Living Through and Recovering From a Relationship with a Narcissist

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Trouble in Paradise: Why Do Narcissists Ruin Vacations?

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If you’ve ever gone away on a trip with a narcissist, you’re probably familiar with the ways they can end up spoiling the beautiful plans the two of you made together. But why do narcissists often end up ruining vacations?

Maybe the narcissist promised to take you on the trip of a lifetime. Or maybe it was your trip originally and the narcissist invited himself or herself along, spinning a tale about how wonderful it would be for the two of you to spend some time together. 

Yet what gets sold as a dream can end up turning into a nightmare.

Narcissists also have a tendency to ruin other special days, such as anniversaries and birthdays, Valentine’s Day and other holidays.

Vacations offer similar opportunities to these other special days to inflict harm, however, there are also some additional unique opportunities for them to do so that could be potentially dangerous. This is because vacations take place in different and often unfamiliar environments. 

Let’s look at three situations that help to explain how and why narcissists ruin vacations.

 

Why Narcissists Ruin Vacations

Vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing. The idea of stepping away from everyday life and into another world temporarily should hopefully be transcendent and fill us with gratitude and joy.

There might be bumps and irritants along the way, but we at least know the universe of the types of things we should expect and these are annoyances, within the range of “normal.” We can plan to minimize them as much as possible while maintaining realistic expectations, while understanding that our vacation will help us recharge and go back to our everyday life refreshed and, sometimes, with a new view of the world we live in. 

A vacation with a narcissist, however, can change everything about a vacation for many reasons. This is because the ability of a narcissist to feel peace or expand their view of the world is limited, even when not on vacation.

They may travel for many reasons, however, it’s not for the joy of doing so. 

Here are some of the things narcissists get out of traveling:

  • Impressing people
  • Making others feel indebted to them
  • Showing off wealth or making others envious
  • Hob-nobbing with other people they believe to be of a high status
  • Finding others with whom to have casual sex (i.e., vacations can be environments where people are more likely to throw caution to the wind and engage in casual sexual encounters)
  • Being able to manufacture chaos in a controlled environment
  • Bolstering the idea that they are superior to those around them by ordering those in the tourist and service industries around 24/7 
  • Stringing people along

So make no mistake: they are “getting something” out of traveling.

If they get joy out of traveling or vacation planning–it’s often at the expense of someone else. So for partners involved in those trips with them, it’s often a microcosm of the entire relationship. 

Sometimes narcissists spend the vacation seemingly devising ways to torture you or enjoying any misery you find yourself in.

Sometimes the ball gets dropped far down the road after the vacation is over, and it’s your memories of traveling that get destroyed.

Maybe you never even made it to the destination!

Only one person can have a good time on a vacation with a narcissist, and the narcissist will always ensure that that person is him or her. 

 

How Narcissists Ruin Vacations for Their Partners

Scenario 1: The Dream Vacation

Narcissists may take you on a fantasy trip. It may be nearly perfect. Every need will be attended to, no luxury will be unspared. 

In what stage of the relationship did the dream vacation occur?  If it is near the beginning, you are or were being love-bombed

Narcissists will sometimes use trips in whirlwind romances.  It’s difficult not to fall in love when you’re in an island paradise, removed from all of the problems and routines of your everyday life, and someone is declaring their love for you. 

Or…was it after a period of no-contact?  Were you promised the world and the trip was part of it?  It was likely a hoover maneuver

During a hoover, narcissists may also whisk their partners away from the everyday problems they’ve faced together and try to make partners believe things are changing. In an environment that’s completely different from the “real world,” it may be easy to believe that how sorry they are, that this time things will be different is true. 

Once again, they may be on their best behavior. It may also be easier for them to hide things they don’t want their partners to know or more difficult for us to do any due diligence. Being around them day and night gives them an opportunity to pull a hard sell to bring us back into the relationship.

With clouded judgment and little to no access to balance information, time on our own, or people who could help us make a rational choice, it is almost impossible for us to make good decisions for ourselves that we should stay out of the relationship. 

Beware that although these trips feel as though something has changed, it isn’t true change. It doesn’t actually mean anything is actually different. It’s easy to get swept up in the moment, and they will try to get you to believe that since they spent all the money and time on you that it means something is different. Real change, however, means that they would show you over time that they have stopped engaging in whatever behavior was damaging you and the relationship in the first place. 

