It’s the most wonderful time of the year…unless you’re a narcissist. We asked professionals to weigh in on why narcissists tend to clash with the holiday season. Read on to learn more.
Shirin Peykar

Shirin Peykar

Shirin Peykar is a licensed psychotherapist and founder of “Let’s Talk Divorce.” She owns a group private practice in Los Angeles, California. Find her at theshermanoakstherapist.com

The narcissist feels unimportant

Narcissists hate anything that takes the attention of their suppliers off of them, including the holidays. Narcissists crave and need attention all the time so when the holidays roll around, and your attention is taken off of them, they will almost ruin it for you. The holidays are taking you away from the narcissist in some way, and they don’t like it. They are in constant competition for your attention, energy, thoughts, money, etc. (also known as “supply”).

When your “supply” is focused elsewhere the narcissist feels threatened, jealous, and unimportant. Depending on the situation and the role of the narcissist in your life, they may try different tactics to ruin the holidays for you. They may use this as a time to manipulate you through their gift-giving. They may leave you out of the family gathering. They may use it as a time to hoover you back in through love bombing or victimization, causing you to feel sorry for them if they are alone during the holidays.

They feel threatened

We can conceptualize this question in multiple different ways. But let’s start with the obvious: the end of year holiday season tends to be very collective-focused, which can feel threatening to narcissists.

During the holidays, everyone in a family system is put on a bit of an equal playing field — families have explicit or implicit rules about how much is to be spent on a gift, everyone crams into the same house, and everyone eats the same food during a shared meal. People see the holiday season as a time to treat one another with extra kindness, but that expectation is cyclical — it’s not like a birthday, where you get and get and get unconditionally. You’re expected to get and give and get and give. So because everyone is treated specially, no one is ultimately special — and narcissists have a hard time dealing with that concept. A narcissist may feel that everyone else should receive a $10 gift while they receive a $50 gift, and if that doesn’t happen, their sense of identity is challenged. And it doesn’t matter who you are — having your sense of identity challenged, even if that sense of identity is not based in reality, is uncomfortable.

Narcissists are also prone to exaggerate their accomplishments and talents, and it’s hard to be able to successfully do that when you’re around people who have known you your entire life. To illustrate — I could put on a fancy outfit and drive to another city and stride into an open house for a mansion I could never afford. With enough acting skills, I could probably convince the person selling the house that I was rolling in cash and ready to make an offer. Obviously, that illusion would fall apart the moment I actually had to prove that I could pay, but you get the idea — I could play the role well with strangers who had no idea of who I was. That deception isn’t nearly as easy to pull off with family members. If I told my sister that I was now the CEO of a major corporation, she’d be able to see through it in an instant — she knows my background and who I am and wouldn’t be afraid to call me out if I said something untrue.

The tricky thing is that narcissists often genuinely believe that the exaggerations they tell to other people are true. They don’t like seeing evidence to the contrary — it’s uncomfortable and makes them feel insecure. It’s a heck of a lot easier to avoid people who will tell them that their exaggerations are exaggerations, so they may distance themselves from family members and other people who knew them growing up. Being required to see these people during the holidays can lead to this sense of insecurity, so they may be especially resistant to corrections or might just hide from family members altogether.

Julia Katzman, LMSW

Julia Katzman, LMSW

Julia Katzman, LMSW, a St. Louis based therapist, researcher, and public educator who specializes in adolescent mental health. She currently serves as a therapist at Plan Your Recovery.
Clarence McFerren II

Clarence McFerren II

Clarence McFerren II, Speaker, Educator, Author of Mac J. Books.

Dampens their egos

As children, we learn that sharing is caring but not every child fully embraces the mantra of not only sharing toys but other things like time, attention, feelings, and so on. Holidays are a time for celebration and for people to share lived experiences. However, narcissists view holidays as a time of upstaging their self-proclaimed fictitious greatness to society. Thus, holidays become a “spoil-a-ration” for narcissists because they are not the center of attention which dampens their egos. This causes them to exhaust themselves more than they already do by trying to regain validation that they exist.

There’s a cognitive disconnect between self and holiday for narcissists because there’s a belief that they are the holiday and should be celebrated, which sometimes can be confused with a sense of entitlement. What children do at young ages definitely impacts the development of narcissistic thoughts and behaviors.

