Narcissists are nightmares on vacation. Here’s how to deal with it.

By | December 18, 2023

It’s the happiest time of the year – unless you spend that time with a narcissist.

Narcissists tend to be nightmares, and the holidays are no exception. Experts say it can be especially taxing to get through Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, birthdays and other special occasions.

That’s because narcissists are never satisfied unless they are the center of attention. If they feel like this isn’t the case, they will raise hell and ruin even the most special vacation for just about everyone around them.

“The holidays can be very hard for a narcissistic person because expectations make the holidays so difficult,” says Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist and author of the book “It’s Not You: Identifying and Healing Narcissistic People,” coming soon. February 20. “We have childhood visions of it. We have visions that are sold to us. There are things we hope for. And invariably, just as they overwhelm and dominate everything else, the narcissistic people will want to overpower and dominate this and do it the way they want.”

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Narcissists tend to be nightmares, and the holidays are no exception.  Experts say it can be especially taxing to get through Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, birthdays and other special occasions.

Narcissists tend to be nightmares, and the holidays are no exception. Experts say it can be especially taxing to get through Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, birthdays and other special occasions.

What are narcissists like on vacation?

Chelsey Cole, a psychotherapist and author of “If Only I’d Known: How to Outsmart Narcissists, Set Guilt-Free Boundaries, and Create Unshakeable Self-Worth,” says narcissists consistently ruin vacations, just as they do any event that doesn’t solely about them.

They do this in different ways, she says, including by causing unnecessary drama or by behaving sullenly.

Durvasula says that dealing with a narcissist during the holidays is made especially difficult by the upheaval in routine that usually accompanies the seasons. Now that they’re off work and school, many people don’t have the usual touchstones to turn to during the holidays to get relief from a narcissistic family member.

“When you throw in the dashed expectations, it can feel very sad,” Durvasula adds. “It can also be disappointing when you feel like you’ve tried to create something really special, and then the narcissistic person downplays it, downplays it, or doesn’t notice it.”

A narcissist’s lack of empathy can also be especially hurtful during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for many people, such as those grieving loved ones.

This is often lost on narcissists, who only care about themselves.

“They don’t think about how you experience the holidays,” Cole says. “They just see it as an opportunity to gain supply in the form of getting people’s attention, sympathy, help or just generally controlling how things go.”

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What are narcissists like at birthdays?

Narcissists aren’t much better at birthdays, even if it’s their own party.

That’s because narcissists crave attention and validation, but never feel like it’s enough. As a result, you really can’t win on a narcissist’s birthday because no gift or party will ever make him feel satisfied.

“Narcissistic people are more often than not very disappointed on their birthdays,” says Durvasula. “I don’t know what they’re expecting – maybe a parade down Fifth Avenue, I have no idea. But whatever is done for them never seems enough.”

Their constant dissatisfaction often leads narcissists to lash out cruelly on their birthday, says Stephanie Sarkis, a psychotherapist and author of “Healing from Toxic Relationships: 10 Essential Steps to Recover from Gaslighting, Narcissism, and Emotional Abuse.”

“They feel like people aren’t paying them enough attention,” she says. “They may feel like their birthday is not being respected by other people. They may get angry because they didn’t get the gifts they wanted, so it can cause quite a bit of chaos.”

Narcissists will also hijack other people’s birthdays to make it about themselves. For example, a narcissist may organize lavish celebrations for his child’s birthday, but this is the only way he can draw attention and validation to himself.

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How to deal with a narcissist during the holidays

If you have to spend a holiday or birthday with a narcissist, experts offer the following tips:

  • Accept that they will probably hate your gift: “Narcissistic people really live in a fantasy that people can read their minds,” says Durvasula. “It’s a hassle, but it’s actually like a spoiled child inside that can never be calmed down.”

  • Limit the time you spend with them: “All you have to do is just say, ‘Hey, I can only stay so long,’” Sarkis says. “If they get angry about that, that’s okay, because that’s your boundary that you’re setting.”

  • Find the people you like to hang out with: “You may have a narcissistic father, but you really love being around your nieces or nephews,” says Cole. “Try to find time with those specific people or loved ones who are most important to you.”

  • Set realistic expectations: “We have an idea in our heads of what we think the holidays should look like,” says Cole. “You need to have a lot of realistic expectations and radical acceptance that if you have a narcissistic family member, the holidays won’t go perfectly.”

  • Make time for yourself: “Plan something for you that day,” says Cole. “Make a calm plan to go to lunch with a friend or get a massage. Take a walk in the park, visit your favorite store, or do something that makes you happy and takes you out of the narcissist’s orbit.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Narcissists are nightmares during holidays, birthdays: How to deal with them

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