Now I know it has a name.
    My experience was not a loved one or a spouse. No, mine was a boss. A self-proclaimed “editor” to be exact. An editor with, no doubt, the worst case of NPD I’d ever encountered. This was (and likely still IS) a man who had no problem lying through his teeth to make himself feel important, and do it with a smile on his face every single time, no matter whose job or reputation he put at risk (which happened OFTEN) His lies were the only reason he got his job in the first place, not to mention how he lasted the near-year he did. Narcissists are the world most perfect liars, let me tell you.
    A tremendously judgmental and prejudiced character, his work (should have) involved a tremendous amount of typing, writing and detail. But he’d always find a way to get others to do his work for him—then BLAME the very same hard working reporters for why he could never reach a deadline on time. Sad, when you consider you’re working around some hardest working reporters in the business, caring very much about keeping their newspaper jobs when print media is suffering greatly. But this editor didn’t care. Not one iota. I watched workers (myself included) bust backs all hours of the day and night, seven days a week, loosing what few hours we had with their family and friends, just to do this man’s work for him.
    He was the center of his own universe, and his own worst enemy,
    I could spend hours going through the infinite times this man lied to me– and ABOUT me– and to other co-workers as well just to cover his own failures. But I won’t spend forever and a day going into all the details, as it appears EVERYTHING you have addressed here is EXACTLY what I went through.
    I didn’t last very long with the position I am sorry to say, resigning after only four months (I’ve been a reporter for over 13 years) I was one of many resignations under this editor (who couldn’t even type by the way, Imagine that) As much as I loved reporting (and am still reporting today, quite happily in fact!) I could no longer stomach being in the same room with this man. My skin literally crawled around him. I refused to be in the building alone with him, although that “isolation” you speak so much of is EXACTLY what he demanded more than anything from me (shudder) It was sickening. Every movement, every word, every breath this man took was a corrupt LIE while using others around him for his own survival.
    He was fired thankfully, a mere two months after my resignation. I wish I could have stuck it out a little longer. But if you know the narcissist, every single day around them feels like a year-long suffrage. I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
    Of course I feel completely vindicated by his termination, and I’m not usually like that when you consider just how many people are unemployed these days—in print media to boot. This man was an excellent liar to the powers-that-be in publishing, while we reporters were “mere mortals” for his own selfish, perverse satisfaction. A Narcissist is truly the most disturbing character I’ve ever encountered in this world. I
    I used to wonder in my line of work, how a criminal literally caught in the act on surveillance camera or some other definitive PROOF, can look others in the face then LIE and DENY everything.
    Well, now I KNOW.
    This website helped me survive it all, and still do this day. I wish I could tell you I had a happy ending with my employment there, and in some small ways I did. I made lasting friendships and “sources” for my continued reporting, and even managed to save some money during this nation’s worst recession in recent history. I wished I could’ve hung on longer than those few months, hat9ng to leave behind the great co-workers I’d grown to love. But I’m here to tell you that God has BLESSED me tremendously! I am happy and still writing, reporting, editing and publishing for a completely different company now, and loving it! God is WONDERFUL.
    But can you believe I actually find myself this Thanksgiving feeling SORRY for this man who, last I knew, was tossing weekly circulars from his car .. Oh my how the mighty have fallen! Not that delivery is a bad position at all (it’s flexible work and can pay very well!) But keep in mind that this was/is a man who THRIVED on his title as an “Editor” but whose only skillset was attending free luncheons where a Senator or Representative was the keynote speaker. This editor would eat his fee lunch, rub shoulders with the elite, and then actually order another free boxed lunch to go—tacky! I swear he used his title of “editor” to get more free lunches than any other person I know, LOL!
    Anywho—I can try to make light of the situation and joke about his “free lunches” all day long, but at the end of the day I can’t imagine what life must be like for this man— divorced, in his ladder 50s, his own daughter estranged from him, fired from virtually every job he’s ever held in a VERY small area to boot.
    Your website’s knowledge was the single tool of my survival. That, and a LOT of prayer during those sleepless nights too. And I write you today to say THANK YOU for your wisdom in this matter. Until someone has actually worked, lived, or loved side-by-side with the Narcissist, they will never understand the parasitic brutality, evilness, and vindictiveness they pour into you.
    Thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart, truly. Despite my curtness when it comes to the Narcissist, PLEASE have a blessed and safe Thanksgiving.

