Your dad thinks everything you do is inefficient, incompetent and just plain…wrong. Your aunt wants to gossip about your mother behind her back and pry for information on her sister’s dirty little secrets, your brother insults you with a backhanded compliment, “Gee, nice that you bothered to put some effort into baking this year,” or your cousin one-ups you about pretty much every single thing (you have a BMW? She has a Lamborghini). Or, your uncle is passive aggressive about the gift you bought him, “This looks like a one-click Christmas present.”
While it is estimated that only 6% of the population actually has narcissistic personality disorder, there are many people who display manipulative, controlling and narcissistic traits, and it’s pretty likely that someone in every family meets part of the criteria for being a narcissist.
You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. But don’t worry, here’s how to deal with the dreaded holidays with your narcissistic family member(s):
Let Them Be Right
Whatever you do, don’t fight them. You already know that when you fight back it always makes things worse. Let them win. Let them believe they are superior. At the root of it all, manipulators fear inferiority. "Remember that they're usually driven by an unconscious sense of shame or inferiority," says Joseph Burgo, PhD, author of "The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age." Christmas is definitely not the time to dig in your heels, because Christmas might just end with an aunt, mother or brother as an enemy.
So what to do instead? Remember what Bill Eddy, LCSW from the High Conflict Institute does: EAR – Empathy, Attention and Respect. Have empathy for the narcissists complain, listen with your full attention, and respect their opinion. Then leave the discussion. This may mean you end up eating at the kids’ table just to get away from the drama.
Sometimes the cruelty of a manipulator can literally take your breath away. Sometimes it can come from out of the blue and you’re left wondering what the hell just happened? Who knows why, in the middle of a pleasant conversation, a narcissist has to drop a big ball of nasty, but whatever it is, don’t take the bait. Instead, stay calm, neutral and be ready with a quick response. “That's one way of looking at it,” or “I see.” If they keep baiting you, over and over, don’t take it! This way they’ll know their efforts to get you spinning are being wasted.
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Take The High Road
Most of us enjoy Christmas because we want to catch up with our families and reconnect with relatives we don’t see as often as we’d like. Unfortunately, Christmas for a psychologically abusive person can be when their jealous, spiteful traits really come to light. If you notice they are trash-talking your loved ones or running people down when they’re not there to defend themselves, you can always take the high road.
Example, “Did you see how bad aunt ___ looks?!” You can respond with something that shows you are unfettered by their complete rudeness, “No I didn’t. She’s a beautiful person, inside and out.” Then walk away. What can they possible say after that?
Don't JADE – Justify, Argue, Defend, And Explain
Manipulators hold grudges for a very long time, even if the problem is perceived, not real. If you can’t avoid the person who’s mad at you from last Thanksgiving’s perceived rudeness, make sure you turn to the old Al-Anon 12-step slogan JADE that reminds us not to engage in justifying, arguing, defending, and explaining. Instead? Think detach.
Make Them Feel Important
Psychological abusers have issues of feeling inferior at their core. They make up with this dark inner feeling by acting like a huge know-it-all. Give them what they want. Ask them about their important job, their beautiful children, their fast car, their big house and let them beam. For some people, this might chap their ass. In my opinion, making someone feel good is never a bad thing, even if I don't think they deserve it.
RELATED: 9 Signs You're A Victim of Psychological Abuse
Agree to Disagree
It’s okay to stand your ground when you need to. Sometimes they are so foul that it is impossible to give them a pat response. In this case, agree to disagree. “You have your way of doing things that make sense to you, but I would deal with this differently.”
Tip: Do not, under any circumstance, let them get under your skin. If you lose your cool and freak out, you're going to end up looking like the family nut, all the while you'll be scratching your head and thinking, what the hell just happened this time?
What are your thoughts? How do you handle the narcissist at your family gatherings?
Joanne Brothwell, MSW, CLC, is a therapist and author in Saskatoon, Canada with twenty-two years of public and private practice.