The holidays are meant to gather with family and count the many ways God has blessed us throughout the year. But when narcissistic parents knock at the door, it can turn an otherwise happy holiday into one wrought with strife and turmoil.
But this holiday season, keep the proper perspective. Narcissistic parents think about themselves and put themselves first. Even offering to bring a side dish to dinner or offer your kids a Christmas gift, they will find a way to make sure the attention shifts to them and not to others. This meets an unmet emotional need in their lives. Although this may be frustrating, understanding these truths will help you practice empathy and patience throughout the holidays.
The holidays, especially Christmas, are about others. We often sacrifice to get the perfect gift for those we love, but that is not always possible with parents who only think about themselves. In a season when the Savior surrendered his deity to live on earth and give the ultimate sacrifice of himself, it can be extra frustrating to celebrate with people who selfishly put their needs ahead of others.
Here are six ways to cope with narcissistic parents over the holidays:
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1. Pray About It
As with anything, bring your frustrations to God. Cry out to Him. Pour out your anger. Ask God to be with you when you are with your parents. When they arrive, ask them to say the dinner prayer. Ask them how they are doing. If you make them the focus of your attention for a short period of time, they may not need to have the attention every minute they are around. Jesus would do this if he were in this situation. He would want us to put others first. Shift your perspective and make it your priority to ensure they have the best holiday possible. When you put others first, you will feel fulfilled as well.
2. Bite Your Tongue
If you're the type of person who always tells people what you think, keeping your opinions to yourself may be especially difficult. However, keeping your words in your mouth instead of spewing them out may allow you to be a peacemaker this holiday season. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what helps build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Although there are times when a rebuke is necessary, the holidays are less than an ideal time. Your parents may not be the only people attending the holiday, and you owe it to everyone present to make it as peaceful a holiday as possible.
Journal your feelings before and after the event. Hold nothing back. Express your feelings on the page rather than at the dinner table. If something between you needs to be settled, wait until after the holidays to resolve it if your parents cause additional grief during the holidays; set up a time to call them on the phone or meet with them in person. Set a goal that the New Year is the time when forgiveness abounds and reconciliation takes place.
3. Lean on God's Understanding
Proverbs 3:5-6 says,“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” You may think you know everything about your parents, but there are lots of things about them you don't know. There may be a reason why they act the way they do. Trust that God sees the whole picture. Treat your parents the way you would want to be treated this holiday season. Although it may be difficult to put aside the past and enjoy the holidays with them, there may come a day when your parents are no longer with you. The harsh words and ugly events that seemed so important now may be nothing but a distant memory once they're gone.
Consider whether what you hold against them is important enough to ruin the holidays. If you have children or grandchildren this is an extra special consideration. Your children and grandchildren still love your parents and want them to be a part of their lives. Trust that God will handle whatever situation you feel may be separating you from your parents. God knows things we do not. Trust him to make the situation right.
4. Let Time Be On Your Side
If your parents say or do something that upsets you, make a goal to wait 48 hours before saying anything. So often we react emotionally and impulsively in the heat of the moment. Sleep on the incident for two days. If at the end of two days you still find it's something you need to bring to their attention, ask them if there is a time where you can speak to them privately. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does heal some wounds. Let time be on your side and let it help you decide if what they say or do is major enough to upset—or even sever—your relationship.
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If time and finances are available, take some time off before the holidays. Get a massage, a facial, or something else that relaxes you. Find relaxing activities to do before and after the day you see your parents. Adult coloring books, knitting, and crocheting are also great and cheap activities to soothe the mind and relax the body. This will help you cope with the holiday season and all the stress that comes with it. The more relaxed you are, the better you'll be able to see the situation with your parents clearly. You may find you overreact more than necessary. By allowing your mind to replenish its stress hormones, you will find you will be able to cope with the holidays more easily.
6. Resolve Your Emotions
Sometimes you are reacting to a present event with your parents. But sometimes you're reacting to unresolved wounds and past hurts that have not been resolved. There are great resources available to help you deal with setting firm boundaries and resolving past hurts so that you can see present events with clarity. Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. Henry Townsend and Emotionally Healthy Spiritually by Pete Scazzero are two great resources to help you with this. There are also additional classes and courses you can take to help you deal specifically with your emotions regarding your parents. Do what you can to forgive past events before you see them. Unresolved emotional wounds can cloud your judgment and make you see things from a skewed perspective. You may never forget what has happened in the past, which you can choose to forgive. God calls us to forgive others of their sins so that we will be forgiven of our sins.
Take some time with the Lord and conduct an analysis of your parenting style. Do you find you do things similarly to your parents? As much as we dislike it, we sometimes become more like our parents than we realize. If you identify something you say or do that is similarly hurtful to your children as you have been hurt by your parents, understand that we're all human. Our parents did the best they could with what they learned from the previous generation. Give them a break and give yourself a break as well. You may find you're more like your parents than you previously thought.
The holidays can be stressful regardless of who is around your dinner table. But it can be especially stressful when your parents choose to put themselves first instead of you. Strive to put their needs first, and you will find yourself less frustrated and restore your joy. You may find you have a better holiday than you anticipate when you choose to act the way Jesus wants us to act.
Originally published Monday, 24 October 2022.