Emotional Labour and the Seasonal Narcissist, Part I

Today I listened to CBC radio’s Tapestry presentation on the subject of emotional labour. It’s an interesting topic and a type of work to which someone has finally given a name. Essentially, emotional labour is anything that people do that requires an emotionally invested outlay of energy. For example, we expend emotional energy keeping track of and making sure that our children go to the dentist, we listen when friends or family members need a shoulder to cry on, or we ensure there’s gas in the car. For the most part, emotional labour refers to the million little maintenance jobs (and sometimes not so little) that need to be taken care of and done on a regular basis, although much of this work can also be unexpected and/or quite time consuming. Statistically, it’s mostly women who complete these tasks, and we apparently spend a lot of time on them.

While listening to this piece, I was reminded of the amount of emotional labour one will expend if involved with a narcissist, and then I was reminded of a post I did about three or four years ago called The Seasonal Narcissist. It’s one of my more popular posts, particularly at this time year, but it only looks at the seasonal narcissist from the perspective of dealing with one on a temporary basis. It doesn’t really look at the long game at all. And it also doesn’t look at the energy that goes into having to be married to or in some sort of live-in relationship with one while Christmas, or any other holiday or special occasion, is in full swing.

Narcissists are never straight.
Narcissists are never straight.

Those of you who are familiar with me know that I have first-hand experience with this. Over a 20-month period, I became immersed in all the difficulties one encounters during any type of special occasion if involved with an NPD narcissist.

The emotional energy I expended around these events was enormous.

First of all, “Harry” was incredibly unpredictable in general, but if Christmas was coming up, he was much worse. I have read lots of accounts of people watching their narcissist walk out the door just before Christmas (or other special events), leaving the significant other or spouse in emotional hell and the children devastated, only to return as soon as the holiday or event is over.

This is typical behaviour.

Essentially, they don’t want anyone to enjoy the holiday or event, because they aren’t going to be the centre of attention. And if they aren’t going to be the centre of attention, then what’s the point? It’s just a bunch of work for nothing. Then there’s also the problem that  watching others have fun when they’re not is just too much to bear.

So, let’s take everyone down! Let’s make everyone feel like crap! Let’s walk out! Let’s have a horrible argument! Let’s make everyone feel as wretched as possible!

Then everyone’s attention will be back where it should be. That’ll teach them!

I spent two Christmases with Harry. During the first one, we were on our honeymoon in Hawaii and within a couple of days, he became completely morose and withdrawn. I had no idea what was going on and felt confused, scared and concerned. The only time he talked was to forcefully complain about everything from what I was wearing to the food that was available. All he wanted to do was stay in the hotel room and watch tv. Otherwise, he brooded and became uncommunicative. He faked a stomach bug (I know this because he kept eating heavy meals from the room service menu) so that he didn’t have to go out.  A couple of times, he claimed boredom. Of course, suggesting that he leave the room would have been met with more complaints.

Describing him as “high maintenance” would have been an understatement.

Unbeknownst to me, though, it was my very first set of indicators that the person I married wasn’t the person I married.

When we got back home, for a short time he became all sweetness and light, and apologised for his behaviour in Hawaii by claiming that he just hadn’t been feeling well.  I didn’t know it then, but my expenditure of emotional energy was about to go up in a big way, because during our trip, he had been grooming me to walk on eggshells.

By the time our second (and last) Christmas came around, I was dwelling in a land of contradiction, confusion and confrontation. I had been shouted at and called every kind of name. I had been accused of  betrayal, disrespect and dishonesty. I had been accused of contemplating an affair and of spending too much money. I had been accused of eating too much, of making too much noise when eating, of eating the wrong things, and of being an alcoholic. He said I was lazy, poorly educated and stupid. My clothes and hair were wrong. My furniture was wrong. Nothing was right.

And for a while, I  swallowed the notion that it was me who was the problem.

