First Christmas Alone Post-Narc Abuse

First Christmas Alone Post-Narc Abuse


Tracy A. Malone

They say that nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. I will add one more item to the list of things you can always count on: Narcissists always ruin holidays.

The cliché holiday culture is the big family dinner with happy, loving people, cookies, and gifts under the tree. These expectations put undue pressure on everyone. In an effort to meet that standard, you become the workhorse – from decorating/undecorating the tree to buying the gifts to preparing/cleaning up after the meal – the burden is yours as the narc is not interested in any of the joyous parts of it. For a narcissist, there is no better time to make you miserable because they know how important it is to you. They always seem to know what is most important to you.

Negative attention is still attention.

The list is endless of the hateful things they will do to cause upset and there are thousands of videos on these tricks and tactics, but I want to focus on you, your journey, and your pain. Let’s develop some strategies to get through the season without any unnecessary drama.

Everything in narcissistic abuse is on a spectrum. There are many ways that you may experience a holiday with a narcissist in your life. Gifts are a great example – they could give you the best gift imaginable in order to be the center of attention for being so generous and kind or maybe they regift you with items out of your own closet to make you feign happiness while they laugh at your discomfort. What if they give you no gift at all just to watch you squirm? The pleasure they would reap from stunts like these would be amazing for them.

Buying for a narcissist is its own bag of tricks. Trying to find the perfect gift is difficult because no matter what it is, they will show no gratitude. If they don’t feel like what they received from you is good enough or they liked someone else’s gift better, you will not have any doubt about it as they’ll vocalize it for all to hear. “Why do I need this?” or “Take this back, I don’t want it.” Their goal is to manipulate you at every turn and embarrass you for trying so hard. Everything always must be about the narcissist. They don’t like sharing the spotlight – even with their kids!

The first year of firsts

To those survivors of narcissistic abuse who may be struggling with your first holiday alone or your first holiday with the kids without the other parent present, I want to give you a tip. If you haven’t finalized a divorce and parenting plan yet, do it. How do you intend to protect yourself and your children for the holidays to come?

If you are divorcing or breaking up after a long relationship, the first year of firsts is something we must all get through. These are painful times to be sure.

For some, this Christmas may be the first holiday you spend without your children or you may no longer be in your home.

If you do have your children this holiday season, it may feel like a win (and it is), but for them, without the other parent, their routines will be different. They may struggle with sadness or lack of holiday joy and it is important that you pick up the pieces of their emotional wounds. Do your best to create new holiday traditions and try to be present for their emotional struggles. Sometimes just knowing that someone understands what you’re going through and commiserates with you can alleviate some of the heartbreak you feel.

If the situation with your Ex isn’t high conflict, be sure to give the kids an opportunity to speak to the other parent. Like adults, children experience abandonment wounds too and if this is the first holiday season without the traditional family unit they’re used to, it is crucial for their resilience to honor their sadness and acknowledge the changes in their holiday routine.

Spending the holidays alone?

It is helpful to make plans if you are going to be alone for the first time during the holidays. It can feel awkward to be included in a friend’s family holiday celebration. I know, I did it for a few years after my divorce; it was so kind of them to embrace me yet I felt sad and it made me feel lonelier as I watched all the couples and families. I had to accept the reality of the broken expectations I had laid out for my life. Chances are good you will experience something similar but that is okay.

GET OUT! Go for a walk, go to a movie, or take a scenic drive. Pretending it’s just another day can also help. Even if you only leave the house for a few hours, it will break up the day and make it go by faster.

Sitting alone on a holiday, especially if it is your first, can open you up to reflecting on the way things were – fear often creeps into the script that you will never be happy again. Don’t self-sabotage by not supporting your own emotional wellbeing. You know it will be hard so plan ahead.