If you refuse to take their bait and ask for time–watch their demeanor change. It’s doubtful they’ll be as loving as they were when they thought the trip alone would win you back.

Whether the dream vacation comes at the beginning of a relationship or during a hoover, there is a price to be paid for it and narcissists expect to be paid. They believe that they are buying your obedience and your love. They also believe it buys them the right to treat you however they want to and if you complain, they will call you ungrateful. 

Over time, any beautiful memories you made together can turn to ashes when they hold the trip against you or if you learn about any secrets they were keeping from you the entire time you were there while they were declaring their undying love.

 

Scenario 2: The Vacation From Hell

Vacations can be like devaluation periods on steroids for a narcissist who has stopped idealizing you or who has worked himself or herself into a narcissistic rage. 

Narcissists often do not like to see anything else bring you joy when they have this attitude toward you and want you to feel as miserable as they do. If they sense you are feeling any pleasure, they will try to bring you down. 

The narcissist can use his or her methods of devaluation of choice to torment and harm you, and, because you are on a trip, you have nowhere to go to escape from him or her. The narcissist may flirt in front of you, embarrass or humiliate you in front of others, start arguments on a whim or verbally abuse you, or any number of other harmful acts. 

Furthermore, there are all-new methods of devaluation that make the stakes even higher. The narcissist may make threats to leave you somewhere unfamiliar without transportation or in an unsafe place, find a stranger on vacation and hook up with him or her, leave you without any money for food, lock you out of a hotel room–or may actually go beyond threats and do these things. 

In addition, many things you might try to do to mitigate these circumstances can make things worse.  For example, if you try to take a break from the narcissist and head for the pool, restaurant, bar or out to take a walk or tour the city alone, the narcissist may accuse you of meeting someone new in an amorous context and use it as an opportunity to harass you. 

All of these actions are about control and chaos.

But one of the most dangerous aspects of this kind of a trip with the narcissist is that, if the two of you have taken a trip alone, then he or she has already isolated you from everyone you know. Depending on where you are, you may not even have access to cell service in an emergency.

If the narcissist puts you in danger or engages in unsafe actions with you, then you are in serious jeopardy, especially if his or her anger is out of control, and especially if you are outside of your own country, have communication issues, or are in a very isolated environment away from other people.

This is a special consideration that should be factored in when deciding whether to take a vacation with a narcissist.

 

Scenario 3: The Vacation That Never Was

Narcissists may use vacations to make you believe they are more interested in you than they actually are so you’ll trust them or to keep you invested in the relationship.

Narcissists may try to make you feel special by talking about vacations as one of many types of future plans they either have made or want to make with you.

After all, how can you break up with them when they already have this great trip planned?  Doesn’t that prove how much he or she loves you?  This is a mind game known as “future faking.” The narcissistic abuse dictionary defines “future faking” as:

“grandiose promises about the life [the narcissist plans] to lead with a partner to fake intimacy and make [the partner] feel as if they are closer to the narcissist or more familiar with him or her than they actually are.”

Vacations are a common form of future-faking, because anyone can put down a deposit and then keep putting off a trip indefinitely. 

Beyond future-faking, narcissists may use vacations as a fake form of commitment because they’ve been accused of cheating or have been caught cheating. They may want to show you that you’re the one they really love. Can’t you tell, they’ll say, because you’re the one they have made all those plans with…

If you ever ask them why these vacations don’t occur, one way you can tell that the trip is not intended is if they turn it around on you to make you seem materially-minded, shallow, and “ungrateful.”

If that happens, it can be very confusing. How can it be that they once asked you to consider a beautiful vacation for the two of you as more than just a trip, to consider it a symbol of their love, but when you ask about it because you’ve taken them at their word, suddenly it’s just a trip again and because you’ve asked that means you’re only interested in money? 

That’s a narcissist for you.

 

What to Do about Narcissists Ruining Vacations

I know that what you really want is to have a peaceful vacation with your partner–because you want the relationship itself to be peaceful. You want your partner to stop abusing you, stop devaluing you, keep his or her word, and stop starting arguments over ridiculous things. 

I know–I wanted these things too. 

There are the vacations you must go on with a narcissist and the vacations you want to go on with a narcissist, and there are some overlapping tips for surviving both.

