This time of year, many people dream about how nice the holidays will be when they get together with family.
You think about the great conversations that will happen. Your family members will be as interested in your life as you are in theirs; there will be so many genuine hugs and smiles, and commiseration about the tough times in the past year, and discussion of hopes for the next year. They will listen to you in the same way you listen to them, with an open heart, knowing that what you have gone through, your experiences and opinions, have nothing to do with them, and they will encourage you as you go forward. You will state your truth in love, and they will do the same. They will rejoice in your triumphs just as you rejoice in theirs; they will cry with you as you shed tears over a loss or a frightening illness, and they will embrace you, both literally and within their hearts and prayers. You will do the same for them, listening, not interrupting, with an open heart. You will make a cup of tea and curl up nearby each other, discussing the coming year and your dreams and recalling so many great memories that you have shared over the years, feeling so grateful for your family and the real love that you share.
But then, we wake up. And realize that it was just a dream.
A narcissist tends to view the holidays as very event-based, and the minute that the gathering or party is over, they unfortuntely go back to being miserable. They believe very strongly in always doing every holiday gathering the same way, even when it’s draining and tedious for everybody (including themselves), and they are very much thrown for a loop when somebody suggests doing something differently, or, heaven forbid, a part of the family decides that they are going to do something altogether different for the holidays. They will attempt to punish you through a narcissistic fit involving tears, silence, or anger and yelling. (Remember, most narcissists resist growing or changing and don’t believe that they have a need to do so, so why would they want to let anything else in their lives evolve- remember, the narcissist views you an extension of themselves, existing for their needs-not a separate person…) The narcissistic patterns in the family therefore usually end up repeating and persisting, because most of the family doesn’t really want to stand up to the narcissist, whom they have been trained to walk on eggshells around. They train us in order to avoid conflict and keep the peace, and maintain their false sense of control in the chaos. For more on making sure that this person isn’t you- see This post on how walking on eggshells tears a family apart.
Living in a narcissistic family is especially tough around the holidays. Those of us who have done the tough work to recover from the harmful patterns and shaming within a narcissistic family, find it almost impossible to be surrounded by the negative and clammoring energy of a narcissist (or, several). Especially hard if you are a very empathetic person (empath). And, we may feel sad and have deep and lasting feelings of grief, because others won’t do the work to fix themselves and stop wasting this precious time we have together while on this earth.
Narcissists are so deeply unhappy with their lives, that many give up trying. They allow themselves to be distracted by politics and news, some by alcohol or drugs, consumed with sports or material things, so they can avoid dealing with their own stuff. Most become obsessed with these trivial affairs. They poke fun at others constantly, or tear others down who may not agree with their opinions or views- because everyone else is imperfect, but they want you to think that they have no flaws or problems. Some are outwardly kind- caring deeply about animal welfare or human rights- but only those of people they don’t know personally- they have no empathy for family members, or those they have history with. The trickiness of some narcissists is that they will smother you with attention and care when it suits them and their own needs. They like to use the same tactics that allow them to distract themselves from their own problems and that which they need to work on with others, except for it usually doesn’t work on others, because we can see right through the tactics of a narcissist. Unless, of course, you are still enmeshed within the narcissistic family, taking part in it all and repeating the patterns, because it somehow seems easier than sticking up for yourself. If your family is all drama and deflection and distaction-these are huge red flags. Or conversely, your family may ignore everything about everyone else besides that which is very surface level; this is also a huge trait of a narcissistic family ). Narcissism is multi-generational and passed along in families, if nobody decides to finally do the work and break the patterns. So many people are blind to the fact that they are a narcissist and are existing in a dysfunctional family because of it- but, they know that they are not happy (they just don’t understand why). They most likely blame themselves- because that’s what the narcs in power have trained you to do through shaming and blaming. It’s incredibly difficult work because these patterns are deeply entrenched, and in some cultures, almost prized. The shaming of the children is a tool to teach them how to be a narcissist…and continue the patterns of control and abuse and inappropriate dependance. It can all be incredibly confusing. But, we persist because we deserve to have a life that is free of these harmful patterns, and so do our kids.
If you grew up in a family where you were in many ways the parent to your parent- then learning how to overcome these patterns will change your entire life (and likely take you many years of hard work). What it usually takes is a younger family member deciding that they don’t want to be treated like garbage anymore, when they get a bit older, and they see that what is happening within their family is not normal. Abuse is covered up and continued to be carried out emotionally and mentally, feelings are not discussed, and shame is a tool of control. The deeply narcissistic family will end up shaming that person for standing up for themselves, because in doing so, the person who is trying to heal ends up shedding light on out how wrong the rest of the family is for treating themselves and each other in that fashion. Perhaps the person who stands up for themselves simply does so by refusing to let themselves be treated poorly any longer. As discussed above, shame and distraction are the main tools of a narcissist, and is usually headed up in the family by the matriarch, who very much grooms the next matriarch- (usually her daughter, or, if that fails, then a niece, a daughter-in -aw, or similar). And just like the group of alcoholics who shun the friend who decides to give up drinking, a narcissistic family will often turn their backs on or disown the person who breaks away from the abuse.
Some narcissists expect everyone to worship that which they are interested in (and their children- because remember- to a narcissist, their children are an extension of them- not separate entities) and is truly not interested in the passions of others (unless it somehow fills a need in them). Makes holiday conversations truly annoying- or when a member or part of the family refuses to play the game anymore, it makes the conversations nonexistent. Fun times at the holidays…..
At the end of the day, what it comes down to is the inability of the narcissist to just be nice. That’s pretty much what all of this is about. Do you want to raise your kid to be an insecure jerk with zero self-esteem or ability to express how important their own feelings and thoughts are, filling their lives with distraction- or do you want to break the patterns of your abusive, shame-based, zero self-esteem family, and become the person you were meant to be? To be the most awesome example for your children that you can possibly be. To realize that you don’t need to live vicariously through your child. To learn truly that others that you love are separate from you, and do not exist to serve your needs, whims and insecurities in this world. Many people have some narcissistic tendencies based on that which they have learned from their family growing up, but the important thing is that one realizes this about themselves and tries to do the work to overcome them. The problem is that so many people deny that it is a harmful and abusive pattern at play- and choose actively to never change. Many who have big issues with their parents and have a hard time describing why, have narcissistic parents. The power- your power- in overcoming this pattern lies in your ability to see that this is not about hurting others feelings by being truthful, but rather, this is about your own recovery for your own sake, and that of your children, and their future children. A narcissist doesn’t really like themselves- hence all of the facade and the attempts to make you think otherwise. And when you don’t really like yourself, you cannot really like anybody else. It becomes a vicious cycle.
What you refuse to own- will own you.
In the coming year, may you find and speak your own voice, or, if you are doing this work already, may you make tremendous strides towards your own personal freedom and comfort in self-care. Life is fleeting and there is really no more time for drama or distraction- not if you really want to live the life you were created to live, and become the person you were made to be. When you speak your truth and tell others how they have hurt you, they may never own it or admit a thing. That does not mean you silence yourself. It means your grow louder in your own power and awesome trajectory of healing. You don’t need the draining, enmeshed connection to unhealthy folks any longer, you are bigger than the brokenness of this world. You are so strong, and you deserve to be healthy and take care of yourself first, no matter how guilty others try to make you feel for doing that.
In Peace and Hope,
The Mint Pixie
all photos copyright The Mint Pixie, 2017
For more on overcoming destructive patterns from a narcissistic family of origin, please see this post.