How To Cope With Pain And The Holiday Grinches (Narcissists)

How To Cope With Pain And The Holiday Grinches (Narcissists)

by Suzanne Burnett Stewart


Suzanne Burnett Stewart

The holidays are hard for many people especially those in pain.  Also for people with depression, chronic illnesses, invisible diseases and disabilities; the holidays are filled with exhaustion, exasperation, loss, loneliness, pain and so on.  Everyone would love the perfect picture holiday with the warm fireplace, the loving family all around, the dog sleeping on the floor and the cat on the hearth.  People wish for all kinds of things from true love to toy cars.  But most of all, everyone pretty much wants the same thing: a quiet, peaceful home with a loving family all around to celebrate – and maybe even feel well for a few days.

While others are out participating in the hustle and bustle of the holiday frenzy; those of us with chronic pain are still living and coping with our illnesses.  We are still in pain while trying to do all of these “things” that are expected of us.  Our children, our families and friends may indeed love us, but they all want Christmas to arrive in all of it’s glory, regardless of our pain and fatigue.  The things that we live with on a daily basis do not go away for the holidays.  We don’t get a “holiday vacation” like everyone else does.  We must push on, endure and put a smile on our face.  When we really feel like sleeping, wincing, sitting, resting and sometimes just crying.  My advice for all of us living with chronic pain, invisible illnesses and unrelenting fatigue; is that we need to take “time outs”.  Take a look at the large picture for a moment and break it down into small increments.  Take on one task at a time and stop when you feel the need to stop.  Don’t push yourself, as that’ll keep the pain cycle going.  Please stop and rest; give your body a chance to mend for a few hours or take the day “off.”  You are allowed to do this, no matter what your conscience tells you to do.

There are many of us with chronic illness, who also have invisible illnesses, such as Dysautonomia/POTS, CFS/ME and/or PTSD.  It feels as though these illnesses are rarely acknowledged.  We need to make sure that we take care of ourselves first, especially during the holidays.  This means that when we feel the fatigue coming on, STOP right away!  Don’t keep going until it takes much longer to recuperate.  There are those who may have MN’s in their family or group of closest friends.  That stands for “Malignant Narcissists.”  Those are the people who always put their needs ahead of yours.  Stay away from them, keep your distance!!  The MN’s use the holidays as a time to preach, cause hysteria, pain and grandstand.  They are like vampires and will suck the life right out of you if you allow it.  You “feel” as though you don’t have a choice, but you really do!!  If you are trying to avoid conflict by pretending that it’s “OK” or “not that bad;” then you will end up with increasing pain, more fatigue, internal conflict and much more than what you bargained for.  You’ll never get what you think you deserve out of those relationships.  They won’t ever be “warm and fuzzy.”  They will always put restrictions on you, rules for you to follow.  It may be outward or it can be mind games that they play.  If you cannot physically get away from them during the holidays, if you must be at the same gathering…..emotionally leave the room!!  You need to do this for your own mental and physical well being.

We don’t all have families with the “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” kind of holiday.  Some of us get “Jack Frost nipping at our noses!!”  We may not  have the “Halls decked with holly and people kissing under mistletoe.”  Because in families with “MN’s” you will forever have “Grandma getting run over by a reindeer” and many, many games!!  If you MUST spend the holidays with these kind of people, if this is your family tree, then the name of the game is “keeping sane and learning to survive.”  It’s not about having fun and singing Christmas carols, it’s about surviving the “Big Chill” that you feel in their presence.  Be there if you must, in your body, but make your mind be someplace happy and do not get into conversations with them.  You must protect yourself and your children.  Don’t say “Oh it’s not that bad,” or “they didn’t mean it that way,” or “you don’t understand them like I do.”  Because YES I do!  I’m trying to help you make it through the days when we are supposed to be “laughing all the way!!”  Usually it is the narcissists, who are “Laughing all the way” and they definitely know what they’re doing.  When you can stay away, then do it.  When you can avoid inviting them into your life, please do so!  But when all else fails,”leave the conversation” at least in your heart, mind and soul.  Though your body may be there, you don’t have to be!!!  Try to never have the party at your own house when you have MN’s for relatives – because then you are trapped and you cannot leave or get away.  They will know they have you like a spider has a fly in his web.  All you can do is squirm and squiggle but you cannot leave!