Feeling lonely and isolated

First of all, though they don’t know how to express it and fear vulnerability above all else, narcissists feel isolated, abandoned, betrayed, broken, and agonizingly lonely during the holidays.

Over the years, because they lack the social skills required to meaningfully engage with others, and form intimate attachments, they build up excruciatingly [high] levels of internal pain, and these emotions are amplified during the holidays, which are generally reserved for social gatherings, intimate expressing, bountiful giving and joyous celebrations.

For the narcissist, even more than for others, there is a conspicuous connection between holiday expectations and holiday loneliness.

Many narcissists once allowed a modicum of vulnerability to emerge and may have allowed themselves to fall in love. But since they are afraid of intimacy, they often sabotage their relationships, setting themselves up for inevitable heartbreak and rejection.

Holiday Expectations, Loneliness, and Disappointment:

your baby left you
you’re all alone
and now you cry by the telephone
your heart is broken
your soul’s undone
what kinda Christmas has this become?

Western civilization has socialized us all to have high holiday expectations. It’s in our stories and tales of white Christmases, it’s in our songs. It’s in our movies. It’s everywhere, and that becomes abundantly clear each year, beginning in early October. It’s supposed to be a time for falling in love, not for falling out of love or getting heartbroken.

But the element of surprise is not limited to pleasant surprises, and heartbreak is no respecter of holidays. If a narcissist experiences a relationship breakup, it will often happen during the holidays, because that’s when the expectation to be intimate is greatest, and that brings out the fear and the sabotage that often follows.

I would venture to guess (and it is merely a guess), that, of all the days a narcissist will select to initiate a breakup, that day is Christmas Day.

of all the days
you could have picked
of all the days, you picked Christmas

of all the days to cause me so much pain
of all the days
you picked Christmas Day…

The subject in the song, Of all the Days, is based on a fictional character not unlike some of my mental health patients. Many are victims of narcissists and their fear of intimacy.

Narcissists are often grumpy, bitter, and resentful, especially during the holidays.

I encourage narcissists on my caseload to do a little honest soul searching during the holidays. If they reject all that is jolly, perhaps it will become the season to dig deep, and to reach out, for healing the very holiday heartbreak they often bring onto themselves.

Whatever the holidays may hold for the narcissistic, may they hold the holidays, come what may.

Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen

Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen

Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, A licensed clinical psychologist, presently practicing in a community health center in San Diego, California. He is also a singer/songwriter. Find him at drbltmusic.com
Elizabeth Clair de Lune

Elizabeth Clair de Lune

Elizabeth Clair de Lune is a love, relationship, and sexuality coach for women with a history of toxic relationships. She helps people heal from narcissistic abuse and reclaim their strength and their peace. Find her at elizabethclairdelune.com

It makes them dysregulated and angry

Narcissists view other people as resources that can help them maintain their sense of control by ensuring they will always have access to a certain “supply” that comes from those people, such as money, status, admiration, or sex. When they have a reliable flow of supply, they feel regulated and in control. The holidays often split the attention and routines of their lives and the people close to them, disrupting a reliable flow of their supply. This makes the narcissist feel dysregulated, anxious, moody, and angry.

In addition, narcissists lack the tools and ability to have true intimacy. Other people and family members may try to connect with the narcissist during the holidays in an attempt to establish intimacy, but this does not interest the narcissist, and they will often find it boring or tedious.

Finally, narcissists often keep their victims isolated to better control and manipulate them. The holidays often bring people into the picture who aren’t usually around, and the narcissist will worry that he cannot maintain control over a reliable supply and may lash out emotionally in an attempt to [regain] attention and thereby get his supply back.

Gatherings and expectations creates anxiety

The holidays are a stressful time but even more stressful for a narcissist. The intimacy of holiday gatherings and expectations of being close to others creates anxiety for a narcissist. This closeness allows others to see their true self. The self that cares about no one or nothing but themselves. Narcissists must share attention with others causing jealousy and envy. Due to their lack of empathy, a narcissist finds no value in the joy experienced by others. Instead, they will avoid the celebration or ruin it for everyone present. Simply stated, narcissists hate the holidays because they are not the center of attention.

Dr. Nakpangi Thomas

Dr. Nakpangi Thomas

Dr. Nakpangi Thomas is a licensed professional counselor for the State of Michigan with over 25 years of experience working in the counseling profession, an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University, and a writer for mental health startup, Choosing Therapy.

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors are not necessarily affiliated with this website and their statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.

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