My head was swimming  and I was starting to feel like I might head into a depression, but I kept trying. I invested serious emotional labour into trying to fix the so-called wrongs. The list of things that I needed to be careful about became longer and longer and I tried to adhere strictly to the “rules,” but every time I thought I had them right, he changed them and pretended that they had always been that way.

Just before the holiday, I was subjected to a tongue-bashing that left me reeling, but as I see it now, it was also the beginning of my liberation.

It dawned on me that he was looking for an excuse to leave or to destroy any happiness that I might have during the holiday with family and friends. And once I made that connection, other connections that had been loitering in the background strode into the foreground.

An uneasy Christmas proceeded, but the day before New Year’s Eve, when we were supposed to go to a party together, the other shoe dropped. He announced that he was leaving and would be back later in January to pick up his things. According to him, we were done.

And that’s when I turned the tables on him. left, and spent the night at a friend’s house.

My friend C invested some serious emotional labour of her own in helping me through that night and encouraging some flames from those awareness embers.

I began to see that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. I began to see that no matter what I did or didn’t do, it would never be good  enough. I began to see that no matter how much emotional labour I invested, it would never be enough.

Trying to maintain him, to run around trying to remove any source of annoyance or anger from his day was impossible, because there was always something else. There was no amount of love, effort, or material items that would satisfy him. He was a bottomless pit, and I was expected to keep trying to fill it until I was exhausted and no longer useful.

The beginning of the end had started. Within the next month, I had started counselling, and seven months after that, I got him out of my house.

What it finally came down to was an unadorned realisation on my part that there was nothing I could do except walk away and work at getting my life back: the seasonal narcissist is always a narcissist. It’s just that they do more manipulation when those special occasions roll around. They know that people want to have fun and want things to go well, and that makes them vulnerable and malleable, especially if children are involved.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Have you experienced a seasonal narcissist? What are your thoughts about emotional labour?

10 thoughts on “Emotional Labour and the Seasonal Narcissist, Part I”

  1. I’m so sorry you had to endure such a terrible situation, Lynette. Thankfully, I’ve never had experience with a seasonal narcissist. I’m curious how long you knew “Harry” before you were married. Were there any signs prior to the marriage? Friend “C” sounds like a very good friend.

    1. Thank you, Jill. 🙂

      I knew “Harry” for a year before we were married – yup, kind of fast. Narcissists like to move you along, especially when it suits their purposes. Of course, I also thought I had found a real keeper. He did display some signs, but I only recognised them as having been warnings after we were already married, and frankly, I didn’t examine them too deeply when they first came up. They could have been written off as character quirks, and that’s what I did; I didn’t want my little fantasy disrupted. Once they were in context, though, they were readily identifiable (read: I couldn’t ignore them) and he also let them hang out more, too.

      I was also raised by a narcissistic mother, and that had desensitised me to some extent to their behaviour. I was also a good target for a narcissist because I had a number of problems that I wasn’t addressing – boundary issues & self-victimisation, for instance.

      I sorted a lot of this during counselling and while re-establishing contact with a much older sister (14 yrs.) who knew a lot about my early childhood and our mother’s behaviour. I’m still sorting and that will probably never stop, which is a good thing. I have to work at it all the time to not fall back into my stuff, and even then …

      Happy holidays, Jill. I’m looking forward to more of your posts next year. 🙂

      1. Lynette, I really appreciate you taking the time to explain the background of your relationship with Harry and your mother. It sounds like it’s been a tough journey for you, but your seeking counselling says a lot about your character. Many people who continue to live their life with a “poor me” victim mentality. I admire you. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Lynette. I’m looking forward to more of your beautiful photos! 🙂

  2. Every year I used to deal with two of the most toxic seasonal narcs you can imagine, my mother-inlaw and my sister-inlaw.

    About three years ago I think my husband and I reached our limit. Both of us love Christmas and it’s also his birthday, so it’s especially celebratory for us. But these two women turned all of it into a fiasco, from the food to the presents, they systematically took a crap on the whole shebang.