Try to take a step back during the holidays, make a personal space boundary.  Keep your distance and stick by those who will not persecute you, make fun of you, be nasty or hurt you.  The “MN’s” can get you upset, angry and crying; then fly to “save” you.  Those who say the word “love” but never know how to really show it, except with unloving examples of unkindness; along with displays of  abnormal affection; don’t truly know what “LOVE” is.  They aren’t thinking of you, your pain, illness, or your feelings – and they don’t see what they are doing to you or your quality of life.  The honest and only way to avoid the pain of the holidays with Malignant Narcissist’s, is to be with only those who truly love you back and with whom you trust.  People who truly love you and won’t hurt you – at least not on purpose.

Try to enjoy your holidays with a smaller amount of people in your circle.  If you are living with chronic physical pain; the emotional pain and stress can take its toll on your body even at a higher rate than usual.  There are loving, calm and quiet things that you can do with your own “little” family.  You can look at lights in the neighborhoods, order pizza and watch holiday movies.  But remember that life is not normally like those holiday movies filled with “perfect” families, etc.  Unfortunately, we have to learn to survive and help teach our children not to be controlled by the MN’s of the family and friend pool.  Life is so much more “choice” than you might think.  You don’t “HAVE to” do much of anything that you don’t want to do, except to try to survive.  Love those who are lovable and who love you back.  But I don’t mean to stop loving the unlovable.  I just mean to love them from a distance so that you cannot be “touched” by their damaged spirits or hurt by their abuse.

Good luck, and don’t lie to yourself, we all know that fruitcake really stinks!  Just because it is a “holiday” thing….you don’t have to like it or eat it….so just because they are your “family,” you don’t have to like them or spend time with them unless you want to!!  Enjoy your holidays as much as possible and take care of your family, your children, your fur babies; and most importantly, yourself!

Suzanne suffers from full body CRPS and has lived in chronic pain since 1999. Before being disabled by chronic pain, she was an Interpreter for the Deaf at University of Michigan Hospitals and for several school districts, working with children.  Today she is a patient Health Advocate, guest writer, blogger and fundraiser for RSDSA and an Ambassador for U.S. Pain Foundation and creates Advocacy videos, and writes in her own blog “Tears of Truth” (

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Authored by: Suzanne Stewart

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Jean Price

Those of us with pain share many of the same holiday frustrations and often the emptiness of those dealing with major loses, like the deaths of loved ones. It’s hard to feel like celebrating and dealing with the “rah rah” of others during these times. Loss happens, so does pain. We’re not the only ones going through a hard time. Sometimes thinking of this helps me not feel like the odd man out!! And really, holidays have always been what we make of them, what we value and have energy to do. We can get creative and find new ways of passing the holidays…and eliminate the stresses we don’t want or need! I once read a book that said to use your disability to function as you need to!! If you’re going to have it, use it…to say no to over extending, to participating in things you don’t really enjoy anyway, or to excuse you from huge gatherings that usually aren’t as fulfilling as having a small circle of people to share with and cost too big a price for those of us who hurt!!! So this holiday will be low key for me…some song, a glass of eggnog, reminiscing of times past, and always hoping for a better new year, but knowing this may be as good as it gets, and I can still choose to find peace and joy within myself. May you be blessed at Christmas…and may we all toast finding ways of LIVING fully within the realities of our lives with pain.

love this piece, suzanne! so on point.

Jo Ann Tomes

This holiday season will be very difficult for me and my family. I hate for them to see me suffer. After 7 years with the same PM MD, I am left without a doctor or medication. Due to the new CDC guidelines, most doctors fear writing that prescription. I suffer from Trigeminal Neuralgia and I am not a surgical candidate due to the damage left from a brain tumor. What we we to do? Any suggestions is greatly appreciated.