    • Penny

      Amen, Thankful, and “ditto that”! This site also has been my safety net & life line over the past year as well, and I am eternally grateful!

      • Fellow Survivor

        Penny, you are a lifeline to many of us as well. Dave has done a really good thing by providing a “Christ” centered vent for all of us. Check my next post for where our hearts need to be centered and focused on.

    • me :-)

      Have you ever seen the British comedy TV series Absolutely Fabulous, about two narcissistic women? Your description of the editor exploiting freebies is a stock joke there.

  11. Thankful

    Per my above post in my rush, I have to LOL at my many typos .. should have edited it myself, LOL! Sorry ’bout that!

    • UnForsaken

      I understand any embarrassment from typos; reference Mine! ( Wry smile!) Raised with a perfectionistic N, and not being able to correct some big mistakes, I find it helpful to go back and edit my journals even if I’m the only one seeing them. But it’s also a great therapy for me to just let go. This has been one of the only places people have taken me and all my mistakes and Loved. They have been there to communicate, listen , and learn . I can’t be more thankful !
      Welcome, Thankful ! Love your name!

  12. Recovering

    So true Dave. I am trashed and exhausted from playing the game with my NPD mother yesterday for the Holiday. It kept peace at the time. I just pay a horrible price in my body and emotions because sometimes, frankly, I just despise her.

  13. Recovering

    Sometimes you can’t get away from the N. We can’t divorce our parents and the honor principle that God sets forth in His Word is important to me. Important enough to take the hit from her when it’s unavoidable…like the holiday. I thank God that He has enabled me to love and be true and authentic and transparent. My mother will never know the freedom of that no matter how much she hurts me.

  14. Whisper

    It’s so encouraging to know that others understand the pain & suffering we endure. This Thanksgiving, my survival plan was to distance myself from my N husband as much as possible during our three days with relatives. When he took over the conversation and held relatives captive while he expounded on his great accomplishments I just left the room. Others would get so tired of listening to him that they would get up and leave. He’d follow them around and keep talking. I felt particularly sorry for one relative who felt she must be polite. Once he found his “supply” he just trapped her. Relatives would make small conversation and express their opinion about something. He would jump in and take over the conversation.

    A group of us went shopping together. As soon as we got in the store he started singing real loud & talking real loud. He just couldn’t stand the idea that we were not focused on him. We even got a show while he put gas in the car. Of course, my credit card was used to pay for the gas while he entertained everyone. You might expect this behavior from a young person, but he’s 72 years old. This behavior seems to get worse as he gets older.

    Today he’s exhausted – probably from trying to put a show on the whole time. At least I knew what to expect and made the best of it. I’m so appreciative for this blog as it gives me strength and encouragement. Thank you Pastor Dave for a timely post.

    • Recovering

      Whisper: I think the older they get the worse they get also. I think it is because they have gone through so many people a sort of desperation sets in to get the NPD supply

      • UnForsaken

        Agreed, Recovering and Whisper. Mine is constantly making nasty references to age, his own and others. It becomes a another tool in their hands, even when they hate it so much. I’ve tried extra hard to have a healthy out look about any place in my life, trying to loose his power over my thinking, but it takes continual reminders. Love the book “Gift From The Sea” by Ann Morrow Lindberg, because she really knew what it was like being close to a N and needing space.

  15. Struggling

    I have recently found this website after searching for some answers. My situation is different in that the relationship is not with my husband but with his mother. Just in the past few weeks we have both done a lot of reading about NPD, and his mother fit the description to a T. His brother is the golden child, and my husband is the scapegoat (for nearly 60 years).

    All of this came to a head because she, in her 90’s, developed a terminal illness which necessitated several visits (we previously had limited contact and very firm boundaries). She died recently, and the funeral was very difficult to attend because the person described was so unlike the one we both had known for many years – “an angel”, etc.

    All of this has brought up much anger, sadness, grief (over what could and should have been), and frustration. No one in the family would believe the truth about how she treated her scapegoat son all his life. The only relief we obtained was from limited contact. And now the two other siblings are continuing the N treatment. His father is alive and has dementia, but he was a willing participant in the N behavior and happy to administer physical abuse.

    It is hard to get to a place of forgiveness, since there was never any acknowledgement of wrongdoing. There is a desire for revenge, even though we know that is wrong and not helpful. We are both struggling with honoring God and living to His glory in the midst of this.

