Santa gets lots of attention, adoration and applause at Christmastime. But make no mistake: Christmas is all about Santa’s need to feel Superior.
The holidays are tough if there's a narcissist in the family. Put up the mistletoe, set out the wreaths, stock the frig with handmade goodies, hang ornaments with utmost precision on the tree, top the table with cheery placemats, shine the brass, polish the silver, purchase candles and potpourri smelling like cinnamon, decorate the mantle with pine boughs and stockings, re-arrange the furniture for an intimate setting, wrap piles of gifts in colorful paper, glue ribbons, sprinkle glitter, string lights despite bitter temperatures on the front porch, and watch your mood disappear when the narcissist complains that you didn’t do it ‘right’. Or brings up what you forgot to do; or complains about the electric bill because there were too many lights and now he’ll have to work overtime to pay for your extravagance. If you don’t set out strings of brightly colored lights, you’ll be accused of not doing enough to create the holiday spirit, you ol’ Grinch, you. No matter what you manage to fit into a hectic time-schedule, it’ll be wrong. It'll be too much. It won’t be enough. It’ll never be right. Narcissists’ illusions are unrealistic and no matter how hard you try, your efforts will be judged as inferior. Why? Because:
Narcissists prefer Illusions to Reality
Christmas is a time for narcissists to make extraordinary promises, expecting others to suspend disbelief and go with the flow of 'magical thinking'. Yet, no matter how magical the day may actually be, the narcissist is disappointed. Reality can never compete with narcissistic fantasies which means Christmas becomes a perfect opportunity to ‘escape reality’. After all, it’s the holidays (handy excuse for addictive escapes); people are supposed to have fun (justification); the fact that the only person having fun is ruining everyone else’s fun, isn’t the narcissist’s fault. It’s everyone else’s fault for being critical, judgmental, and overly controlling (projection). So don’t criticize the narcissist if he’s having a good ol’ time at your expense, you stick-in-the-mud, you! Keep the narcissist’s Dream Alive by shutting your mouth, gritting your teeth and pretending to be pleased even if you aren’t particularly glad he passed out with his head in the cranberry sauce. If by a small miracle, you are having a wonderful time, and the kids are having a great time, and everyone is relaxing in familial intimacy, you can count on one thing: Santa's other boot will drop. On your head. You’d best not appear to be having too good of a time. Why? Because:
Narcissists are envious Grinches
That means when you’re having a good time, the narcissist won’t be. The more joyous and connected the family, the more miserable the narcissist. Narcissists feel even more alone in a room full of happy people because they envy happiness. To resolve their envy, or even keep it 'hidden' from consciousness, narcissists Put People Down so they feel superior. If people are having a good time, the envious narcissist will steal their joy as surely as the narcissistic Grinch steals Christmas. Other people's joy and bonded-ness makes narcissists feel deprived, alone, ashamed of being 'defective' and inferior. To resolve the pain of envy, narcissists denigrate other people and their happiness, projecting their feelings onto everyone else. Before the day is over, you'll be feeling ‘cut off’ from yourself and the kids will be pitted against each other. Santa restores his sense of superiority when others are coping with his feelings of inferiority. Super Santa's attempts to squelch Christmas joy have panned out. Now he is back in control.
I'm sure some of you have had the confusing experience of being blasted with criticism right when you thought things were going well. The out-of-the-blue remark that didn't make sense. Suddenly, the narcissist says or does something causing chaos and discord right when everyone's guards were down. An intimate moment is interrupted. Your earnest hope for a pleasant day is interrupted just like you expected it to be and now you're blaming yourself for 'believing' the holidays would be different and gosh, aren't you a fool to put so much energy into making this holiday would be peaceful when you knew all along that the narcissist would do something to ruin it. Like passing out in the eggnog; complaining about dinner being late; disdaining homemade gifts his kids made in art class; refusing to show pleasure over a gift he secretly wanted; or, attacking your siblings for being over-indulgent parents.
In every scenario, from justifying substance addictions to making people miserable, the narcissist is devoted to feeling superior and in control. He eradicates envy or feelings of incompetence by devaluing other people, their accomplishments, and their gifts. When narcissists ruin other people's joy, there’s nothing left for them to envy. They feel Superior and that makes Super Santa smile. Why? Because:
When YOU feel bad, the narcissist feels GOOD
Here's one way Super Santa can ruin the day: Pontificating about the true meaning of Christmas accompanied by a self-righteous pointing of the holier-than-thou finger. The lecture goes more or less like this: “You degrade the true spirit of Christmas with your greedy, needy, & materialistic desires!” (including entitled children wishing Santa brings lots of toys.) Everyone is subjected to a spiritual lesson from the holy-hearted, targeting guilt and shame for asking Santa to bring an X-box for Christmas or a new Bosch mixer to make the family's bread. For hoping to get something they really wanted but surely didn't 'deserve'. By the time Super Holy One has finished his tear-jerking sermon, the wrapping paper has faded on all the presents. Now the family is ready to donate every single gift to charity, berating themselves for being materialistic and shallow.