1. Accept that the narcissist cannot enjoy the vacation the same way you do and the vacation will probably not go smoothly. This is almost like adding an extra “bump” or “irritant” to your list of vacation issues that you can expect to happen that you will have to deal with. If you’re traveling with a narcissist, you can probably expect some extra things you wish you wouldn’t have to deal with, so if you accept it ahead of time, then there are no surprise fantasies of “he said he wouldn’t act like this.”  

2. Realize it’s not personal. Narcissists ruin these days for the same reason they ruin their relationships–because it’s in their best interest in some way and because they are broken people. On vacation, you’re in close quarters for twenty-four hours a day. Anything you say and do might potentially reflect back something negative to them and set them off to act in a cruel way, and then you won’t be able to escape that. This may make things seem worse, but it’s the circumstances just magnifying the normal behavior of the narcissist. You can’t control what the narcissist does–you can only prepare and respond to his or her behavior.

3. Consider what the narcissist wants to get out of the relationship.  This means assessing his or her mood before you go, not just in the days or week ahead of time. What did he or she say? Who asked who to go? Are you in a devaluation period or have you been lately? Are you in a hoovering period? Prepare accordingly for what type of treatment you’re likely to get.  I’m not suggesting you cater to the narcissist. I’m suggesting that you prepare to set boundaries and emotional safeguards.

4. Consider not going on the vacation with the narcissist, if possible.  Consider what it is that you want to get out of the relationship.  Is it worth it for you to go?  If so, you will need to prepare to have a happy and peaceful vacation regardless of the tantrums he or she throws and for any surprises the narcissist may throw your way–and if you think you won’t be able to do that, consider the risk of what you will have to endure.  If you think you won’t be safe, being happy is the least of the concerns.

5. Prepare for your safety.  If you do decide to go (or if there are reasons you must go) here are a few things suggestions:

Always have your own key to the room.

Always have some cash of your own. If you’re in another country, get some of that country’s currency.

Know where the embassy is located.

If you can, try to have your own credit card with enough credit on it to rent a car or buy a flight back home if you need it.

Know the layout of the hotel, campsite, resort, etc. where you’ll be staying and get a map of the town you’ll be in. 

Make an emergency card with the name, phone number, and email address of an emergency contact and keep it in your wallet, bag, or pocket at all times.

Write down the names and phone numbers of people whose numbers you regularly use your cell phone to call but haven’t memorized the numbers and keep them on you in case you lose your phone or can’t use it and need to make calls elsewhere.

Make sure at least two people who know you have your itinerary, know where you’ll be staying and when you’ll be back.

The idea is to make sure you have your own resources and knowledge to ensure that you’re not dependent on the narcissist, and so that other people besides the narcissist are able to help you if necessary. 

 

Using the Tips to Keep Narcissists from Ruining Vacations

The hardest of these five tips may indeed be the first one.

It’s ironic because accepting that a vacation with the narcissist is almost certainly going to be painful may be just as painful as some of the damage they inflict. If we could accept it, it would mean letting go of the dream we wish the vacation would be, and we may not need the other tips at all because the trip would likely be less appealing and we may not go at all.

I write all five tips, however, with the personal experience to know that, if you are still entangled with a narcissist, trips with them are likely very much still appealing, and so I hope that you will take precautions and protect your heart and your safety.

 

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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.

3 Comments

  1. I’m married to a narcissist, have been for 15 years. We have three children, and I’m a stay at home mom. He made it clear many years ago that any vacation we go on is HIS vacation, not mine. Because of course he works hard while I do nothing. So vacations for us essentially mean he gets to enjoy a break from work, while I’m expected to continue taking care of anything and everything family related. He’s also good at getting my hopes up about us getting away for dinner alone once during the week, and of course it never happens.

  2. Mine managed to make trips upsetting. Bringing up past conflicts. Silent treatment, triangulation – finding strangers fascinating…! Conversations with strangers that went on way too long. Like—uh aren’t we on a. Romantic getaway? When I brought up my feelings /thoughts on one trip I got a menu tossed at me in a restaurant.
    Ugh- so many bad memories.
    ——

  3. This article rings true for me in so many ways! Every vacation we have gone on has led to a fight and trying to put some space between us like the article mentioned about going down to the pool made it worse. What kind of horrible person am I for walking away, mind you while he is yelling at me! And I’m the stupid one for always hoping this trip will be better, nope it never is.

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