If you are struggling with ruminating thoughts, watch this video I recently made with Bree Bonchey:

IMPORTANT: Parenting plans for the shared holiday time

If you are going through a divorce but have not yet finalized the parenting plan and decree, I offer you this nugget of wisdom: beware of the interim cookie-cutter holiday schedules. Lawyers tend to set them up this way because they have no idea about your particular relationship dynamics or what type of post-divorce abuse a narcissist can do. Don’t assume that since it was put together by a lawyer that it will be the best solution for you. Think ahead about what you know will work best and ask for it to be implemented.

The standard ‘you get the kids this year and I will get them next year’ is not narc-proof and often gets abused. It’s critical to include the start time that dictates when each holiday begins (when the children can be picked up) as well as the end time to determine when it is over (the children must be returned home). An example would look like this: Christmas begins at 9 am on Christmas morning and ends at 8 pm on Christmas evening. It may seem elementary and clear to you but never assume it won’t get taken advantage of.

In my new book DIVORCING YOUR NARCISSIST: You Can’t Make This Shit Up!, I talk extensively about the grey areas of a divorce decree including this holiday story shared by a surTHRIVER:

The aforementioned traditional “you get them this Christmas and I will get them next year” was casually written into this surTHRIVERS decree. The very first holiday was her ex’s turn. He picked up the kids as scheduled but then kept them all the way through the holiday break (ten days)! He wouldn’t answer her calls or texts. She called the police but their hands were tied because the decree didn’t specify when his custody started or ended. His lawyer’s reply to her concerns was, ”Go ahead and take him back to court. We will fight you and you will go bankrupt.”

If you are in any position get my book and learn the dozens of ways they can ruin not only your holidays but your life, please do. You won’t regret it. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail.

Spending time with your narcissist for the holidays?

If you and your narcissist are still in a situation where you must see them, you must protect yourself and your children.

The narcissist(s) in your life could be anyone: a family member like a parent or in-law, a sibling, or a distant relative that you only see on holidays.

They always need the attention on them and they secure this by doing things like starting an argument on the way to the holiday dinner so you will visibly be unhappy once you arrive. You can imagine that “this time” you won’t give them any fuel for their rage but it’s important to realize that you can never do enough or make things perfect – the goalposts are a moving target. If an event is at the narc’s house, they may begin by intentionally pushing your buttons to trigger an emotional response, like anger, and then gaslight everyone present to believe that you are crazy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, they may blatantly ignore you, which certainly hurts, but it’s better than the negative attacks.

If you are forced to be in a toxic family situation, consider implementing protected contact. This strategy simply keeps your spouse, or another sibling or trusted confidant, at your side at all times, never leaving you alone with the narc.

Grey rock is another solid way to protect yourself. You tell the narc absolutely nothing about your life that they could use against you as another piece of flying debris. Brief, concise answers will help you deal with them even while they attempt to engage and trap you.


Prior to any occasion that might be of concern, set boundaries in your mind that frames what you will tolerate and what you will not. This is an especially important step to take at the holidays as they tend to carry their own difficulties naturally. Communicate your boundaries to the potential offender effectively beforehand – i.e., “Mom, if you yell at me, we will leave. If you are going to a narc in-law house, make sure your spouse is clear regarding your stop word, knows the boundary it indicates and is willing to support you implicitly. An example of this would be “We are {blank} if your mother does {blank}.”  Ensure that the first {blank} is a consequence that you can do; the second {blank} could be a particular boundary or a list of boundaries that you do not want to be crossed. Be prepared with an exit strategy and enforce it.  Remember – if you declare a consequence and don’t follow through with it, expect future abuses to amplify.

Having a narcissist in your life is trying on a normal day. When there are additional holiday festivities, providing a multitude of new opportunities for them to behave badly, err on the side of caution and assume that they will. Every damn chance they get. And you will likely end up being the scapegoat each and every time. Don’t fall for it again this year. Protect yourself emotionally so that you, too, can have a joyous holiday season.

Happy holidays!

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