Another tactic to maintain Santa's superiority: Demand homage from lousy kids who had better be grateful for the hours he worked fulfilling their wishes. Now when they tell their friends what Santa brought them on Christmas morning, the entire neighborhood will be impressed by his super generosity. If Super Santa had his way though, kid’s would get a chunk of coal because that would teach ‘em a life lesson about selfishness---greedy little brats that they are.
Yet, another way to ruin the community spirit: The self-denigrating narcissist insists that whatever he gives people is never good enough to please them. Why should he even bother trying? He does his best but nothing he does ever garners their approval. Super Santa withdraws from the 'competition' completely, abstaining from the risk of gift-giving by telling people to get their own present. He’ll sign his name to the card. Why? Because:
Super Santa covers his Ass
Super Santa disdains anyone who ‘expected’ him to give them a gift (oh, you entitled people, you!). Super Santa also views gift-giving as a competition. Does he know someone intimately enough to figure out what they want for Christmas? Well, most likely not since Santa is super busy in his toy shop and doesn't have time to pay attention to little elves beneath his feet. The narcissist offers a disclaimer before anyone opens his gift by accusing them of being dissatisfied no matter how hard he tried. He knew he could never please them because they are so hard to please.
O dear, the poor widdle narcissist never ‘gets it right’. He complains that ungrateful people are never happy with his efforts---even if we are. It doesn’t matter what you think, after all. If the narcissist says you aren’t happy, you aren’t. So when you open whatever Super Santa gave you this year, put on a smiley face, jump up and down thirty times, roll your eyes in manic joy, do ten twirls around the Christmas tree, whistle a holiday tune out your bodily orifices, lower yourself on bended knees in adoration to your generous benefactor, anoint his feet in oil and declare that you surely did not deserve to get anything at all. That might work. Even if you follow these instructions however, Santa won’t be satisfied and you WILL become confused and self-blaming. Why? Because:
We make False Assumptions
The narcissist appears to be in sync with our desire to create a memorable holiday for everyone. We make a mistake assuming the narcissist is equally invested in community. When narcissists are extra-helpful organizing events, wrapping gifts, purchasing groceries, and rolling out sugar cookies, we assume they are focused on communal values, not themselves. The truth is that narcissists are willing to work very hard in the hopes of fulfilling a DREAM---their dream. Whether the holiday was a success or not depends on how Super the narcissist feels. Which means that while most of us are satisfied with whatever the holidays bring, it’s never enough to satisfy the narcissist’s illusions. Reality never meets his expectations (which by the way, are IMPOSSIBLE!). That means whatever you do, or say, or give, or create is 'defective' because it didn't measure up to what the narcissist expected: complete and total bliss.
One last scenario: This situation is common enough for people dealing with envious narcissists. The day is terrific. The gifts are spot on exactly what everybody wanted, the food is delicious and scheduled events are on time and enjoyable. The more accurate you were in guessing what the narcissist wanted and the more applause you earn because you were so attentive and generous, the more likely it is that the narcissist will attack you. Not because you weren’t good enough, but because you were too good. Your success is his inferiority and the only way for Super Santa to restore his superiority (regulate his self-esteem) is to deflate yours.
If you find yourself feeling ‘embarrassed’, or over-confident, or maybe a little ashamed of being too organized, take a moment to think about whether those are your feelings---or the narcissist’s. Super Santa’s favorite gifts to give others are his crummy feelings. Feelings like shame, rejection, isolation, disdain, contempt for others, and egotism. Let him keep his own gifts. He deserves them. You don't. I hope, for anyone who is spending Christmas with a narcissist, that you will not be thrown off-guard when Santa throws a clinker in the festivities. The end of a confusing day finally comes and we lie awake all night wondering what went wrong. What went wrong is:
We were willing to give the narcissist One Last Chance
Please, don't be too hard on yourself if you have given the narcissist one-last-chance since as far as you can tell, he or she is committed to the relationship and/or family. It’s tempting to tag onto Super Santa’s cape hoping for commitment and changed behavior. Sane and rational people make assumptions based on other relationships without realizing the N-relationship operates differently. They assume that if Super Santa is happy, the family will be happy. They assume that their enormous efforts to bribe Santa with homemade sugar cookies will finally pay off. They assume that the narcissist will eventually accept our gifts graciously, maybe even realize that he is not entitled to being given a second chance. We assume that like other relationships, our compassion will pay off in the end. We assume that people prefer an imperfect holiday with imperfect people, to dissatisfying illusions of perfection.
Well, the holiday season is notorious for crushing unrealistic expectations. Both the narcissist's and our own. It's awfully tempting to believe that Super Santa is real. Intuitively, we know we shouldn't invest our hopes in the narcissist's commitment, or indulge OUR fantasy that this time the narcissist will change. But we do it anyway. We get caught up in the illusion that the narcissist’s zealous preparations for the holidays mean they value community and intimate relationships.
Reality is: Santa's other boot will drop eventually. When it does, don't pick it up. Leave it right where he left it and kindly inform him that HE can pick it up on his way out the back door.
Oh, and tell him to offer Rudolf your sincere condolences, but you are tired of pulling Santa's sleigh and its time to let another 'dear' volunteer for the job.