Dealing with Abuse

Dealing with Narcissistic Parents During the Holidays

Dealing with Narcissistic Parents During the Holidays | Hopeful Panda

The holidays are just around the corner, so I decided to write this impromptu post on dealing with narcissistic parents or other toxic family members during the holidays and other events.

Holidays are intended to be full of love, joy, and gratitude. Traditionally, people picture a family spending time, eating, and celebrating their holiday traditions together. And honestly, I usually look forward to the holidays. But I know not everyone does, especially if you’re dealing with narcissistic parents during these times.

For most children, holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even Halloween are something they look forward to all year. But for children with narcissistic parents, that might not necessarily be so. It might be a time when they’re reminded even more so that they’re not worthy of love.

The holidays are usually another tool used by narcissistic parents to guilt trip or manipulate their children into doing what they want. “It’s Christmas, you better be nice or you won’t be getting anything” or “I expect a present from you”.

Despite how much “bad” was in my childhood, I was pretty lucky in the sense that I had extended family who I got to visit to spend the holidays with. It’s the rare moments in my childhood that I felt like a “normal” kid. So the holidays have a special place in my heart.

But like with every interaction involving narcissists, it doesn’t always go as hoped.

That One Holiday Dinner…

It’s already hard dealing with narcissistic parents at home. It can somehow be even harder when other people are present. They find ways to hide their abuse or make it as subtle as possible that other people witnessing abuse will either not see it as so or justify it away.

I remember a holiday family dinner I went to with my mother. My mother’s tricks began immediately. After an exchange of pleasantries with a group of older ladies, she came over to me and whispered, “one of them asked why you got so fat.”

I’ll never know for sure if what she said was true or not. But it didn’t matter. She already planted the seed to make sure I’ll be on edge and have a terrible time.

So my mother kept talking about me to everyone. “My daughter is so smart she doesn’t need to study at all! She literally just lays at home all day doing nothing and still gets straight As. That’s how she gained all that weight.” She laughed, like I was invisible.

What maybe sounded like compliments to other people were insults intended to destroy my self-esteem. It was also a bait for me to react negatively so she can be like, “See? I told you she was dramatic, disrespectful, insert-bad-adjective-here.”

Everyone was laughing with her. I didn’t find it funny at all. All I heard, which she intended for me to hear, was that I’m fat and lazy and that I don’t work hard. She made it seem like I don’t even try. She was also just indirectly bragging while putting me down, hinting that I get my “smart ” genes from her. So really, I’m “smart” because of her but fat and lazy because of me.

I was getting frustrated. I asked her to please stop as politely as I can. But she went on and on, laughing, while giving me the evil side eye. Everyone else was laughing, too. At some point, tears just started streaming down my face, non-stop, like a faucet.

Everyone stopped laughing and looked at me. I couldn’t stop no matter how much I tried. I wanted to scream. I ended up spending the rest of the night standing outside, waiting to go home. Yeah, that was not a fun memory…

Unfortunately, as much as we try to be on our best behavior, narcissists have a way of pushing our buttons. They can somehow make it seem like we’re the crazy ones while looking completely innocent.

If you’ve experienced any family gathering, special occasion, or event with your narcissistic parent, you probably know this all too well. You know the facade they put on when other people are around, acting like the perfect parent while taking little “playful” jabs at you that only you’d notice.

They want to get a reaction out of you so it can further support their story of how you’re ungrateful, disrespectful, dramatic, or crazy like they always said you were. Meanwhile, all they’re doing is trying their hardest to be a good parent to you.

On top of that, there’s almost always someone who would tell you how great your parent is or find a way to lecture you about being kinder to them because “you only have one mother” or “she loves you”.

How to Deal with Narcissistic Parents During the Holidays

Not everyone wants to or has the privilege to completely avoid the toxic people in their life. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough not to have to deal with them every day. But there are usually times when we might have to see them, whether it’s during the holidays, family gatherings, or other special occasions.

If you have the choice and you want to, you can go no contact or avoid the occasion altogether. But maybe you made an agreement with them that you’ll at least see them on certain days. Or maybe you want to show up for someone else and they just happen to be there. Or maybe you actually just want to see them because they’re still family.

Your reason is valid regardless of what it is. However, it’s important to prepare yourself for the toxicity you’ll likely face.

When you don’t see or interact with your narcissistic parents much, you might get caught off guard by their behavior once you see them again.

While being on guard and high alert isn’t necessarily healthy, it’s necessary to ensure you’re protecting yourself, just as long as you have to deal with them. Because once they are back in your life, even for just a moment, it’lll feel like they were never gone and that you’re once again in their grasp.

So if you will be seeing your narcissistic parent or another toxic family member this holiday season or for whatever other occasion, here are some steps you can take.

Mentally prepare yourself

It’s normal to feel anxious about having to see your parents again. You probably wonder, what are they going to do this time to somehow ruin the night?

