- If a narcissist can sabotage a holiday event, chances are they will.
- Vulnerable narcissists will find fault with any effort made to bring joy.
- Grandiose narcissists may give lavish gifts as a way to prove their worth to others.
Many of us are hopeful that this holiday season will be more normal than that of the past few years. Unfortunately, you may be gearing up for family get-togethers that you feel honor-bound to attend this year, gatherings that you were gratefully able to avoid last year. No family is "holiday card perfect" in reality. If a family member suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder or displays significant narcissistic tendencies, the holidays can mean great chaos and calamity. During the season, there are more opportunities for narcissists to display their most egregious behaviors.
Narcissists have a hard time celebrating the big events of others. If there’s a holiday gathering on the calendar, they will try to make themselves the center of attention through whatever means most natural and effective. Narcissists feel that holidays steal the spotlight that they, themselves, should own. Narcissists either try to grab it back by boasting and strong-arming everyone's attention. Alternatively, they will sabotage the celebratory mood for other people.
There are two general types of narcissists, grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissists like to do everything in a big way and honestly believe that they lead “bigger than life” lives that are the envy of others. They may view their lives as tableaux and use other people the way directors use props or scenery, to create a particular effect for a scene. They perceive others around them, even their own children, as objects to be used to achieve their objectives. They may give lavish gifts to people, but these gifts are given as a means to spotlight their generosity and their apparent wealth, even if they’re deep in debt. It’s as if they are “decorating” a loved one as an accessory, not offering true affection.
Vulnerable narcissists may seem to draw less attention to themselves in public settings, but they hold high expectations of being the center of attention in relationships. When they don't get their way or don't get what they feel is owed to them, this is a blow to their pride and their fragile self-esteem. They may lash out with surprising hostility and viciousness fueled by narcissistic rage.
Grandiose narcissists use aggression as a weapon whereas vulnerable narcissists may use it as a defense mechanism. Grandiose narcissists focus on themselves and take great pleasure in reflecting on their actual or merely fantasized successes. Vulnerable narcissists are preoccupied with tearing others down to make themselves feel big. While grandiose narcissists cherish their successes and award them more significance than they likely warrant, the vulnerable narcissist cherishes the failures of others as their self-esteem feeds on their missteps.
Celebrations with the Vulnerable Narcissist
If the celebration is a graduation or a birthday, for instance, the vulnerable narcissist may find it hard to show up at the party as their ego is fed by the downfalls of others. If they attend, they will try to make themselves feel superior to the other person. They’ll judge the food, the drinks, the clothing, the decorations; they will put down the efforts of others, and find the justification for the criticism. They want to make their own style or achievements seem superior.
The vulnerable narcissist will look for a way to sabotage the party, making the hosts or guests feel bad. They may pick a fight with someone or spill red wine on the white carpet. Each action that leaves others feeling or looking bad is just one more tasty morsel to feed the insatiable ego of the narcissist.
Celebrations with the Grandiose Narcissist
Grandiose narcissists thrive through the puffing up of their pride and while they also need to feel superior to everyone in the room, they are focused on self-aggrandizement and their entitlement to whatever they want; even if it is what others deserve and should have. Their desire to be the center of attention at an event means that they will do whatever they can to have that attention, even if it’s harmful to the people they proclaim to care about. They will take credit for gifts that you buy others, for meals you’ve prepared, parties you planned, or the good behavior of your children. They may make promises of special gifts or vacation trips but fail to deliver after bragging to everyone about what they were going to provide.
Avoid Giving the Narcissist Fuel for Their Narcissistic Rage
- Don’t start an argument as this can lead to emotional damage to everyone in the vicinity, from partners to children to family to friends.
- Don’t tell them how to behave or what to do, they take pleasure in their resistance to following others’ directives or doing what they've been asked (or already promised) to do.
- Don’t assume you can convince them to see your perspective, they can only view the world through their jaundiced perspective.
- Don’t expect to reach them through heartfelt, emotionally vulnerable pleas or conversations. They are notorious for the absence of empathy for others and have no interest in understanding another’s viewpoint.
- Especially be careful not to humiliate them or challenge them in front of others, losing face is a grave narcissistic injury and retribution can come swiftly and painfully.
Keep Your Holiday Options Open and Your Family’s Well-being a Priority
If you're dreading the holiday season because of a narcissistic family member, remind yourself that you don't have to let them "steal your joy." Find ways to celebrate with the people you care about outside of the holiday season, if that is easier. Keep your expectations equal to what you know from past experience and recognize that the holidays can bring out the child in all of us, but the most childish of all is typically a thwarted narcissist.
Freis, S. D., & Hansen-Brown, A. A. (2021). Justifications of entitlement in grandiose and vulnerable narcissism: The roles of injustice and superiority. Personality and Individual Differences, 168, 110345.