Guest Author Sam Vaknin, PhD —
Holidays for People who Live with an Abusive Person:
“I Fear the Holidays: It is the Worst Time of the Year!”

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The holiday season should be a time of family get-togethers, love shared, and relatives and friends brought up to date. Holidays are supposed to be the reification of that contradiction in terms: mass or group intimacy.

Instead, for victims of family violence and abuse, the holidays are recurring nightmares, replete with danger and duplicity, a theater of the absurd with menacing overtones. This is especially true when the offender also has Narcissistic or Antisocial Personality Disorders. It is important to understand the mindset of such abusers.

I. Envy

Holiday blues are a common occurrence even among the mentally sound. In abusers with narcissistic or antisocial personalities, they provoke a particularly virulent strain of pathological envy. The psychopathic narcissist is jealous at others for having a family, or for being able to celebrate, or for possessing the right, festive mood.

Holidays remind the narcissist of his childhood, of the supportive and loving family he never had. The narcissistic and psychopathic abuser feels deprived and, coupled with his rampant paranoia, he feels cheated and persecuted. To him, holidays are a conspiracy of the emotional haves against the emotional haves not.

II. Passive-Aggressiveness

Holidays and birthdays are injurious impositions and reminders of vulnerability. Holidays create in the narcissist an abandon of negative, nihilistic emotions, the only type of feelings he is intimately acquainted with.

On holidays, on birthdays and even on his own birthday, the narcissist makes it a point to carry on routinely: he accepts no gifts, does not celebrate, or passive-aggressively works till the wee hours of the night. Such pointed withdrawal is a demonstrative refusal to participate, a rejection of social norms. The narcissist-abuser wants to be drawn out of his sulk and pouting — yet, he declines all offers and opportunities and evades all attempts to draw him out. He hurts those who try to make him smile and to forget.

III. Control Freakery

Psychopathic and narcissistic abusers hate it when other people are happy if they are not the cause of such jubilation and joy. They have to be the prime movers and shakers, the center of attention, and the cause of everybody’s moods. In contrast, the narcissist believes that he should be the sole source and cause of his emotions. He, therefore, perceives holidays as prescriptions coming from high above as to how he should behave and feel on given days. Narcissists abhor authority and resent it (they are counter-dependent.)

The psychopathic narcissist projects his own desolate inner landscape onto others: he is convinced that people are faking and feigning their happiness — that it is false and forced. He feels that they are hypocrites, dissimulating joy where there is none. Envious as he is, the narcissist is humiliated by his envy, and enraged by his humiliation. He feels that other people are the recipients of gifts that he has been deprived of: the ability to enjoy life and to feel joy.

Besieged by gnawing inadequacy, the narcissistic abuser does his best to destroy everybody else’s celebratory mood: he provokes a fight, makes disparaging or snide remarks, projects a dire future, and sows uncertainty in relationships. When he has rendered his family and social circles sour and sad, his mood improves dramatically and he tries to cheer everyone up (in other words: to control how they feel). Now any joy would be real, his own doing, and controlled by him.

What can you do about it?

Act against your better instincts: do not try to involve an abuser in festivities, family events, birthdays, special occasions, and gatherings. Such attempts will only infuriate him further. Instead, leave him be. Go out, join friends and family at their abodes, and celebrate to your heart’s content. Chances are that by the time you have returned the abuser will have forgotten all about it and things will revert to “normal.”

Admittedly, some abusive intimate partners will be spoiling for a fight no matter what. There is nothing you can do about it except set boundaries and punish misbehavior and maltreatment. Whether you choose to involve an abuser in holiday activities or not is immaterial: he will torment and haunt you all the same.

by Sam Vaknin, PhD, the excellent author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” and other books about personality disorders.

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Holidays for People who Live with an Abusive Person:
“I Fear the Holidays: It is the Worst Time of the Year!”

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