The holiday aftermath: Understanding why you overspent, stressed over, and became semi-crazy, to spend time with your narcissistic family; and how you can recover.

Let’s face it, the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays can be stressful, especially when you have planned to spend it with your family – who happens to be narcissistic. It’s that time of year where we travel home, and try to make good impressions on family and friends; some of whom we haven’t seen in ages. We present ourselves in the best light possible. Thus we endure more stress, mini meltdowns, financial strain, and miss out on the chance to recoup; because we spent all our time off from work to be with family. When we worry about presenting the best image of ourselves, we obsess over what they will say and how they perceive us. We go the extra mile to clean the house from top to bottom, we buy nice gifts (which are nicer than what we buy ourselves), we cook extravagant meals, we fight crowds at the malls and grocery stores to begin holiday preparations, we pay travel expenses, we make room for ‘everyone’ to stay in our home, and most importantly; we neglect to acknowledge our inner stress and anxiety. We are out of our element and it’s crunch time to shine no matter what the cost, because we want to be accepted by our family. Here are some reasons why you may continue to do this every year.

1) Media and retail marketing condition us to believe that this is the most important time of the year. Commercials emphasize that gift giving equals love. Even Santa Claus only gives gifts to those that are nice throughout the year, but if you were naughty, then you are out of luck friend. There are many holiday commercials which suggest that we need to cook elaborate dinners and buy expensive gifts for our friends and family during this time of the year. When you walk into a retail store, you are immediately confronted with teasers that you are supposed to be buying for that season. Those are constant reminders that “hey you are supposed to be buying this stuff because everybody else is doing it.” If that’s not enough there are also those wonderful Christmas songs that remind us to “give.” At most jobs, they will often start a donation for canned goods and other items for the homeless during this time of the year. Ever wonder what happens to “the giving nature” during the rest of the year? Thus according to commercialized American standards, buying and cooking lots of stuff for people means that you are a good person.

2) We want love and acceptance. Some of us will do anything to get it. We will go through the extreme to buy that expensive gift, or make that expensive, and stressful holiday trip across the country to see our family, because it’s what we believe they want and we want to make them happy. By trying to make others happy, we believe that is the token to their hearts. In order to accomplish this, we exaggerate and lie about who we are, what’s going on in our lives, and how that person truly makes us feel. Thus, we believe “if I can make someone I love think of me in a positive light, respect me, and want to connect with me” – then we feel like winners. The tricky part comes when you go above and beyond to produce this image of yourself to please them, and they don’t give a damn about the sacrifices  you made to impress them; or they make a snarky remark about you that makes your whole world come crashing down. You broke your back and your wallet, and it still isn’t enough to please them.

3) The statement “because it’s family…” That statement essentially tells you that despite whatever you are feeling, that you are do whatever your family wants you to, whether you want to or not.  Typically, the people that make that statement are not the ones who are making the sacrifices. They are the ones who make you feel guilty for not making them.

4) You may experience guilt and/or denial about your feelings toward your family. Maybe you feel guilty for not connecting with them throughout the year, so you buy things to overcompensate. Perhaps a part of you feels like you don’t like your family, but you can’t bear the thought of being in this world and not belonging to your tribe, so you “fake it till you make it” just to be around them. Some of us would rather surround ourselves with toxic people, rather than be alone. Rather than admitting these kinds of feelings we would rather stick with a program that we know, even if it is dysfunctional because it’s a familiar territory.

Now that we understand why we go through this stress during the holidays, here are some steps that you can take to remedy the issue.

1) Recognize that overextending yourself to your family is a problem, and that it only affects you. One way of determining that your stress of being around your narcissistic family is a problem, is by doing the math. Really quick, simple, and straight to the point. Did your family go through the same amount of trouble to please you by overspending, cleaning their house, traveling, or going through the extremes to try and accommodate you? If your answer is no, then this is the perfect time to stop, check in with yourself, be honest about what you are feeling, and recognize that this is a problem. Not only have you overspent your financial piggy bank, but your emotional bank has also been exhausted; and you did not get a return on your investment. This frequently happens to those of us that are used to putting others’ needs and acknowledging their feelings before our own. But somewhere inside of you, there is a little voice, that is begging you to stop the madness, listen to yourself, and to take better care of you.

2) Understand change is going to feel different to you and the people around you, thus you need to prepare in advance. When you start changing, people around you who are used to you being a certain way are going to be resistant to that change. Feeling comfortable about going against family resistance and norms requires preparation. If you decide to “break the mold and do what’s best” for you, people are going to have a problem with that. For example, if you decide not to trek halfway across the country to be with family during Christmas, preplan something that you would do instead and prepare yourself for your family’s response to your actions.  Some helpful preplanning techniques include telling your family ahead of time that you have other plans this year, taking a vacation of your own choosing, or spending time with friends. Whatever you decide to do, the key is to have a plan in place before the holiday hits.

3) Be mindful of how you feel, and give yourself permission to admit those feelings to yourself. This requires introspection, objectivity, and the ability to process what those feelings mean to you.There are various cues that can clue you in that you are stressed about spending the holidays with your family which include: migraines, anxiety or panic, other people that are close to you are telling you that you stressed out, increasing your alcohol intake, withdrawing from others, feeling exhausted and of course the shock of your bank balance being incredibly low when you return back to your normal life. Perhaps by overcompensating this holiday, you were looking for acceptance, love, or maybe this has just become a habit because you are not sure how else you can spend your holidays. Whatever the case may be, diving deep into your feelings, and giving yourself permission to be okay with how you feel can be difficult. Seeking out the support of a therapist can help support you in coping with this time of the year.

© Natalie Jones, LPCC, PsyD. | Clinical Psychologist