Spending the first holiday season without the narcissist or borderline ex is often anything but merry. If you’ve been in a relationship with a personality disordered individual or come from a family that’s chock full ‘o’
nuts characterological psychopathology, you likely have some nightmare stories to tell. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, birthdays or National Arbor Day often trigger narcissistic or borderline rages, tantrums, pout-outs and perfectionist rampages of epic proportions. There are different reasons for this.
As awful as Christmas can be with the Grinch-slash- perpetual adult toddler, spending the first holiday season without the narcissist or borderline ex can also be an emotional roller coaster ride. This is especially true if you allowed yourself to become isolated during the relationship. This can also apply if you distanced yourself from toxic parents or siblings. The first holiday can be sad, joyous, lonely confusing and/or provide a sense of sweet, sweet relief. Although, there are few things lonelier than being in a relationship with a narcissist, histrionic, borderline or other Cluster B variety pack.
Why is the first holiday season without the narcissist or borderline ex so difficult?
Narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and other toxic people suck up all the oxygen in the room. As such, they often leave a vacuum in your life no matter which one of you initiated the break-up. If your identity became defined by pleasing the Crazy to avoid their wrath, guilt trips and the endless blame you-shame you all-nighters, it may feel like there’s a giant void at the center of your being. The empty space can feel overwhelming.
Oftentimes, what’s most difficult for clients is figuring out who they are and what gives their lives meaning now that they’re no longer taking care of and making sacrifices for their former abuser. Some clients interpret the loss of the relationship as evidence that no one will ever love them again and that they’re doomed to be alone forever and ever. I suggest a healthier and more realistic frame. This is an opportunity.
It’s an opportunity to begin anew. Specifically, I recommend clients take this time to heal family of origin wounds and make healthier choices in all areas of their life — including their relationships. Instead of wasting your time and energy caring for and trying to please a terminally colicky and never satisfied for very long narcissist or borderline this holiday, you get the opportunity to begin taking care of you.
This is called self-care. You know, the thing the NPD, BPD or HPD ex would accuse you of being selfish, mean and “you don’t love me!” when you dared to do self-care during the former relationship. By the way, people who truly love you want you to take care of yourself. They don’t name-call and become resentful when you do.
The basics of holiday self-care.
If you’re unsure how to self-care, let’s start with the basics. For example:
- Spend your time with positive people.
- Do your best to eat healthfully. Drink plenty of water, exercise and get enough sleep.
- Buy yourself new socks and underwear.
Keep it simple. If you’re stumped by how to begin taking better care of yourself, consider what a loving father or mother would do to take care of you as a hurting child. Perhaps that includes a glass of ginger ale, Vicks VapoRub, flannel pajamas and flannel sheets, so be it (i.e., some of my favorites). If you’re still stumped, then what would you do to care for your own child or a friend? Do those things for yourself.
If you still can’t think of ways to practice self-care during the first holiday season without the narcissist or borderline ex , here are some suggestions:
Don’t pressure yourself with unrealistic expectations.
Being away from the narcissist doesn’t guarantee immediate happiness. Nor does it automatically resolve the issues that made you vulnerable to such a predatory trainwreck in the first place. Therefore, set realistic expectations. It doesn’t have to be the best Christmas or best Hanukkah ever. It also doesn’t have to be the crappiest Christmas or crappiest Hanukkah either.
Don’t overdo on the decorations, gifts or socializing, unless you want to and it makes you happy. Aim for a holiday season during which you enjoy a glass of eggnog instead of tiptoeing around a narcissist or borderline’s eggshells. If you want to socialize, go for it. Or, would you rather spend a quiet day watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie marathon while eating chicken tikka masala in your bathrobe? hen call Curry in a Hurry and fire up the streaming service. If a walk on the beach or in the woods with the dogs feels good, that’s okay, too.
Don’t obligate yourself to attend holiday parties and other festivities if you don’t feel up to it. If you think you’d feel better being around others, then go. Don’t do anything out of fear, obligation or guilt. Even if that means not attending Auntie Hildegard’s annual dry turkey and god awful fruitcake dinner. You get to choose what feels right for you. Healing isn’t one-size-fits all. What worked for your best friend, cousin or a support forum buddy might not work for you. So what feels comfortable and just right to you? Do that.
Do you still enjoy your favorite childhood Christmas TV shows? Did the NPD or BPD ex ridicule that? Then watch them and enjoy them. Rankin and Bass‘ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a personal favorite.
Did your borderline sabotage holiday meals with your family? That won’t be on the menu this year. Was it impossible to shop for Crazy? No longer your circus, no longer your monkey. Did your narcissist pee all over your joy of Christmas trees? Then go to a tree farm and get yourself the biggest, most gorgeous tree you can fit in your home. If the ex made everyone miserable with unrealistic demands for a perfect tree and decorations, get yourself a little Charlie Brown tree or no tree at all. You choose.
What holiday traditions or pastimes did you enjoy before the narcissist(s) or borderline(s)? What’s stopping you from enjoying them again? Probably nothing, so why not do your version of a super twinkly evergreen tree?
Stay away from toxic people.
This includes your own family if being around them is stressful, anxiety-provoking and depressing. If mutual friends/flying monkeys of the narcissist or borderline want to get together, politely decline. If friends want to tell you gossip about whatever or whoever the ex is up to, tell them you’re not interested. Hearing about the ex isn’t helpful to your recovery.
Friends who carry tales with good intention (i.e., without malice) will respect your request and boundaries. “Friends” who take offense or ignore your request likely want to feed off your misery. If you have friends like that in your life, they may have much in common with the narcissistic ex.
If this is the case, it may be time to show them the exit along with the narcissist or borderline. Many people who have a pattern of relationships with narcissists, borderlines and other kinds of selfish, self-absorbed people also tend to have friends and other associates with similar characteristics. After some time passes, it’s a good idea to do a friend inventory and see who’s a better fit with the healthier you and who isn’t. In other words, ditch the naughty (and the nasty) and keep the kind.
Do for others.
If you’re feeling isolated and disconnected, find a charity and volunteer your time. Invite friends over for a quiet, home cooked meal. Donate money to a cause you support. Play Santa for the children of friends or nieces and nephews. Give of yourself to others who will appreciate what you have to offer.
If helping others isn’t compatible with work you’re doing on codependency issues, help the environment. Clean litter off the beach or a public park. Plant a tree (weather permitting). Volunteer to walk dogs at the local shelter. Be selfishly altruistic if it feels good.
How do you want life to be next year? What changes and choices are required to make that happen? If what you want seems too big or impossible, break it down into smaller, achievable objectives. Think of everything you were able to do while you were with the
albatross narcissist or borderline. Thinking back, you probably have no idea how you were able to keep as much of yourself and life together as you did.
If you’re like many of my clients, you took care of the narcissist, kids, home and work. Now that you’re unencumbered of the nonstop demands, attention-seeking and general negativity of the narcissist or the perpetual chaos machine of the borderline, you’re going to have a lot more time and energy. What do you want to do with it?
No matter how you choose to spend the holidays, be kind to yourself. If nothing else, enjoy the absence of the nastiness, drama or whatever form of Grinchy-ness your ex or family of origin likes to inflict. It really can be a peaceful and lovely time of year. It’s up to you to decide what that is.
*Originally published on November 22, 2018. Updated on December 13, 2023.