Surviving the Family Psychopath at Christmas

By December 22, 2017Psychopaths

Christmas is a time for good will to all, for giving and receiving and, for getting uncomfortably close to people we’ve spent the rest of the year avoiding like the plague.

Toxic people. You might call them bullies, or micromanagers, or narcissists, or sociopaths.  I don’t feel particularly charitable towards them, so I go with psychopath.  But whatever you call them there common feature is a complete lack of empathy.

They see human feelings as an opportunity for manipulation.  They see our concern for our fellow travellers as a ‘weakness’ they neither suffer nor desire.  But they know they can use our feelings to torment us, sometime for gain but mostly for their pleasure.  So there is no better time of year than one when we have no choice but to be in their company.

Psychopaths want to be the centre of attention at all times.  Their birthday is a terrific celebration for exactly that reason, it’s all about them.  They are the focus and the receiver of all things.  They feel the world should be like this every day.

Psychopaths don’t experience human feelings.  They are not elevated by the company of others.  They have no idea why we are so obsessed by getting together and celebrating not-them.

Christmas, rather like other’s people’s birthdays, has the potential to be the opposite of a good time to a psychopath.  Luckily there are compensations.  People who go out of their way to avoid contact with the psychopath are suddenly forced to share a meal with them.  And they have to play nice.

In any room full of people making nice, there are loads of little surface tensions just waiting to be magnified with an appropriate bit of manipulation.  Oh the fun that can be had scratching everybody else’s little emotional itches until they openly bleed.  Puppet masters by nature, you will not know where the bullets will come from.  Psychopaths are experts at lighting a fire in others and sitting back to watch the show.  Pass the popcorn – the entertainment is endless.

Even better old and new targets will be much more open to the psychopathic charm.  The festive spirit dulls their victims’ memories of just what an utter prick they can be.  The opportunities for emotional torment of past victims and of the harvesting of new ones are endless.  Maybe Christmas isn’t so bad after all.

Every family has at least one of these toxic people.  They are the ones you wouldn’t have in your home if you weren’t obliged to by a sense of family responsibility.  They are the guest that is guaranteed to sabotage the bonhomie and leave a trail of ignited emotions and crumpled self-worth in their wake as they trample through the goodwill of Christmas.

And yet, we will have them at our table every Christmas without fail.  Because we care about how other humans feel and it would be mean to leave them out at that one time of the year.  Leaving them off the guest list doesn’t really affect them.  They are not harmed by ‘missing out’ on Christmas. But ditching them will probably more trouble than its worth.  They will use their exclusion as a weapon to divide the family into for and against (you) camps and you will pay for it a thousand times over.

Short of ‘forgetting’ to invite them, there are other defences against the family psychopath.  You cant change them, but you can change how you and others react to them.

Be well mannered, light hearted and Teflon coated.  Feel the power of knowing your enemy.  Be ready to stand up to any attempts at manipulation.  Push back hard and publicly on any jibe, but stay unemotional and unmovable.  Do not respond to innuendo designed to get a rise out of you. The more you remain implacable in the face of provocation, the less you will have to do it.

But most importantly, do not believe or act on anything the psychopath says about anyone else.  It is probably a lie and at the very least exaggerated and out of context. The more people in the room who are signed on to your plan, the less likely any of you will be manipulated.  Solidarity beats a psychopath every day of the week and twice on Christmas.

If it’s not your party, you could just not go.  Yes that’s extreme, but if the alternative is guaranteed emotional turbulence it’s got to be an option.  Why not simply arrange to see the bits of the family you can stand at another time.  Pop over for Christmas Eve or catch up on Boxing Day perhaps?

If you do go, you could do a flyer.  Breeze in, drop off the presents, give dear old Aunt Flossy a kiss, have a slice of Pav and hit the road before anyone can land a punch.

