Holidays are special, chosen days — virtual vivid stitches and sparkling beads scattered sparsely across the otherwise mostly monochromatic tapestries of life.
Even if holidays are not really the birthdays of divinities or anniversaries of miracles, humanity would need them anyway. Whatever our beliefs, however deep, we yearn for culturally designated pick-me-ups: breaks in our ostensibly grueling years.
Each such day (or series of days) is a magical time-out-of-time which we breathlessly anticipate, then celebrate: sometimes alone, but usually bonding — with each other and our history — as we recite familiar liturgies in unison, engaging in deeply engraved, richly remembered rites.
But personalities remain unchanged — even on special, sacred, this-day-only days.
So our attempts to be at our best during holidays sometimes backfire because — infused as they are with family, memory and conformity — holidays can be triggering amidst the holiness and fun.
Narcissists can be extra-narcissistic on holidays, repeating the same gambits year after year without realizing how dysfunctional and sad — even to them — those tropes might be.
Later we'll look at how to respond safely, but here are five things I've noticed narcissists doing on holidays:
Insistently doing all the work, not letting anyone help, then playing the overburdened victim. If you offer to, say, set the table or make centerpieces or slice the main course, the narcissist gazes at you in histrionic shock, gasping (or obviously thinking), "What?! Are you insinuating that I can't master this task myself? Do you think I'm so rude, incompetent or arrogant as to expect my honored guests to work? How dare you imply this?!"
Visualizing entertaining and even celebrating as a form of competition. Narcissists often passively-aggressively wonder aloud how others out there might be observing the holiday, whether they're eating worse or better food amidst nicer or cheaper décor and more or less interesting guests. These are not idle speculations. If you do not proclaim Surely this is the best celebration anywhere! the narcissist will feel that he or she has failed.
Fishing for compliments. Narcissists do this anyway, seeking praise anywhere, anytime and from anyone to bolster their sense of identity. Holidays simply raise the stakes, surrounding narcissists with exponentially more reasons to be praised by larger captive audiences. Come on, everyone: Who's the best dressed among us? Who's the most generous, most fun and most devout?
Ask seemingly caring questions uncaringly. Holidays let us reconnect with loved ones seldom seen. Striving to catch up quickly amidst crowds and chaos — How've you been? Fine, but my dog died is hard but worthwhile. Narcissists tend to take it only halfway — asking how you've been, seeking credit for asking, then shifting their interest far from you as your lips form an answer, or even before.
Forgetting the holiday's meaning. It's hard to truly feel the deeper reasons for our holidays — gratitude on Thanksgiving, transition and hope on solstices — especially if they are spiritual and we're ensconced in a secular world. We remind ourselves: Oh yes, this is why we're gathered here. Narcissists tend to focus on the outer trappings, translating all "meanings" into: "How does this reflect on me?"
I can offer a one-size-fits-all strategy:
Don't take the bait.
Most behaviors in the narcissist panoply spring from the same motive and source: a need for constant reassurance, praise, attention, adoration and applause. Whether their self-esteem is high or low — yes, narcissists can hate themselves — they absorb every drop we give them, then beg us for more.
Frustrating as their bottomless-pit hunger is, it's not fully their fault. They view the world through a distorted lens as do we who battle anxiety, depression and harsh inner critics. Narcissists don't always know the harm they do: hurting our feelings when they ask-ask-ask yet instantly ignore; using us as their on-call cheer squad regardless of truth; draining us dry; trampling our boundaries.
We must remember this, firmly but gently, fashioning pat mantras that are true enough to keep us from hating ourselves if we are pressured into saying them. Mmhmm, for instance. Or: What a beautiful shade of green. It sounds silly, but being prepared is worth having done the homework. Also recommended: Hey! Look over there!