Spending holidays with narcissists, borderlines and psychopaths is often anything but merry. If you’ve been in a relationship with a personality disordered man or woman or come from a family that’s a sideshow of characterological pathology, you probably have some holiday horror stories.
The first holiday season after ending an abusive relationship, or distancing yourself from toxic parents or siblings can be many things, some of them all at once. It can be sad, joyous, lonely (although there are few things lonelier than being in a relationship with a narcissist), confusing or provide a sense of sweet, sweet relief. Because narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and psychopaths suck up all the oxygen in your life, they often leave a vacuum after the discard, no matter which one of you initiated the break-up.
The vacuum may feel daunting, but it’s an opportunity to begin anew and make healthier choices in all areas of your life. Instead of wasting your time and energy caring for and trying to please a terminally colicky and never satisfied for long narcissist, begin taking care of you. If you’re unsure how to do that, start with the basics. Do your best to eat healthfully, drink plenty of water, exercise and get enough sleep. Spend your time with positive people. Keep it simple.
Don’t put pressure on yourself with unrealistic expectations. Being away from a narcissist or garden variety abusive jerk doesn’t guarantee immediate happiness. Nor does it automatically resolve the issues that made you vulnerable to a predator. Therefore, try to set realistic expectations. It doesn’t have to be the best Christmas or best Hanukkah ever. However, it won’t be the crappiest Christmas or Hanukkah either.
Don’t overdo on the decorations, gifts or socializing, unless you want to and it makes you happy. Aim for a holiday season during which you enjoy a glass of eggnog instead of tiptoeing around a narcissist or borderline’s eggshells. If you want to socialize, go for it. If you want to spend a quiet day watching Alfred Hitchcock movies on TBS while eating chicken tikka masala, call Curry in a Hurry and fire up the television. If a walk on the beach or in the woods with the dogs feels good, that’s okay, too.
You get to choose what feels right for you. Healing isn’t one-size-fits all. What worked for your best friend, cousin or a support forum buddy might not work for you. So what feels comfortable and just right to you?
Embrace whatever your narcissist belittled or spoiled. Do you enjoy Rankin & Bass Christmas programs? Spend a weekend binge watching them. Did your borderline sabotage holiday meals with your family? That won’t be on the menu this year. Was it impossible to shop for your Crazy? No longer your circus, no longer your monkey. Did your narcissist pee all over your joy of Christmas trees? Well, to hell with him or her. Go to a proper tree lot and get yourself the biggest, most gorgeous tree you can fit in your home.
The last Christmas spent with my narcissistic ex was a real doozie. He had a rage episode because he wasn’t able to work the tree stand. He sneered, seethed, yelled, name-called and gloated about how he was looking forward to spending the next holiday with his “non-Christian” (I’m not at all religious, by the way) then mistress, a bisexual former child actress with a mullet and buck teeth. His face grew redder and redder as he struggled with the stand, ragging on me, the tree and the ornaments. The episode culminated with him shouting, “I can’t get it up!!! Why can’t I get it up?!?!?!!! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! I can’t get it up!!!”
Now, on the one hand, raging, “I can’t get it up!!!” while bragging about his infidelity partner was pretty darn funny. However, it went from funny (snickering to myself in my head) to scary when his face contorted from red to purple, spittle spraying and he nearly punched out a french door glass pane with his fist. Rather than let him forever ruin my pleasure of a twinkling tree, I reclaimed it. The very next year after I was rid of him, I drove to a tree lot, bought the tallest tree they had (11-feet) and paid to have it delivered to my home (very tiny car). And it was glorious. No one yelling, pouting and generally being a douche in private, while publicly glorying in playing the magnanimous host (when he wasn’t having narcissistic rage episodes at guests who dared disagree with him) at our annual holiday party.
What holiday traditions or pastimes did you enjoy before your narcissist(s)? What’s stopping you from enjoying them again? Probably nothing, so why not do your version of a super twinkly evergreen tree?
Do for others. If you’re feeling isolated and disconnected, find a charity and volunteer your time. Invite close friends over for a quiet, home cooked meal. Donate money to a cause you support. Play Santa for the children of your friends or nieces and nephews. Give of yourself to others who will appreciate what you have to offer.
If helping others isn’t compatible with work you’re doing on codependency issues, help the environment. Clean litter off the beach or a public park. Plant a tree (weather permitting). Volunteer to walk dogs at the local pound. Be selfishly altruistic if it feels good.
No matter how you choose to spend the holidays, be kind to yourself. If nothing else, enjoy the absence of the nastiness, drama or whatever form of Grinchy-ness your ex or family of origin likes to inflict. It really can be a peaceful and lovely time of year and it’s up to you to decide what that is.
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Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides individual services to help individuals work through their relationship issues via telephone or Skype, particularly men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Services page for professional inquiries.