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So it's time to exchange gifts with the narcissist in your life. First, accept two things:
1. The narcissist will never be happy with your gift.
2. This will never change.
Here are the common scenarios you will encounter when exchanging gifts with a narcissist, as detailed in my book, Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break Free.
1. The narcissist tells you that you didn't give them a nice enough gift. Does this mean the narcissist will then give you a perfect gift to "teach you a lesson"? Maybe to "one-up" you in the beginning, but after that your gifts will be woefully lacking. However, if you ever express upset about a gift the narcissist gives you, you will be stonewalled (completely cut off as a form of punishment), or you will never hear the end of it.
2. There are two sets of rules in this relationship — one for the narcissist and one for you. To the narcissist, they can play with the rules all they want — but you must stick to rigid relationship rules. The narcissist may even blame you for the fact they "had to" return your gift because "I needed to get something more appropriate" or because "you gave me the wrong gift." Remember, you will always give them the wrong gift. Always.
3. If the narcissist asks you what you want for Christmas, you will most likely not get it. Telling a narcissist what gift you would like is almost a guarantee you will not get it. But if you do not act like the narcissist's gift is the best ever when you receive it, the narcissist will point out that you are ungrateful or they will stonewall you.
4. You have given so many "wrong" gifts to the narcissist that you decide you'll take the narcissist with you to the store so they can pick out specifically what they would like. However, the narcissist does not take kindly to this. They call you heartless and uncaring. "How could you not already have a gift for me?" When you explain that you thought it would be better (and maybe more fun) if you went together to get a gift for him/her, they see this as an insult.
5. The narcissist may request a gift that is way out of your price range. To the narcissist, he/she is worth this extravagant price. However, you tell the narcissist there is really no way you can afford it. The narcissist takes this as a sign of your lack of love for him/her. He/she says you really loved him/her, you would spend whatever it takes. So you buy the gift out of guilt and shame, and wind up paying a large bill later. For the rest of your relationship, the narcissist will bring up the time that you said a gift was too expensive. They will especially be prone to bringing it up during arguments or when you are around their friends and family, just to embarrass you and put you "in your place."
6. The narcissist will buy you a rather inexpensive gift, but they buy something expensive for themselves on the same shopping trip. They buy you an item of little value or thought, while they show off the expensive watch they bought themselves when they are at the store. Message: You do not have the same worth as me.
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7. You give a gift to the narcissist that you know they will like because they have been talking about wanting this gift for quite a while now. You think that this time you will have finally given them the "right" gift. You are excited for them to open your gift — this time there is no way the narcissist can say you got them the wrong gift, right? Nope, your gift will still be wrong. The narcissist will "gaslight" you by telling you they never asked for that gift. Gaslighting is a hallmark of the narcissist. The narcissist tells you they never said something that you swear they said — or they twist your own words.
8. Here's a twist on number 7 above — you get a gift the narcissist has been wanting for a while — you are sure this time you got it "right." But the narcissist tells you the gift is the wrong kind or wrong style of what they said they wanted. To top it off, the narcissist yells that you are selfish for not paying attention to what they said they wanted — and they made it "so simple" for you. They may even tell you that you are the stupidest person they've ever met. Narcissists are really good at calling other people "selfish." It's a statement they're really making about themselves.
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9. The narcissist asks for a designer cashmere sweater for Christmas. You get them a red sweater, because you know that's their favorite color. The narcissist opens the gift, and asks why you would get them a red sweater. Don't you know they already have two red sweaters? What made you think they liked red? What were you thinking? Oh, it's because you were only thinking of yourself. (Does this sound familiar?)
10. If the narcissist does get you something they consider to be pricey, they will leave the price tag on your gift. This isn't for ease of returning the item — the narcissist doesn't even make an attempt to cross out the price of the gift. Message: Look how much money I spent on you. You should be grateful. You owe me.
11. The narcissist barely tries to wrap your gifts. In the beginning, you received gifts that looked professionally wrapped. The narcissist was trying to look good. However, that ended quickly into your relationship. Now you are given gifts that aren't wrapped and still in the shopping bag. It's not that the narcissist doesn't know how to wrap gifts — they just don't put that much thought into it.
12. The narcissist tends to ruin holidays with drama and stonewalling. Accept that whatever you do will be wrong. Even something that was acceptable by the relationship "rules" you must follow is now the worst violation ever to the narcissist. You will be stonewalled or berated on major holidays and birthdays.
So what can you do? Again, accept that the narcissist will never change. The narcissist thinks everyone else has a problem — not them. Take a hard look at how long you want to be exposed to this kind of behavior. What kind of toll is it taking on your emotional and physical health? Consider talking to a mental health professional on your own. (Narcissists will either refuse to go to a counselor, charm the counselor, and/or tell the counselor it is all your fault.)
For more information, see my Psychology Today post, "So You're in a Relationship with a Narcissist, Now What?", part 3 of a 3-part series on narcissism and relationships.
Stephanie Moulton Sarkis Ph.D. is the author of five books on ADHD, including the bestselling 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD and Natural Relief for Adult ADHD.
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