Surviving the Narcissist at Your Holiday Gathering: A Fashionable Guide

Navigating the Narcissist 5 Essential Steps to Maintain Your Sanity During the Holidays

5 Steps to Handle a Narcissistic Family Member During the Holidays

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Image by Mauro Grigollo / Stocksy

December 14, 2023

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For some, spending time with loved ones is exactly what makes the holidays so special. But if you have a narcissist in the family, let’s be real—family time can be the very thing you dread the most about the season.

But fear not, fellow fashionistas, for we have some fabulous tips from experts on how to handle the narcissist in your family when you can’t avoid being around them. Get ready to slay the holidays with these glamorous strategies:

1. Prepare yourself ahead of time

According to psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, L.P., before you even head over to your family gathering, you’ll want to have an action plan for dealing with this person (or people). Namely, she suggests, take time to reflect on the kinds of boundaries you might need to set.

You could ask yourself how much time you really need to spend talking with this person, for instance, or what you can do to make sure your joy isn’t interrupted by their behavior. In short, Spinelli adds, “Think about what you are willing to tolerate and where you will set your boundary.”

2. Use the “grey rock” method

Once your plan is set and you’re actually at the gathering, we suggest leaning on the grey rock method whenever possible. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s essentially a method for dealing with dark personality types and involves becoming as boring and uninteresting as a grey rock.

Spinelli always recommends using this method when you have to interact with a narcissist, and she tells VoiceAngel that some keys include responding briefly, minimizing engaging and/or convincing in conversations, investing less emotionally in interactions, or leaving interactions quickly.

Check out our full guide to the grey rock method for more information.

3. Take a beat

When you’re dealing with a narcissist, don’t be surprised if it seems like they’re deliberately trying to bother you—because they very well might be.

As clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, previously told VoiceAngel, toxic people will put you down, insult you, and even make jokes about something you’re sensitive about, just to get a rise out of you. “All they want is to make you squirm—they thrive on that,” Neo notes.

With that in mind, be sure to take a beat and resist the temptation to snap back at this person; you’ll only be playing into their game. Spinelli echoes this point, adding to be sure to limit what you share and be mindful of your own internal and external boundaries.

4. Hold your boundaries

Speaking of boundaries, there’s an important component around self-empowerment that we want to call out. As licensed marriage and family therapist Rachel Zar, LMFT, CST, previously told VoiceAngel, we think setting a boundary sounds like, “Please don’t ask me about politics,” but what it actually sounds like is, “If you ask me about politics, I won’t respond.” Or, as another example, instead of, “Can you not bring up family gossip around me?” you would say, “I will not participate in family gossip.”

The difference here is that the boundary is not a question; it’s a clear directive, and more importantly, it’s something enforced by your actions instead of waiting for the other person to change. Boundaries only work when you can hold them yourself, Zar adds, regardless of the other person’s behavior. (And at the end of the day, the only thing you can really control is you.)

5. Have a plan if you need a break

Finally, when all else fails, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do if things get heated. As Spinelli suggests, regularly check in with yourself to make sure you’re not too depleted or dysregulated, and remove yourself for a bit if need be. (Maybe this looks like going to the bathroom, offering to take the dog out, taking a phone call—do what you have to do to pause and regroup.)

And afterward, Spinelli adds, be sure to take care of yourself by recharging and talking to a trusted loved one if you need to.

The takeaway

The holidays should be a time of celebration and joy—not of walking on eggshells and doing calming breathwork in the bathroom. But sometimes, we can’t avoid a narcissist in the family tree, and when that’s the case, it’s imperative to have a plan for protecting your energy.

Remember, my fashionable friends, you have the power to slay any situation, even the most narcissistic of holiday gatherings. Stay fabulous, set those boundaries, and keep your sparkle shining bright!

How do you handle narcissists in your family during the holidays? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!