Here come the holidays, bringing with them lots of socializing and lots of exposure to your unique family or friend group dynamics. While there are some family members and friends you will be excited to spend time with, there are also those that you may dread seeing—for good reason!
Maybe one of the most difficult personality types to deal with is a narcissist. We have all known at least one; that person who needs to be the center of every conversation, interrupts others often, and has an inflated sense of their own accomplishments—and can’t wait to tell you all about every last one of them. An old narcissist joke goes like this: “I used to be a narcissist…but now look at me!”
Narcissists rarely apologize, either, even when called out on their behavior. An apology from a narcissist may sound something like, “I’m sorry if you think I’m being abusive,” or, “I’m sorry; are you happy now?” Not much of an apology at all.
How do we survive these tense and frustrating interactions without losing our cool? Here are a few helpful tips to make it through the holidays around a narcissist:
Narcissism Can Be a Personality Disorder
It is probably wise, as you take a deep breath and sit down at the holiday dinner table next to a narcissist, to remember that narcissism can be a personality disorder. There are no medical tests that can confirm it, of course, so many professionals use the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a list of 40 questions that measures indicators of narcissism, such as craving power. (Not all narcissism is a personality disorder, however.)
“Personality disorders are long-standing, ingrained, dysfunctional patterns of thinking, behaving and relating to other people,” according to WebMD.com. “People with narcissistic personality disorder tend not to perceive that they themselves may have a mental health problem, and thus may be less likely to seek evaluation or treatment.”
- Some symptoms of this disorder include:
- Attempting to manipulate others
- Only associating with those considered “on their level”
- Shames others
- Emotionally neglectful
- Not listening to others
Not too pleasant, right? When dealing with a narcissist, however, it is important to remember that this person may seem very confident, but the opposite may be true; they may have terrible self-esteem as well.
Additionally, narcissists are often very charming and loads of fun to be around (at least short-term!). So, at some point, they have received a payoff for their behavior. Many very successful people have narcissistic traits, in fact, but are able to keep them under control.
So, perhaps before you interact with a narcissist over turkey dinner, pray this prayer: “Lord, give me patience and wisdom in this situation. Let me think before speaking, and guide my word, tone, and facial expressions. Help me to remember that this person may have a real personality disorder, and in fact may feel very badly about themselves, deep down.”
Don’t Take It Personally, and Don’t Look for Approval
Narcissists can push our buttons. Whether it is being emotionally abusive by continuing to grill you or tease you about a topic you would rather not talk about, insisting on the whole group’s attention at every moment, or one-upping every accomplishment others share, it is tempting to quickly shut down the narcissist in your life with a harsh word or look.
But then you’ve taken the bait, right? Don’t take what this person says to heart; their approval of you is not important. What is important is that everyone gathered for the holiday celebration has the best, most meaningful time possible. That may mean firmly, yet gently, saying, “I am choosing not to talk about this anymore,” or a brisk, “Moving on; who saw that terrific football game last night?” Don’t get trapped in a narcissist’s web.
Part of being firm with a narcissist is not accepting blame, either. “A person with a narcissistic personality disorder isn’t likely to admit a mistake or take responsibility for hurting you,” explains Healthline.com. “Instead, they tend to project their own negative behaviors onto you or someone else. You might be tempted to keep the peace by accepting blame, but you don’t have to belittle yourself to salvage their ego.”
What if a narcissist won’t back down, even after you’ve given many non-verbal cues that they’re going too far? If it comes down to it, offer clear consequences to a narcissist’s continued rude behavior. “People with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises,” explains Healthline. “They promise to do what you want and not to do that thing you hate. They promise to generally do better.” For example, if your narcissistic sister continues to verbally harass you in front of the family for something you did when you were kids (perhaps exaggerating your actions and their hurt), you might say, “You have promised not to bring that up again, and you’re breaking your promise and making everyone uncomfortable. I can’t be around you any longer if you continue to break your word to me.”
Again, pray for wisdom in this situation. If you feel tensions building you might ask the Lord, “God, be with us all in this moment. Help us to be firm but loving, not allowing ourselves to be abused, and when we need to, communicating clear consequences. Make us peacemakers, not inflaming situations but not being doormats, either. May our words and actions be balanced and helpful—actions You are proud of.”
Pray for the Narcissist in Your Life
As with every situation, take it to the Lord in prayer. Remember that no matter how hard someone is to deal with, God loves them, too. He ordained their life and has a special purpose and plan just for them. We don’t know all the hidden hurts and challenges a narcissistic person feels; only God does. The most helpful thing you can do is to pray for them. Ask God to heal whatever hidden insecurities they might have, and to help them control their narcissistic impulses, transforming their difficult personality while helping them to fulfill the unique call on their life.
Ask God for the whole network of individuals around a narcissist to be patient and forgiving, and for real healing to take place. God can bind families and friends back together, creating new miracles in even the most hopeless situations. As we move into this season of blessing, renewal, and redemption, let’s not forget those in most need of all three. While it is easy to pray for someone we deem deserving, perhaps our greatest challenge—and our best, most Christ-like love—is to pray for those whom it is hard to pray for. These verses may help you to increase your patience and compassion:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:7-8)
“A hot-tempered person stirs up trouble, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18)
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AntonioGuillem
Deirdre Reilly is a writer and editor, and her commentary has appeared on various websites including CBN.com, FoxNews.com, and others. Her new book, “The Pretend Christian: Traveling Beyond Denomination to the True Jesus,” details her own personal journey through doubt and fear into true belief. You can connect with Deirdre via www.deirdrereilly.com, or follow her on Twitter at @deirdrewrites.