    Just a hint of what they were capable of; my mother-inlaw used to give all three of us money instead of gifts. She gave all of us the same amount. One year my sister-inlaw told her that she was no longer allowed to give me as much money as she gave to her or her brother, she was to give me considerably less.

    My mother-inlaw tells me this as she slipping me Christmas money that year. I handed the money back to her. I told her Christmas wasn’t about the money and it wasn’t about the gifts, so if this was what it was coming to that i would rather not take any money from her at all.

    Seasonal narcs…who needs ’em?!

    1. Yes, the seasonal narcissists can be so difficult to deal with, and because many people have such high expectations around this time of year, that makes it a prime time for the narcissist to strew his or her wound everywhere. No one should have to feel better (or happier) than they do!

      I wish you a very happy Christmas, Madeline (without narcisms)! 🙂

      1. Thank you, Lynette. I share your post about seasonal narcs every year around this time because they were an enormous comfort to me. Merry Christmas to you and yours too! ❤

  3. I am in the midst of seperating from the poster boy of narcissistic personality disorder. I have had a 4 year restraining order granted on Dec 22 nd for domestic abuse. He isn’t giving up as I have been reliable supply to a very extreme amount and I don’t think he’ll ever stop. I haven’t even been able to live in the home he was removed from because he is now using the police and all the ‘grey areas’ of the restraining order to his advantage and my kids are scared. He refuses to take everything he needs and keeps popping up with his police escort (per the restraining order rules) for this or that, while regularly texting the 1 friend I have left that he’s going to take everything out of the house so me and the kids have nothing just for sport and to continue his reign of terror (his words not mine). All the while trying to claim he just wants to give Christmas gifts to the very kids he is threatening to take everything from and leave without power or heat (he is to stupid to know that just because he takes the bills out of his name that doesn’t mean it’ll leave us with no power cuz they will just put it in my name as it’s the middle of winter and the electric/ gas company can’t disconnect power to a home at this time of the year, not till Apr 15th). Regardless the police are cooperating w this game of his and sadly alot of the officers I have had to deal w treat me as though I’m a crazy person wrecking a good mans life and allow him to yell and say horrible things to and about me while forcing me to be quiet when I respond to it. This is a waking nightmare that has left me and my kids in shambles and now the cops are helping him do it. And in the meanwhile he has his friends and family contacting my friend telling her how unfair it is to him and how mean I am to do this to him and how he’s ever only loved and supported me and still does. I can’t understand how especially the police and his goon squad are so easily looking over the fact that I was granted a restraining order w his removal for domestic abuse by a judge who heard both sides and still chose to grant it. Do they think you can buy restraining orders out of bubble gum machines. His abuse was physical and verbal and severe to the point I almost jump out of my skin from every unexpected noise, can’t eat or sleep and mine and the abusers 3yr old daughter is having nightmares as well. How come even the law is helping him basically stalk me? I went thru hell on earth and now he keeps to just doing this w the full support of the police department and family and friends? While I have no support from any of those places? I just can’t stand it. He will never leave me alone and I know it and it scares me badly and I can’t even trust in the police or courts to help.

    1. Hi Amy, thanks for sharing. 🙂 I am so sorry to hear about this.

      I can tell you that what you’re describing is fairly typical behaviour. I experienced similar things myself although I didn’t have any children to worry about. Many NPD people will project any kind of self-protective moves that you make back at you so that you appear to be at fault and will knock themselves out to make you look like a complete witch to your friends, family and the police. These people can be very,very good at this.

      I can offer another site that contains very good information (better than mine) on dealing with the type of situation you’re facing: Kim Saeed at http://letmereach.wordpress.com has excellent resources for handling divorce/separation from a narcissist when children are involved. Ursula at anupturnedsoul.wordpress.com is also incredibly knowledgeable about narcissists and narcissism. I suggest you take a look at them, if only to get as much support as you can while you are experiencing this horrible situation.

      Please try to be good to yourself – easy for me to say, but do try. I am only online but I am here if you need someone to “talk” to. Take care. 🙂

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