We are in the final countdown of 2019 and everyone is feeling the crunch. The holiday season is hectic for most people the full schedules, the gift-giving, remembering the details and the need for “special” can drive anyone to the brink of exhaustion but for those recovering from narcissist abuse, these issues are just the tip of the holiday iceberg. Here are some patterns to be aware of and what you can do about them.
Overcompensation: That old belief of “I’m not good enough” that lingers all year round doesn’t go away with the holidays, it amplifies. After all, this is a “special” time of year of having expectations and where performance can be measured. Marketing companies bank on these feelings whether you had a narcissist in your life or not and when you have the belief that you are, at your core, not enough there is an even bigger desire to overcompensate and make the holidays even more glorious. This is a defense to hide a wound, a painful part of ourselves. Making the holidays the “most special ever” by overspending, over scheduling, overindulging is to hide the painful belief of yours that you may not be good enough unless your arms are full of homemade baked goods for the neighborhood. If you are giving to others at the to the point of losing yourself you are replicating patters of a relationship with a narcissist.
What you can do: Slow down and look at any patterns you have of overcompensation during the season of giving. If it feels like too much then don’t do it. Look at expectations of yourself and from others. Are they realistic? Do they value you? You are a human being with your own gifts and a spirit. Do honor these parts of yourself and show up this holiday in ways that you can. If it’s hard to even know what those are, try having a daily mantra for each day of the season, a recent favorite is “I revel in my own humanness” or “I can be kind, compassionate and loving to myself”. Spend some time in quiet to hear your thoughts and feelings. They will help guide you and limit the ways you are overcompensating.
The Boundary Game: How will you be spending the holidays is a loaded question for those recovering from narcissist abuse. Whether you are currently in a relationship with a narcissist, have severed ties or somewhere in between, the anxiety around contact can be maddening. Should we even call at all? Will they contact me even though I told them not to? how long is too long to spend with them? How do I get through the holiday unscathed but still around the family?
What You Can Do: Write it out and create a plan. Identifying triggers (the who, what, where) What are you willing to do about it? (take bathroom breaks, drink water, go for a walk, assert yourself by saying something, i.e., “I am not going to talk about that today”.) and as a last resort, what do you need to do? When will you know that you have to leave or hang up the phone? Creating scripts, writing a plan to share with safe others and giving yourself permission to not engage with a narcissist even though it’s the holidays are all reasonable ways to set boundaries this time of year.
The Minefield of Nostalgia: The holidays bring up a time of reflection of the past and often life with a narcissist is a mixed bag. One of the biggest challenges someone faces in narcissistic abuse recovery is reflecting on their relationships and knowing what’s true. Narcissistic tactics of gaslighting and invalidation undermine perception and truths. When a positive memory or thought about childhood comes in it is often paired with a sense of loss, “why couldn’t it always be that way” or “wouldn’t it be nice if we could just…”. The ping pong of the bittersweet childhood memories is stoked during this time of reflection and perhaps seeing the holidays again through your own children’s eyes.
What You Can Do: It is ok to remember the good times, seeing your family, the laughter, the singing, the silly times and see that as whole. It does not need to be tied to the aftermath and the truth of your parents or spouse. The good times were good for you. Yes, there is tremendous amounts of loss you have experienced if you grew up in a narcissist household or are currently in one. Give yourself space and permission to feel both the bitter and sweet. Holding both realities to be true is a sign of your healing and while it is bittersweet, there were good parts to be aware of too.
As a final what you can do to help yourself, slow down. Breathe. Create space between your actions and ask yourself, what am I feeling? The automatic pilot that is present to help you “just get through” will do that. You will just barely get through. Try creating space, brief moments, of checking in with yourself and gaining awareness of yourself regularly. Doing these brief check-ins can give much-needed relief so you can show up differently for yourself and not skid into 2020 on your last leg.
As you move through the closing of this year know that you are not alone in your journey. Reach out for support of those you can trust. Know you are seen, understood, and enough. Wishing you wellness, compassion, healing, and authenticity for your path in 2020.
Thank you Amy Kempe for a great article!
Amy Kempe, MS, LPC, NCC, CSAT