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How Narcissists Ruin Holidays: It’s Not Your Imagination

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Narcissists ruin holidays and make what should be a joyful time of year into a time of tears and anxiety–and sometimes even fear. 

The holidays can be a painful time of year for people who are in relationships with narcissists. It can feel as if no matter how your relationship has been going with them before the holidays even start, they can find a way to use this time of year to cause additional pain.

By taking advantage of the cultural norms and expectations surrounding holidays or the disruption to normal routines, they can find creative ways to hurt and control.

This holds true regardless of what holiday or holidays you’re celebrating or even if you’re not celebrating at all. 

It’s not just the holiday season–they also have a tendency to ruin other special days, such as anniversaries, birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, as well as vacations.

This is because the disruptions to normal routines and expectations around these events even for other people. They provide an especially prolonged period of time and many different opportunities for narcissists to hurt others.

Below are seven ways that narcissists can either interfere with holiday conventions or use the holidays to cause chaos. Each has its own motivations and outcomes for the narcissist.

How Narcissists Ruin Holidays

How Narcissists Ruin Holidays

Although the holiday season tends to be stressful, most of us can probably agree that holidays should be a time when appreciation for those you love is elevated and prioritized. 

Narcissists, however, have no interest in true harmony. Depending on the type of narcissist, they thrive in chaos for many reasons.

Even when there is no chaos to engineer, they can still use the holidays to manufacture emotions and they do benefit from the emotions of others. 

1. Narcissists use the holiday season to gain sympathy.  

Some narcissists use every opportunity to get others to feel sorry for them. They told us their sob stories when we first met them about how their past partners mistreated them or about how down on their luck they were.

Holidays with narcissists, however, can take on a whole new significance. They spin tales about how they never got any presents when they were children, or about how their ex always ruined the holidays for them.

Horrible things happen in this world and some people have had some horrible things happen to them, during holidays and otherwise.

What we need to keep in mind with narcissists, however, is that these things may or may not have happened as described and it’s that they use these stories as a weapon to manipulate others. 

Their histories sometimes are not true–they make up entire personas of things that didn’t happen to them, or exaggerate or project their own behavior onto others in their past and then use those events on those with whom they interact with currently in order to get away with their new behaviors. 

This is the precursor or the excuse to the other things they might do during the holidays–if they are mistreating you during this time, they can blame it on the fact that they have bad holiday memories.

2. Starting arguments or breaking up with you on or just before a major holiday. 

Narcissists don’t like it when your attention is on anything else other than them. They also get jealous when anything but them has the power to bring you joy.

When they see you happy, they may start an argument. To them, this guarantees a spot in your brain space that is at least equally as important as your anticipation of that holiday event.

If what they do to you is bad enough, they can also attach themselves traumatically to your holiday memories. They would rather be the cause of your unhappiness and misery than not be the center of your attention at all. 

Why would the narcissist go to all that trouble to cause misery rather than joy?

Narcissists do not like competition and know that they have to share you during the holiday season. There are parties, family events, your friends, your children… they don’t like that. Not only are all of those other things taking your attention off of them–you may also be sharing in activities that make them feel left out.

3. Using the sentimental value of the holiday season to hoover. 

You may have gone no-contact with the narcissist in your life. Now you’re trying to heal from the relationship.

Holidays, however, provide the perfect cover to get a surprise hoover. The narcissist may reach out with a call, email or text to wish you happy holidays.

They are trying to use the harmonious spirit to their advantage, hoping you’ll think it’s rude not to respond.

They may also try to evoke happy memories in you that overcome your instincts not to interact with them.

4. Setting up your expectations and then disappointing you. 

Narcissists may make plans with you to go to your parents’ home for a family celebration but cancel last-minute. This leaves you to make all of the explanations to everyone.

They may also ask you what gift you would like, making elaborate promises. Then, they will give you something totally different, something very impersonal and cheap. Or they may give you nothing at all.

In the end, it’s not about the gift.

As with canceling plans, it’s about the lack of care they seem to show for both your feelings and about what they told you they would do.

If you ask them about any of these things, they turn it around on you to make you seem petty or argumentative.

5. Giving elaborate gifts to hold against you later.  

Sometimes the opposite of #4 will happen when it comes to gifts.

If you are being love-bombed, they may load you up with elaborate presents, but be warned that they are keeping track. You will hear about those gifts for the rest of the relationship.

During arguments, you will hear about how much they cost. In the devaluation stage, they will act as if they were not gifts at all. They may treat them as favors to avoid paying for things for which they are responsible.

Just be aware of narcissists gift-giving strategy as a way to get something in return. Even if they seem heart-felt in the moment, you are likely to pay in some way for those gifts later.

6. Excluding you from holiday events.

Narcissists are good at playing innocent when they want to. Holiday events give narcissists excuses to stay late at work for holiday parties or spend time with friends outside of regular routines.

Even if they’re don’t celebrate or you don’t, both of you may get many invitations, and attending may be social.

If they are in the middle of juggling several people at once, they may attend a holiday event and “conveniently” forget to invite you or they may use an invitation as an excuse to be somewhere else.

They may also use holiday routine disruptions as an excuse to triangulate you with others or give you a silent treatment. 

7. Using threats and promises about how smoothly the holidays will go. 

Narcissists may know certain events are important to you because they hold tremendous sentimental value.  They may combine all or more of the items on this list to hold this over your head.

This can give them a lot of power over us because we just want to keep the peace, especially if we have children with them.

We feel like we have to walk on eggshells and we can’t speak up or be ourselves just to have a somewhat normal holiday season. 

This is the ultimate goal of why narcissists ruin holidays. They want to hold the holiday season over our heads so that they can get their way.

Know Their Game Plan and Arm Yourself

Narcissists try to ruin the holiday season by holding our desire for joy and harmony over our heads so that they can get their way.

Knowing narcissists try to ruin holidays and you can’t control it can help you detach from how they behave.

This can help you have peace in your life and survive this holiday season. [Read “How to Deal with a Narcissist During the Holidays”]

If you enjoyed the holiday season before you knew the narcissist, by arming yourself with the knowledge about what to expect, you can continue to enjoy them now. 


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Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.

One Comment

  1. I have a friend who is a “vulnerable narcissist”. I have had to distance myself from her before because of her behavior. It can really mess up your emotions. Well,, this year she ruined a holiday by starting an argument about something not worthy of an argument.I tried to explain .. tried to be empathetic but also honest. She would not let up…She said “I guess it’s time to go” and I said ”’Yes it is.”
    So as she left I told her in a very quiet but direct way “go away” and locked the door.I was ready to SCREAM at her but knew that wasn’t the right way to deal with her I also wasn’t going to let her start a fight ..which is what she wanted me to do. She is a whiney drama queen when she is in this crappy state.When your in the midst of’s sometimes hard to stay calm because she is pushing pushing pushing!!!Oy Vey!!
    Why is this person in my life? Because she has good traits as well as bad…We are both creative people.
    I try to see the good.

    I will NEVER receive an apology..I don’t expect it.not from a narcissist.I did write her a letter (not mean but honest..)telling her that I will have to keep my distance from her for a while .
    I’m starting to get less patient.I have been a very good friend to her over the years but this latest episode wasn’t necessary…especially with what we have all been through with the Pandemic.
    I’m sure she is miserable now but guess what?. It was completely unnecessary and she ruined what would have been a really enjoyable, mellow holiday.And she gave me lovely gifts..But what good are gifts if you treat the person your giving the gifts to like a dish rag?Kinda kills the enthusiasm doesn’t it.

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