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Will I Be Good Enough for the Holidays?

Eight tips for dealing with criticism from narcissistic families.

Source: DeanDrobot/iStock

One of the painful trademarks of the narcissistic family is constant criticism and judgment. In their presence, one can feel insecure, put down, and that you're not valued as a person. When around narcissists, if you really listen to their ramblings, you will hear them judging others ad nauseam and, in turn, trying to make themselves look bigger, better, and more powerful.

This behavior is caused by the narcissists’ own insecurities and fragile ego. But it is tiring, unpleasant, and particularly difficult if it is directed at you. Many of my clients, past and current, experience this dread when the holidays emerge. With holiday music as the backdrop, the fears still arise. “Will I have the strength this year to stand up to the criticism, set boundaries, and take good care of myself?” “Can I possibly endure the put-downs, jealousy, or just plain mean behavior?”

The worry comes back. “Will I be good enough for them? Will my house be clean enough, will they criticize my weight or how I look, will I cook well enough, and will I be criticized as a parent?” “Will my values and beliefs be questioned again if I don’t fit the conscripted mold of the narcissistic family?” Many decide to just forego it and make different arrangements. It is hard to be beaten down and not valued by the very people who should love and value you. Sometimes the holidays are a quick trigger for post-traumatic stress reactions from a difficult childhood. It can become too much to bear.

When the holidays roll in, I hear over and over from adult children of narcissistic parents, “I just want to run away, skip the holidays, and go hide.” While holidays are supposed to be happy and joyful and a time to be with loved ones, this is sad. Sad to see and sad to experience. But it can be a reality for those raised in narcissistic families.

So, what to do? Here are eight basic tips for holiday survival for adult children of narcissistic families.

  1. First, it is important to figure out where you are in the recovery process. At the beginning of your recovery, you may need to do temporary separation from family to work on you. If you are in this temporary space, you may decide to make other plans this year and do the family holidays when you are further along in your own recovery. If you have already decided to go no-contact with family because it is too abusive or toxic, and you have worked through recovery, stick to your guns. Many people, when further along in recovery, do what I call “civil connect.” Civil connect means still staying in touch, but realizing the relationships will be superficial and not emotionally connected.
  2. If deciding to be with family, while practicing civil connect, rehearse setting firm boundaries. You can’t allow abusive or critical statements towards you or others. Drawing your line in the sand by saying, “this is not ok with me,” “I am not entering this conversation,” or simply changing the subject is important. Keep it to “I” statements. It is easy to fall into the “you” type of blaming statements, which are not helpful. For example, “You are being mean right now, stop it.” We don’t really get to tell others what to do. We can say what is acceptable or not, for us.
  3. Be strong in who you are as a person. Preserve your own integrity at all cost. You are a valuable and worthwhile human being who deserves to be treated well.
  4. Don’t engage in battles with a narcissist. It clearly goes nowhere but down. If a conflict starts, it is best to have a simple word that just stops the conversation. For example, you can use “interesting.” Or “hmmm.” But say no more.
  5. Realize that the mean and critical behavior comes from their own insecurities, shame, and unresolved issues. It is really not about you. If you don’t know about projection, study it. Narcissists project their own shame onto others because they don’t deal with their own feelings. They make it your fault. Not easy to deal with!!
  6. If jealousy is a factor, which is common with narcissists, give yourself credit and realize that you will not get the praise or respect you want from a wounded person. If they feel bad about themselves, they are not able to be excited about your success and accomplishments. Instead, the narcissist will find something wrong with you. Though disheartening, it is best to just accept it and have no expectations.
  7. If you have gone no-contact with the family because they are truly too toxic or abusive… trust in yourself, your own feelings and intuition, and work through the guilt if it arises. Guilt doesn’t really serve a purpose here. You are just taking care of yourself.
  8. If doing civil connect as described above, and you are planning the time with family, remember to keep it simple. Don’t share personal feelings and have no expectations. Accept the disorder in the family. You cannot change it. You can only change you and how you deal with it.

If you find yourself hating the holidays, remember that you are in charge of you. You can choose the path that is best for you and find your own peace and joy in this season. You deserve that. Give love to yourself and to those who do love you and care about you. Keep the focus on this. Soak in all the things you do love about the holidays and practice being grateful. Find your best path.

Warm and loving thoughts to all for a healthy and happy season!

If you would like to share your best path, please leave a comment below. It could help another reader!