Family

How My Narcissistic Mother Tried To Ruin Christmas

Photo: Courtesy of the Author  
photo of author's childhood home provided by author

Up until she became disabled, my mother didn’t believe in family or want anything to do with anyone she was related to.

Now that she needs us, she’s softened her anti-family stance and tells never-heard-before stories of how she nursed her sister through a terminal illness.

She says things like, “In my day, family took care of family.”

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However, her hatred of Christmas has been around for decades and is stronger than ever.

I realize her strong negative feelings around any holiday are yet another manifestation of her narcissism.

If she can’t make Christmas all about her, well then, she’s going to try to ruin it for everybody else.

Besides narcissism, my mother has some other troubling mental health conditions, one being a type of OCD, referred to as Obsessive-Compulsive Spartanism.

She’s an anti-hoarder/extreme minimalist.

When she’s triggered, she must get rid of things, and she does this by throwing or giving them away. She’ll get into a purging frenzy and get rid of everything in sight — even if the item doesn’t belong to her.

I still mourn my favorite Hawaiian dress my mother gave to the neighbor girl across the street when I was nine. I guess there weren’t any old knick-knacks or rotten fruit to toss that day.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

Gift-giving isn’t my mother’s love language

Her anti-hoarding mania works for her around Christmas because the two work together.

For example, one Christmas, her gifts to me were a chunk of cheese, an incomplete stale loaf of bread, some old stationery with her initials BB on them, a package of opened cough drops, and a nearly empty jar of Vaseline.

Nothing says Merry Christmas like unwanted toiletries and past-their-sale-date foods.

To most people, this is a strange variety of presents but for my mother, it was a double-duty solution. She was able to clean out her cupboards, and feel smug that she’d remembered to send me some gifts.

My mother is smart enough to know stale bread and old cheese aren’t going to cut it, so she included a small check.

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Financial manipulation is one of the narcissist’s favorite tools.

When my niece and nephews were young, my mother would hide their holiday checks under her kitchen rugs.

She enjoyed watching them scramble with the same satisfaction as a puppeteer gets from pulling on the puppet’s strings, and then accidentally breaking their arms off.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

Decorating is too festive

After my parents separated and moved to their separate residences, I would spend Christmas with my Dad. He always had a little tree and would make a special dinner, usually schnitzel and red cabbage, and there would be presents for me.

Once, my father died, I went to my mother’s house for Christmas. Well, not exactly Christmas, more like wintertime. Since she’s an anti-hoarder and hates stuff, she didn’t want to have any Christmas decorations around.

Instead of a tree, she put some pine branches she found on her walk in a vase, and put some old cotton from a newly opened medicine bottle as ornaments.

Please note that the cotton didn't look like snow but tampons.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

It’s not the thought that counts

My mother wants attention and shows devotion but is always dissatisfied with everything. Rarely does she get a gift she likes.

On the plus side, the wrong gifts gave her the option of starting an argument, playing the victim, or falling back on the narcissist’s favorite, silent treatment.

Pouting and not expressing your feelings is a fantastic way to ruin a holiday celebration!

It’s always tricky finding gifts she’d like and hanging on. Within minutes she can unwrap a present, decide it’s not for her, and throw it into the donation bag right in front of the giver.

Sometimes, my mother doesn’t bother giving things to charity, she just puts whatever item she doesn’t want under the tree in front of her house for others to take.

This under-the-tree donation system doesn’t work as well as you might think for items that melt such as cookies, crackers, or wicked witches.

My mother’s anti-hoarding condition makes her look generous, and narcissists enjoy appearing to others as benevolent benefactors even if their actions are wholly selfish.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

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Holiday food

For 80% of her life, my mother had very little food in her house, not because she was poor but because she was dieting. But during the holidays, there was food, usually because her family bought and cooked it.

Remember, anti-hoarding is extreme so her house, like her cupboards, is bare.

When my father was alive, we had family friends over for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and he usually cooked. My mother enjoyed getting drunk, taking down the Christmas tree, and burning it in the fireplace.

If you’re thinking, burning a Christmas tree in a standard fireplace, while you’re inebriated isn’t a good idea, you’d be right.

I’m very grateful that she didn’t burn the house down.

Drinking too much is a popular coping mechanism for narcissists, and my mother is no exception. She’s switched from wine to whiskey, but at this point in her life, her animals and her Jim Beam are the only things that soothe her.

My father balanced out my mother

While my mother was always self-centered when my father was alive, she at least went through some of the motions. I got presents, we had nice trees, and there were some great holiday meals — mostly thanks to my dad.

I think the before is what made the after so unpleasant.

Of course, in true narcissist fashion, my mother has rewritten history and now says we didn’t do much for Christmas in the years after my father’s death because once I grew up, I didn’t have much interest in the holiday.

If that were true, why do I decorate my house, do Christmas baking, buy presents, and have a low-key celebration with Andy and the cats?

The Grinch may have grown a heart, but my mother’s hatred of Christmas burns bright as the Christmas tree topper. She hates commercialism, the emphasis on family and love, the religious aspect, the non-religious aspect, and mostly, she hates the magic of it.

RELATED: Keeping My Mother Alive For A Weekend Nearly Killed Me

Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman's Day.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.