By Jolie Warren, Marital And Family Therapist
Why are narcissists more glitchy than usual around the holidays? Because they believe that they’re entitled to all the attention – and how dare Santa or Jesus or gift-giving or their own children take the spotlight off them?!
My ex was the glue that held our family together. Especially during the holidays. He LOVED the holidays because he could string lights on the house, bake cookies with the kids, chop down the tallest tree on the Christmas tree farm, and receive all the kudos.
He went out of his way to make our holidays exceptional. It wasn’t about wanting us to have a great holiday, though: it was about him looking good during the holidays. And, man alive, could he make himself look loving, caring, empathetic, and full of the holiday spirit.
It was all an act that came to a stop once we divorced. Divorce forced him into having to embrace the needs of others: his children and their needs, and my needs.
We needed him to follow holiday visitation schedules, behave himself at school holiday pageants, and act as if he actually cared about the feelings of others. That didn’t go over well.
Narcissists Need to Be the Center of Attention. Always.
The first Christmas after we divorced, he figured out a way to dodge the “giving” spirit and remain the center of attention. He flew to his parent’s home. A home he hadn’t visited in years or expressed an interest in visiting.
He had a great Christmas! His parents fawned over him, his siblings came from far and wide to spend time with him, he went out with old high school friends, and even went to Christmas Eve church services with his mom so she could show him off.
He had promised the kids he’d call them Christmas Day, but the call never came. He was so enthralled by all the attention he was getting that he forgot his kids on Christmas Day.
Since that first post-divorce Christmas, things haven’t gone as well for him. Since he can no longer be the center of attention in a positive way, he works overtime trying to be the center of attention in a negative way.
If he isn’t arguing with me about holiday visitation, he doesn’t show up at all for holiday visitation. If he isn’t making demands of how our kids should accept and embrace his mistress (the woman he left us for) during the holidays, he’s berating them for putting ornaments in the wrong spot on his magnificent Christmas tree.
The Grinch has nothing on my ex during the holidays!
5 Reasons Why Narcissists Ruin the Holidays
Why do he and his fellow narcissists seem to work overtime trying to ruin our holidays? See below.
1. They Lack Empathy.
One of my favorite things about Christmas is watching the faces of my kids as they open their gifts. I also like giving things to people that I know they wouldn’t dare splurge on for themselves. It brings me a great deal of joy to make other people happy.
When you lack the empathy chip, there is no joy in giving or making others happy. It’s not a behavior narcissists attach any significance to. To them, it seems like a monumental waste of time and money, and they feel incredibly put out to have to suffer through such an occasion with people they have no investment in.
The disappearing narcissist doesn’t care that it’s the holidays and that they have hurt their children deeply. These thoughts don’t resonate with them.
When an activity is all about someone else, like a birthday, a promotion, or a graduation, a narcissist will find no value in celebrating another’s achievements or joy (unless of course, they could obtain supply through proxy).
Instead, it will activate feelings of jealousy and envy. Because someone else is being put on that proverbial pedestal and getting the attention that should be theirs, a narcissist will find those encounters intolerable and will seek to avoid them at all costs or ruin them for others.
2. Good Attention or Bad Attention – It’s All Good to a Narcissist.
If it can’t be all about them, where they and everyone else gets to bask in their glorious essence, then they will get attention another way and that’s by being an ornery cuss.
If they can get you to feel responsible for their moods, so that you are jumping through hoops they set up to keep their foul mood from infecting your holiday, they’ll like that even more. If it’s not all about them in a good way, they’ll make it all about them in a bad way. Either/or, it makes no difference.
3. They Don’t “Do” Intimacy, Responsibility, or Obligation.
Sharing special occasions breeds the kind of intimacy that a narcissist just can’t handle. It creates expectations that a narcissist doesn’t want you or anyone else to have. With those expectations comes a responsibility to behave as if they care about what’s best for others.
It means getting closer, which they cannot allow. Their anxiety always gets the better of them, so they’d just as well leave their kids hanging, or start a fight with you, so they don’t have to deal with the anxiety they feel over not being center of attention.
This anxiety makes them incredibly unreliable. When it’s upon them, their primary goal is to alleviate it, which usually means shutting people out or making them miserable. Their anxiety paired with their lack of empathy is a holiday recipe for disaster.
4. They’ve Found Alternate Narcissistic Supply.
I’ve had many clients tell me they’ve had solid plans for the holidays with their narcissists and then find themselves stood up, or on the receiving end of a text, canceling at the last minute. The next thing they know, they see pictures on social media of the narcissist spending the holidays with someone else. They’re devastated and asking – “WTH?”
A good rule of thumb is always to remember that “new supply” trumps “old supply.” For example, a new lover trumps their kid’s (old supply) needs – regardless of the time of the year.
New supply turns on the narcissist’s laser focus and obsessive attention. There is no way old supply can compete. It doesn’t mean they’re better – it means they’re newer/unconquered.
So, if your kids get that text on Christmas day, after they’ve made plans and are excited about spending the day with their dad, this is likely what’s happened.
5. Creating Misery Is Their Default Setting.
Miserable people create miserable energy and environments everywhere they go. They are dark people, who project their feelings onto other people. Ruining another’s joy is like a trophy for them. It makes them feel important and powerful.
If they believe the holidays are foolish and irrelevant, they don’t care that they mean something to you. Your opinions are usually irrelevant unless, of course, you carry the same opinion as they do.
Only seriously disturbed and twisted people ruin events for other people and suck the joy out of life.
Hoping or expecting a narcissist to go against their nature causes suffering. Know what you’re dealing with, understand the behavior, and NEVER expect them to play a role in making the holidays a time of joy and giving.
Love your children, make their holiday experience wonderful, and don’t let your narcissistic ex and his behavior dim your spirit.
Jolie Warren is a licensed Marital and Family Therapist, although she isn’t practicing at this time. She divorced in her early 30s, remarried at 37, and gave birth to her first child at 38 and her second at 40. These days, she’s enjoying her role as mother, wife, and homemaker. She plans to return to the profession she loves when her children are school-aged; until then, she’s happy to write and (hopefully!) help those who read her articles.
A version of this article first appeared on DivorcedMoms.com