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Trouble in Paradise: Why Narcissists Ruin 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 themselves, 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. Why narcissists ruin vacations, however, isn’t as much of a mystery as it may seem. 

Vacations aren’t an exception. Narcissists also have a tendency to ruin other special days, such as anniversaries and birthdays, Valentine’s Day and other holidays.

[Read “How Narcissists Ruin Holidays: It’s Not Your Imagination“]

Yet because vacations can take place in different and often unfamiliar environments, there are some additional unique opportunities for them to inflict harm on survivors that could be potentially dangerous. 

 

Why Narcissists Ruin Vacations

A vacation with a narcissist 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.

For partners involved in those trips with them, what happens can often resemble what happens in the rest of your relationship. 

Sometimes narcissists spend the vacation seemingly devising ways to torture you or enjoying any misery you find yourself in, and you may actually find yourself endangered.

Sometimes the narcissist merely acts in such a self-absorbed or devaluing manner that you can’t relax or you’re constantly put in situations where you find yourself in emotional pain or walking on eggshells. [See “The Ultimate Narcissist Dictionary to review unfamiliar terms]

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. 

Why 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. 

[Read “5 Reasons Love-Bombing is a Stealth Danger”]

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. 

[Read “Signs the Narcissist You Know is Hoovering You“]

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 how sorry they are, that this time when they say things will be different, it’s 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 information or to other people who might be able to provide more rational and balanced ideas, 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. 

[Read “How the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle Keeps Us from Leaving“] 

Narcissists often do not like to see anything else bring you joy when they have this attitude toward you and will 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 their methods of choice to torment and harm you, and, because you are on a trip, you have nowhere to go to escape from them.

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, keep you isolated inside the room and away from others, take you identification so you can’t board flights or leave–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 regularly or engages in unsafe actions with you or makes threats to do so, then you may potentially end up in serious jeopardy on a vacation, especially if their anger often spirals out of control.  

This is a special consideration that should be factored in when deciding whether to take a vacation with a narcissist. A vacation outside your own country, where you might have communication issues due to a language barrier, or where you will be in a very isolated environment away from other people could be especially dangerous.

Scenario 3: The Vacation That Never Was

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.

They may use vacations to make you believe they are more interested in you than they actually are to build trust or to keep you invested in the relationship.

After all, how can you break up with them when they already have this great trip planned?  Doesn’t that prove how much they love you?  This is a mind game known as “future faking.”

[Read “How Narcissists Play Mind Games to Make You Think the Problem is You”]

Vacations are a common form of future-faking, because anyone can make a reservation or 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 with whom they have made all those plans.

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.

Tips for Surviving Vacations with Narcissists

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. 

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. If you don’t have to, consider not going on the vacation at all.

Is it really worth it for you to go on this trip with the narcissist? 

If so, you will need to prepare emotionally to have a happy and peaceful vacation regardless of what the narcissist is doing.

Regardless of the tantrums that he or she throws or the surprises they throw your way, you’ll have to be willing to shrug them off and enjoy where you are on your own. That means accepting ahead of time who you’re with and what’s likely to happen.

We don’t want to do that, do we?  We hold out hope that this time, it’s going to be the one perfect vacation. Then we put ourselves at risk. 

Instead, maybe this time, however, you can have that part of you ready to back off and go do your own thing if your partner doesn’t live up to what you’d hoped–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.

2. If you don’t have to go, but you want to go, practice acceptance ahead of time that the vacation will probably not go the way you wish it would.

Practice accepting that your partner just 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.”  

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. If you must go, or if you think there’s any chance your partner could turn on you at some point, prepare for your safety. 

Here are a few 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 index 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.

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. We generally consider them annoyances that we can plan to minimize as much as possible while maintaining realistic expectations. We know 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. 

Yet traveling with a narcissist adds a dimension to our trip that upends all our expectations.  and causes us to Taking precautions ahead of time to protect our hearts and our safety can minimize the damage.

 

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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. Just returned from a vacation to Puerto Vallerta last weekend. Went with my first cousin, and it was our only time vacationing together in 60+ years. What a shock to discover she turned out to be a covert, passive aggressive narcissist of epic proportions. I got miffed after she conned me into climbing about 100 feet straight up a rocky, uneven path to see a dried up waterfall. I have some neuropathy in my right leg and foot, and I told her the climb would be too risky for me. She pretended not to hear me and sprinted up the hill and out of my line of sight. I slipped and fell three times on the way down. She pretended not to notice how bloody, swollen and ripped up my knee was. Back at the hotel she asked if I planned to sleep the rest of the day. I told her “just until the bleeding stops, but until then, maybe we should discuss what had happened, before it festers into irreparable rage on my part. ” She made a sour face and said she “hated to talk about icky stuff like my leg. She said I should just drop it.” Then when she saw how angry I was getting, she got all pissy and stormed out of the hotel until the wee hours. As a grand finale, on departure day she woke me up late (I was conked out on pain meds) and in the 2o minutes I had to pack, I lost a pair of RX glasses, my cell phone screen had mysteriously shattered the night before and my new camera was goofed up. She also “forgot to save me coffee” from room service that she had ordered two hours earlier.

    Long story short, as long as I have an ass, she will always have a place to kiss. As for the hairline fracture I got during one of the falls I took, she can kiss that, too. :/

  2. Wow, this article resonated with me SO much! Vacations with my ex NPD husband were torture! I wish I knew then what I know now but am so glad I’m no contact with him. He leaves a swaft of destruction where ever he goes! Thanks for writing about this!

  3. lisa williams

    who would want to travel with one of these horrendous people not me for certain

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