Great post! You’ve hit the nail on the head.

This year I got my ” holiday gifts” early! My mother AND my grown son made their own Thanksgiving plans, and forgot to include me in them. While it’s true I am often too ill to participate fully in holiday merry-making, I do still appreciate being given the option of attending the family get-togethers. To be simply shunned because of my disability is crushing. Then again, I don’t have to put up with sly remarks and laughter behind my back (but within my hearing…)

Bob Schubring

These are helpful points. What Suzanne terms the Malignant Narcissist, isn’t very far removed from the true sociopath. The difference between them, is that the sociopath knows he is a life-sucking vampire who drains others’ energy and leaves them in ruins. The narcissist is experimenting with sociopathy but believes himself to be working for the greater good. After a vicious, $1.9-billion presidential election campaign this year, the narcissists who took the winning side are gloating, and the narcissists who took the losing side are crying out with grief. The sociopaths are busy switching sides, and will adopt a public persona, based on what works for all those narcissists at all those holiday-season parties and family gatherings. Sociopathy and narcissism are ever-present challenges to free people. Calvin Coolidge wrote in his memoirs, that about three-fifths of his visitors at the White House, were people who wanted something they ought not to have, and that if he sat dead still and stared at them while they explained their make-other-people-poor-fast schemes, most would run out of the room after a couple of minutes. If you are a pain patient with dysfunctional family members having narcissism or sociopathy, you can plan that those tendencies will be out in force this year. Every young narcissist, who grew up in the era of Just Say No and D.A.R.E., has learned every imaginable trick for persuading a roomful of people, that his or her life is more valuable to them, than your life is as a pain patient. He or she will project their every dishonesty and personal failing onto you, and will blame those failings on your drug use and your belief that the pain you feel, is real. He or she will make you imagine ways of inflicting sufficient pain on the narcissist, so that the narcissist finally comprehends how you feel. He or she will exhaust themselves at the effort of making you feel bad. He or she will commiserate later, with the sociopath whom they personally envy, about how they tried to break through to you and failed. Their pet sociopath will listen and take notes. There’s an advantage to building relationships with non-narcissists. They set an example for you, of how normal people react. If you must interact with a malignant narcissist, schedule in some quality time with a friend soon after, and do something that you enjoy. Even if it’s only an online chat. Just because your compulsory interaction with the narcissist has left you too exhausted for anything else but bedrest, is no reason to give up on the friends who genuinely care about you. If you can, bring a friend to the family gathering. Just by being present, a friend demonstrates that your life has value to him or her, exactly as you are. The malignant narcissist must overcome that burden, in putting you down emotionally. Your friend’s presence shows the family that they’re not punishing you by siding with the narcissist, but simply pushing you away and leaving… Read more »


This post really helped me understand its not me I have many MNS that I need to avoid. The ones that after I takes 3 hrs to shower, dress and put on a pretty face take a look at me and see a normal person meanwhile I’m panicking and in unbelievable pain. It’s always the same remarks, don’t you have pain meds, yes but they’re weak thank to DEA,then it’s always why is it DEA fault or I just don’t understand why you can’t find a good specialist that isn’t on a 8 mos waiting list. I call this the ball of yarn cycle where it just keeps unraveling till no more ball then I break out into this ugly person. Unfortunately due to uterine cancer as teen and hysterectomy at 20, then 3 awful car wrecks, malpractice surgeries that wreck not orthopedic approved destroyed my once very filled life. I went from real Estate entraupner, dirt bike rider, hiker, traveler, concerts, jogs w friends, raced sports cars at IRP to being tied against my will to the bed. Some times I have to take alot more meds for one day to accomplish grocery shopping and errands and that hits me other days that I needed that medicine. Doctors need to have pain experienced doctors on panels. I appreciate some doctors and sites bringing on pain advocates. I need one to help me get the best care however I live in Indiana one of the worst of worst for Healthcare.