You might expect the absolute worst of what’s going to happen. But realize that that mindset could be your downfall. So try your best to remain calm. Remind yourself that they are not in control of you. You are in control of yourself.

It’s possible that they won’t do anything. If so, take the chance to enjoy the occasion rather than spend it worrying about them.

Also, remind yourself that they can do whatever they want to hurt you or get a rise out of you. You can’t control their behavior. But you can control how you respond to them.

Mentally prepare yourself for those scenarios. What steps can you take if they make you angry, scared, upset, or embarrassed?

Consider the steps laid out here on how to healthily deal with your emotions.

Don’t go alone

If possible, don’t go to these occasions alone, especially if it’s full of people from your narcissistic parent’s side of the family. In my experience, they are usually a hivemind. They will side with your parent if any sort of conflict comes up. Or they’ll be those people that continuously tell you just how great your parent is and why you should treat them better.

So if possible, go with someone on your side, whether it’s a partner, friend, or someone who is aware of the toxicity and can be there to support you. Having a friend there helps immensely. They can be the voice of reason that reminds you that you aren’t stupid, worthless, or awful. They can also help you escape the situation if it comes to that.

Learn their tactics and how to deal with them accordingly

If you know your narcissistic parent or other toxic family will be there, remind yourself of their behavior. Learn how to identify their manipulative or abusive tactics so that when it happens, you can deal with them accordingly.

Maybe they’ll make you feel guilty for only seeing them during the holidays. Maybe they’ll criticize you and pick you apart. Or like me, maybe they’ll keep talking about you to everyone else to get a negative reaction out of you. Either way, as hard as it is, try not to let them get to you. Remind yourself that it is their problem, not yours.

Learn various techniques on how to deal with narcissistic parents that can also apply here.

Interact with them as little as possible

Just because you’re both there doesn’t mean you have to interact or talk.

You can exchange pleasantries out of politeness and share superficial conversations like the weather and whatnot. But if it gets any deeper than that, you can switch the subject. Or you can make an excuse to leave the conversation.

Tell them you’d like to check up on the person that came with you, catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while, take a phone call, or go to the bathroom.

Focus on the good things there

While you’re sort of avoiding your parent or dodging their antics, try to distract yourself with the good things that might be present.

Enjoy the food and drinks there. Catch up with family or friends you haven’t seen in a while. Immerse yourself in fun activities that might be happening.

Pause from time to time and breathe

It’s tough needing to interact with an abuser that’s still in your life, especially during the holidays when you’re supposed to be having fun. You might feel so overwhelmed that you don’t realize you’re about to break down or freak out. So remember, pause from time and time to take a breather.

Assess how you’re feeling. If you’re fine, great! But if not, think about what you can do to feel better. Maybe you need some fresh air outside. Maybe you need a drink. Or maybe you just need to distract yourself from focusing too much on your parent.

You don’t have to stay for the whole thing

If possible, you don’t have to stay for the whole duration of the event. Just go there for appetizers, the main course, dessert, or for a specified amount of time. Give yourself a curfew and make it clear when you RSVP or arrive. If you need to, make excuses that you have other obligations.

That way, you can cut short the time you’ll have to deal with your parents and have more time to do what you actually want to do.

It’s okay if you need a break

If there’s ever a time when you need to walk away from a situation, kindly excuse yourself and do so. You don’t have to force yourself to carry on a conversation or interact with someone you don’t want to. And you don’t have to put up a facade that you’re okay if you’re not. It’s okay to excuse yourself if you feel like you’re about to cry or lash out.

Once you are away, take a deep breath and do something to soothe yourself. Go for a walk in nature. Listen to some music. Find ways to distract yourself from what you’re feeling. Or work through it if you’re in a good enough place to.

Take some me-time afterward

It’s not easy dealing with narcissistic parents, even if it’s only occasionally. That might make us dread the holidays or other special occasions that are meant to be fun and enjoyable.

You don’t necessarily have to look forward to the holidays. You don’t have to like and partake in all the customs and festivities. But you can make it something special. You can make it your holiday. If anything, call it a self-care day or whatever you want.

When the holidays are here, you’re probably under a lot of pressure. Maybe you want to give your family the perfect Christmas. Or like this whole post was about, maybe you’re obligated to see your narcissistic parents or other toxic people during it.

Either way, try to devote a day to yourself after all the fuss. Use this day to do what you want to do for the holidays or whatever the occasion is.

Eat the perfect meal. Buy yourself the perfect gift. Or simply chill at home with a cup of cocoa. Spend time with people who matter or give yourself alone time if that’s what you prefer.

Whatever it is, do it for YOU. The holidays don’t have to be or not be something specific. It can still be fun, relaxing, or whatever you want it to be. You deserve to celebrate something. It doesn’t have to be a party or anything crazy. Relaxing at home with a good book can be special if that’s what makes you happy.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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