After the birth of our first child, I tried in earnest to let our family know that we did not want a lot of presents; that we would rather just have experiences and have a nice holiday together, and that our values were such that we did not want to bombard our children with material things, or have a completely cluttered up house. It fell on deaf ears and was met with anger, criticism and laughter. I was so poor at holding my own personal boundaries at this time, I just let everybody pushback and railroad right over me. I was confused as to why there was so much pushback. Why do people care so much abut how much stuff they can give someone else? I had yet to learn about the in’s and outs of enmeshment, narcissistic patterns in families, NPD, or any of it. It was all just so confusing and strange to me.
I spent the next several years dealing with an onslaught of way too many toys, gifts and clothing for the kids at birthdays and every single holiday and many days in between. And when I say a lot, I mean an embarrassing, materialistic, devastating amount of stuff. I would beg family members to just please give the kids college money if they so desperately felt like they had to spend, but they mostly refused. A couple of times they would give a little bit towards future schooling, but then it was still a living room full of presents, year after year. I was so frustrated with myself for so long, because I was just not yet strong enough to hold that boundary of what was most important for myself, my husband and our young family.
My husband did not want to push back, because it didn’t quite impact him he way it did me- I was the primary one dealing with all of the stuff. It was confusing navigating those first few years. It ultimately cost me and my little family so many hours of dealing with actual physical stuff. Hours we will never get back. The sorting of it, trying to figure out where to put it, getting rid of it, returning it, donating it. I wasted so much time on plastic toys, clothing my kids would never wear, all of this man-made crap- it still turns my stomach to think about it. This was time that I should’ve been spending playing with my kids, or resting, or cooking, or exercising, you name it. Anything but what I was doing. WHY DID I HAVE SUCH A HARD TIME HOLDING MY BOUNDARIES? I had so much to understand and so much to learn and nobody was going to teach me, I would have to first decide that I was worth defending and learn all of this on my own (just like most everything else in life that is worth knowing. You cannot rely on anyone else for your happiness, you can’t rely on anyone else to make you wise, and you cannot rely on anyone else to put you first. That is your job.)
Eventually, my husband and I did get to the point where we were able to hold that boundary, and things have been better for many reasons. But, it has not been easy. It has not been without hurt feelings on the part of more narcissistic family members, there were tears and awkwardly uncommunicative silences from family members, and it is really difficult. I think the thing that upsets me the most is to think of all of the years that I had to spend de-programming my kids from being materialistic, plastic-toy-addicted kids who expected something new every time we went to a store. It was beyond frustrating for me because that was not what I wanted for our little family when we had children. But, I was young and un-empowered and had not yet found my voice, and I do forgive myself for that.
My advice to parents who have young children: if you are feeling the same pull towards wanting to minimize the amount of “stuff” at the holidays, to remove yourself from the stress of materialism and the”obtaining of stuff for the sake of obtaining stuff” is to use your voice and stick to your boundaries. Your voice is as valuable as anyone else’s. Your values for your young family are as valuable as those of the older people in your family. You may be new at this, but you also have a strong gut instinct. And the only way that it gets easier is by starting to do it. The longer you put it off, the harder it is to do. There’s another part to consider. Do you ever wonder why so many people are so hell-bent on buying so much stuff at the holidays and making sure that they go overboard? It has very little to do with the actual person they are giving a gift to, and much more to do with their own insecurities and competitiveness. It is not ungrateful to not wish to be a part of the holiday gift giving extravaganza. This is what narcissists want you to feel like- if you don’t go nuts over all of their presents, they take it incredibly personally because that’s what narcissists do best- take things personally. We are talking about a personal boundary which is of value for your family. You are under no obligation to explain further than that to anybody. Somebody who refuses to respect your boundaries has a lot of work to do on themselves and that is not your problem.
Many people feel like they have to get gifts at the holidays because they are people pleasers, and they don’t know how to remove themselves from the weight of what they perceive as the expectations of others. Expectations that have been reinforced by their own narcissistic behavior. It’s kind of the same thing as grandparents who refuse to feed your children in the way that you had asked them to when your children are in their care. And then they come home full of sugar, sweets, food dye and gluten when you had specifically requested the opposite. Often times the kids are upset, have behavioral difficulties, fits, crying, and perhaps a very bad time sleeping. Hey grandparents! It’s not funny, it’s not cute, it is not your right, and it is not okay. It’s incredibly narcissistic, it’s disrespectful, and it’s quite frankly it is abusive. It is not “the grandparents right” to spoil your grandkids. That is ridiculous! WHY DO YOU WANT TO? CONTROL issues decimate families. Why would anyone tolerate this? Yet, parents tolerate it every single day. Because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Why do we care about hurting the feelings of those who are trampling all over ours, when they couldn’t care less about how they are treating us? It is nothing short of disrespectful and it’s funny that sometimes certain family members think that just because somebody is in their family, that they don’t need to respect them- like it’s just okay if they treat them however they want to. Wrong. People who refuse to do the hard work to overcome their issues dump all of it onto the next generation. And in many cases, onto the grandkids. How selfish, cruel, short-sighted and abusive. This is just one example of narcissistic abuse, and how it is passed along to the future generation.
