It’s that time of year again; Christmas! Many people look forward to the holidays. They enjoy seeing friends and family, twinkle lights, decorations, parties, special foods and giving gifts to the people they love. However, many people do not look forward to the holidays—particularly if they’re married to or dating an abusive, high-conflict, personality-disordered woman and/or have to deal with an ex with these attributes.
If you fall into this group, you’ve probably learned to fear and dread the holidays because Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, anniversaries and just about any other special occasion have become synonymous with meltdowns, rage outs, blame, guilt, drama, conflict, tantrums, ultimatums, double binds and accusations. Many high-conflict and/or abusive personality-disordered individuals (e.g., Narcissistic, Borderline, Histrionic or Antisocial) escalate their venom, bitterness, anger, acting out behaviors and/or withdraw into depression this time of year.
Here are some of the typical complaints I hear from clients regarding the holidays:
- She hates my family and picks a fight the week before we’re supposed to visit and then refuses to go and gets mad if I go alone.
- She complains she hates Christmas because it’s too commercial, but then gets angry if I don’t spend enough money on her gift.
- She turns everything into a fight—buying the tree, where to put the tree, wrapping paper, where to go on vacation, presents for the kids, who to send Christmas cards to—everything is fodder for criticism and conflict.
- She expects me to spend an outrageous amount of money on her. If I don’t, she pouts, cries, gets angry and/or becomes abusive.
- She starts getting really nasty in October just as the Christmas decorations go up in stores and begins issuing ultimatums and missives about what we will and will not do this year.
- She’s teaching our children and me to fear and hate the holidays.
- She tries to control everything and if something isn’t perfect or goes awry, she gets angry and blames me or the kids.
- She plays games with holiday drop-offs and pick-ups.
- She sends spreadsheets of presents she expects my family and me to buy the kids and expects us to fill them out so she can have total control.
- She refuses to let our children see my side of the family.
- She tells our kids that I spend more on their step-siblings and wife because I love them more.
- She competes with me to give better presents to the kids.
- She makes me agree to a spending limit for the kids and then buys them expensive toys, games, etc.
- She puts the kids into double binds by planning ski trips for the days I’m supposed to see them during the holidays and makes me look like a bad guy when I insist on seeing them.
And on and on the list of abusive, manipulative Grinch-like behaviors goes.
Why do these women seem to be hellbent on making sure it’s a miserable holiday?
Control. The holidays trigger this kind of woman’s typical control freakery and ratchet it to greater heights. She tries to mange her anxiety by trying to control others and everything around her. Of course, this rarely works and typically creates a paradoxical effect whereby the more she tries to control everyone and everything else, the more out of control she feels, which makes her even more aggressive in her efforts to maintain some kind of illusory control. It’s a vicious cycle and it sucks if you’re on the receiving end of it.
To this woman, anxiety is a painful reminder that something is wrong with her. Hence her double-time control tactics—bullying, manipulation, intimidation, guilt, shame, rage, etc. For example, if your family makes her anxious (i.e., she fears they see through her or she feels inferior to them or she fears they’re judging her as inadequate), she’ll orchestrate some self-created drama, conflict, slight, insult, etc., to put the kibosh on seeing them during the holidays. God bless us everyone.
Buzzkill Queen. This kind of woman likes nothing better than to keep others from having a good time—especially if she knows it’s something you enjoy. It’s not enough for her to be sullen and angry; all the Whos in Whoville need to be miserable, too. In fact, it warms her 2 sizes too small heart to ruin holidays and other special occasions for her nearest and dearest (*Check out this link on PsychForum regarding a hypothesis that the Grinch has a personality disorder).
Many of these women seem to have a glitch when it comes to experiencing happiness, joy, warmth and good will that isn’t transactional. They just don’t get it and they resent the fact that other people have this capacity. This can also be a control tactic. By destroying the things you care about and enjoy, she grinds you down a little bit more, thereby weakening you and making you an easier target. Alternatively, it’s a form of withholding. These types get a charge from denying you anything that’s pleasurable or would bring you happiness or comfort, so don’t let her Scrooge you this year.
Center of Attention. Many of these women become unglued if they’re not the center of attention. By escalating her typical bad behaviors during the holidays, she becomes the focus. Everyone walks on landmines to please her and makes sure everything is to her liking, which is never going to happen, by the way. Remember, in many ways these individuals are like small children—any attention is good attention even if it’s negative attention.
For example, when I was a kid, I had a friend who attended my birthday party each year and within 30 minutes of arriving, would begin to sulk and pout in a corner. Fairly quickly, all of my other party guests would approach her and ask, What’s wrong? What’s the matter? Why aren’t you joining in the party? What do you want to do? Why aren’t you having fun with the rest of us? What games do you want to play? How can we cheer up? She did this at other friends’ parties, too, and, eventually, we all stopped inviting her because if she wasn’t the center of attention she would pout and try to ruin everyone’s else’s fun, thereby making herself the focus.
Unhappy Childhoods. Perhaps some of these women have horrible memories of the holidays from their childhoods and, for their own twisted reasons, are compelled to continue the painful tradition in their adult lives. They don’t see that they have the ability to break the pattern and have a new, positive experience. Since misery loves company, they often drag everyone else down with them. Spoiling the holidays for everyone else seems to make them feel better.
Many of these women will claim to have had perfect families and perfect holidays and then blame you for the holiday discord by saying it’s all your fault because you and your family are the ones with the problems. This is probably projection. People who have happy childhood memories and relatively healthy family of origin experiences don’t go into radioactive free fall after Halloween. On the contrary, they become cheery and festive this time of year.
Check back in a couple days for the follow-up post on how to enjoy the holidays in spite of your abusive wife, girlfriend or ex.
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Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.
Dysfunctional family Christmas at www.seriouslyfunnycards.com