None of this is easy, but if you can manage it, Christmas might actually be fun for a change.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Dear David, I have a family member who is a psychopath, in my opinion. I have finally ended the relationship after over 40 years of toxicity, bullying, jealousy & manipulation. In my opinion dealing with a close family member who is a psychopath is often more difficult than dealing with one in the workplace. In those 40 years I managed by avoiding that person as much as possible & ignoring them. Of course there were family occasions I couldn’t avoid & I only wish there had been books like yours in the last 40 years. I think your book has helped people realise that psychopaths are there amongst us & ways to deal with them. There won’t be any psychopaths at my family Christmas get together! Have a great Christmas yourself – you have helped so many people!

  • Dear David, I ditched sugar from my diet when your first book came out. I have just ditched all seed oils as well, although we ditched canola oil 12 years ago. We live on acreage so we tipped 1.5L of canola oil down a pesky meat ants nest that was too close to our house. The nest is gone now! I have only one cup of coffee a day & I have a bit of dextrose & a dash of honey in it. I have used dextrose in place of castor sugar in cheesecakes, desserts & cake frostings. No one was the wiser! I recently did some sleuthing at the supermarket, even most brands of spreadable butter contain canola oil. A popular brand of margarine supposed to be made from olive oil contains a lot of canola oil as well it seems to be in just about everything – salad dressings, mayo the list is endless!

  • Kath says:

    Dear Jayne
    I too have put up with a toxic family member for a lifetime. They have caused pain all their life. It is frustrating to hear that there is no changing them. Finally I found the courage to break off with mine. I have grown a little since we parted, but then I read David’s book about toxic people. Yes, a brilliant book and should be advertised much more. These people need to be exposed so that others can try to treat them appropriately. I still find that most people that I try to tell about my sibling, look at me as if I’m the one that’s loopy. There’s is more being said about these personality types these days, but still not enough.
    Sadly I didn’t read David’s book earlier. Since I ceased communications with the person, they have quadrupled their underhand destruction of me and my life. It has been like a red rag to a bull. I can’t believe the bottled up hatred they must have. So clever, so charming, so underhand, and so believable! Ruthless and relentless. Totally without morals or remorse. I read someone saying that “They leave a trail of broken lives in their wake”. You wouldn’t believe the people mine has hurt in 70 years. I did write to David c/o Pan McMillan Sydney, but I don’t know if my letter was forwarded on. I only wanted to know if he could recommend any psychologists in NSW who were experienced with psychopathic personalities. I”m still looking. My best wishes go out to you and all who have these people in their lives. I agree with you that it is harder if it is a family member. Harder to get away from. To all dealing with these people please be careful how you deal with them or you’ll end up like me, with a dangerous enemy. Good luck.

  • Jayne says:

    Dear Kath, luckily, I fortunately never met a psychopath at work or socially, but I would have had the option of changing the workplace situation, changing jobs or ending a relationship. I’m sorry to hear you have had a similar experience. I have blocked my landline, mobile, social media & email, any mail will be returned unopened. In short I have done everything but move! Nevertheless this toxic person is always popping up trying to re-connect on social media. These people never seek professional help as they blame others for their issuesI have resigned myself to eternal vigilance as psychopaths never seem to give up! I can’t expose this person as they appear to be innocent to some others who are not long term victims & they tend to think I’m paranoid! My mottos are NO CONTACT & DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS!

  • Eliza says:

    Hi David, I just listened to “Conversations” (again!) with Sarah, what an amazingly strong person you are to have tolerated the workplace sociopath for as long as you did. I unfortunately, fought (the junk yard dog), and I swear to god, you speaking about HR being in the ‘net’ with the perp, was as if you were a fly on the wall the many times I ventured to HR.
    Thank you for enlightening me, albeit too late for me and that job, as I had to leave as you would imagine.
    You would have thought I’d have learnt, as I too have a sociopathic sibling, who slowly destroyed the relationship with myself and my other siblings over the years, but unfortunately I was too naive to see the parallels of the ‘boss’ and the ‘brother’.
    Your a brilliant Australian, and I have now sent the link to some colleagues of mine, as we too have a brilliant, hard working, well bonded team that has recently been infiltrated by a sociopath…..they’re following me job to job, but at least now I’m one step ahead, so thank you!!!

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