One more thing, presents do not equal love. In many cases, they represent the gift buyer’s compulsive shopping addiction, or somebody’s need to give “stuff” to their family because they are incapable of knowing how to give of themselves. It is so important that everybody does the hard work on themselves, so they can stop repeating these harmful and destructive patterns within families. People who don’t speak up and use their voices. More consumers, more mindless buying. So much less focus on that which really matters. Things are not love. Things are not a substitution for love, and they are not a substitution for your presence. Countless people put themselves into year-long debt to buy presents because they cannot get out from underneath the weight of the notion that stuff=love. It’s a modern day tragedy, and yet another lie of the world that SO many believe- to what end? If you refuse to overcome your hurts and find a way to take down your walls- you will never find happiness, nor will you know how to give or receive love.
The idea here is not that we need to be perfect; we can all fall prey to being a consumer or overspending or over eating or pushing our harmful patterns onto others and not dealing with things when we need to, but the difference between getting through it and staying stuck in it is whether or not you actually try. There is no more time for apathy. Life is fleeting. Just because your parents and the rest of your family don’t care, doesn’t mean you have to not care as well just so that you fit in. What on earth kind of sense does that make? Also, are you able to admit that you are not perfect? That is the key, right there. A narcissist, or a person raised in narcissistic abuse who was taught that they must be perfect and who has not done the work to overcome all of these creepy lies, has a really hard time admitting that they are not perfect. They do not know how to accept criticism, and quite often, will completely shutdown if anything about their world is remotely commented upon in what they might view as a critical way. (Here is a real life example: you ask the narcissist when they are going to replace the carpet in their home, the one that they had mentioned previously that they needed to replace because it is old and needs to be replaced. Logical question, no? Not asked in a mean tone, just a simple, honest, curious, conversational question. Said narcissist completely shuts down, stops responding, asks you why you think there is something wrong with it, and acts in other ways that now indicate that they have hurt feelings. Narcissists take everything personally, because this is all they know. They have never wished to do any hard work to change who they are. Now, you wish you could just un-ask the simple question because of the way the narcissist is responding- you didn’t mean to hurt their feelings! But COME ON. They are perhaps being triggered by the narcissistic abuse that they endured as well. This is also an example of how narcissists manipulate the feelings and emotions of others to gain control, and drain the energy of others.)
If you want to feel better and you want to do better, you have to try! You are valuable and worthy of trying to overcome the harmful patterns that hold you back and keep you deeply unhappy, trying to find that happiness in places that are not going to give it to you. Many say that a narcissist will never seek help or want to change. Though that may be true for someone with true narcissistic personality disorder or another borderline personality disorder, oftentimes one with narcissistic traits and patterns who was raised by narcissists CAN indeed make some changes if they want to truly transform their lives- if they are awake enough to see what is going on around them, and are noticing how the other folks in their family are so desperately caught in the apathy and depression of longstanding, multi-generational narcissistic abuse. If you have a really hard time standing up for yourself in life, and especially to your parents or others who raised you, it is because you were raised in this type of home, and it also may be because you have NPD. But, chances are, if you are reading this- that you may be the empathetic one born into the family of narcissists. The one who is waking up or is awake- the one who is sick of the abuse, sick FROM the abuse (longstanding chronic illness is oftentimes the result of the stress of being raised in an abusive home and then the patterns set up because of it- the body hears what the brain says and hears and lives with- oftentimes, PTSD is present) and you are in the process of finding your own voice and shining the light. I wish you continued fortitude and strength on this oftentimes isolating journey. There are many of us fighting to take back our lives and make changes for the next generation. Don’t give up. Please, soldier of empathy and strength. You are so loved. You are so needed. Your voice and your heart and mind are so important. You deserve to heal and to be heard. Finally.
Please don’t be afraid to use your voice. If people truly love you and respect you, it will help your relationship. If they respond poorly and leave the relationship, that is how it is meant to be. And you no longer have to carry the weight of their expectations or their cruelty.
In peace and renewed strength,
The Mint Pixie
Check out my last related post People Pleasing Sucks on, well, people pleasing- important in the holiday season to protect yourself, and learn what it all means.