    Thanks for a place to share these thoughts. God bless all of you who have your own struggles.

  16. Fellow Survivor

    Struggling, I can not comment on your situation, but I can tell you this, you are not alone. I am very familiar with the N parent, the golden child, and the other scapegoat children. I really don’t know if this will help or not, but she really did help me, read the “narcissists suck Blog” written by the great Anna Valerious. She was the scapegoat, her sister the golden child, the mother was the N, and the father aided and abetted the abuse and excused the N moms behavior.

    see this link: http://narcissists-suck.blogspot.com/2007/09/betrayal-of-bystanders.html

    Also see all of these posts: http://narcissists-suck.blogspot.com/search/label/narcissistic%20mothers

    This lady does not post any further, but her words and experiences are there for our edification.

    You are welcome and encouraged to post all of your thoughts on this site. We are all safe people who are hurting too. And Dave has a lot of wisdom and incite to share with us, not just about N behavior but also about Grace and God’s salvation for us. It really is uplifting, especially in times of distress.

  17. Struggling

    Thanks to all who replied for the encouraging words and helpful links. I think that the betrayal of bystanders really does make the pain worse. It is helpful to have in words the experiences of others to validate that we are not crazy!

  18. SM

    No we are not crazy. That’s what they do, project themselves onto us. They do not show remorse, forgiveness, grief, guilt, repentance, none of it. If that’s not crazy I don’t know what crazy is. To have empathy is what makes us human, even non-believers possess that.

  19. Lene

    I just read this post and I have to say, I can’t believe how many holidays I did just what this post suggested. I made things about him. I gave up time with others just to keep him happy. I did exactly what he wanted to make Thanksgiving perfect (I cooked for his 40+ relatives for TG every year for about 5-6 years). I only battled him about the gravy (I refused to used canned gravy–how dare I make home made! He was afraid I’d mess it up and he wouldn’t have gravy).

    But, hindsight is a beautiful thing. I look back on it now and I realize that I always found the Thanksgiving holiday stressful, but I blamed the other relatives for that stress. In fact, it was my ex that made it a strain. I was so worried about messing up his favorite holiday that I would do ANYTHING to make it perfect.

    Then, when my favorite holiday, the one with my family came along, we all (my whole family) bent over backwards again to make things special for HIM. He wanted us to incorporate HIS family’s traditions. Christmas was about the gifts (to him) not the spiritual aspects (for my family) or the traditions like carols and candlelight. Christmas morning had to be a production (lots of gifts, many oohs and ahs). AND when he received his gifts, he was always gracious, but promptly returned EVERYTHING he got for something “more appropriate.” EVERY.SINGLE. THING. EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. He never realized the hurt this caused everyone.

    Now, holidays are joyful and relaxed. He’s getting married on New Year’s Eve (His third time around. I was number 2) I wish them nothing but the best, and I won’t shed a tear. My holidays are much more special now than they have been in years.

    • I need to reconsider posting this, I guess. No matter what I write, someone’s pain is so fresh and so intense that they miss the point of the post. My intent was to communicate that you can choose to play the game for your sake. Nothing of this post is meant to encourage people to cater to the narcissist. Lene, you make an important point here. Nothing you do will ever be enough. If your goal is to appease or please the narcissist, you will lose.

      No, this is about you. This is an attempt to give you permission to manipulate the narcissist for a change. Playing the game just might allow you to have some peace, even fun, during a holiday. But bending over backwards to make sure the N has a good time will never benefit you.

      Someday I will rewrite this and maybe it will be more clear. At the same time, I am very much aware that years of pain and frustration come back with certain triggers, and a suggestion that you take steps to make your N comfortable may be that trigger no matter what else I say. For that, Lene (and anyone else that was frustrated by this post), I am sorry.

      • Lene

        I wasn’t frustrated by this post at all. I am still in the process of realizing how much I was manipulated, and it’s good for me to see those moments for what they were. I’ve been told by my ex that I am not a nice person and that people don’t like me. Each time I can reflect on those moments of manipulation, it helps me to climb back out of that hole of self-doubt that he dug for me. Through the process of divorce and recovery, I’ve learned that I have so many friends, so many people who do care about me that I am truly blessed by the experience.

        Please don’t change a thing in this post for my sake. Each post you write has contained some wisdom and healing for me, and I thank you for it!

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