It might seem like narcissists would love to get gifts. After all, they are self-absorbed in every aspect of their life, and it seems as though having someone demonstrate their love and admiration by giving them a gift would tick all their narcissistic supply boxes. Gift-giving with a narcissist, however, is more complicated than you might think.
As self-described narcissist Riley Nichols points out, he feels pleasant emotions when he receives a gift, but “There is no automatic interest or care toward the giver about the gift’s worth/cost to them, or if they expect anything in return, even a thank you or an emotional response.”
Narcissists experience pleasant emotions when they receive gifts because they feel loved, but there is nothing you can give a narcissist that will ever be enough. They will never let on that they are happy with your gift even if they do like it. They will also always find some fault with it.
Let’s explore some of the reasons why gift-giving with narcissists is such a complicated matter, and how to navigate these complexities with the narcissist in your life. When you better understand how they view what most people consider to be a generous act, you can take steps to avoid triggering their rage and feeling bad about what you intended to be a loving act.
Can you Ever Give a Narcissist the Perfect Gift?
The answer to this question is simple — no. Whatever gift you give to the narcissist will never be enough. It will never be exactly right even if it is exactly what they wanted. What’s more, asking them what they want will likely result in a heaping helping of narcissistic rage. Don’t you know me? Can’t you figure out what I want or need or would like? Don’t you pay attention when I talk about what I want?
There’s no winning in this scenario. Even if you have been paying attention to what they say they want and you get them that very gift, they will gaslight you and say they never said they wanted that. Just like you have to accept that narcissists lack empathy, you have to accept that you will never be able to get them a gift that will be good enough let alone perfect.
As Tami McConnell points out, to the narcissist, gifts are “leverage, smoothing over a terrible wrong he doesn’t regret committing, a reflection upon himself (how he looks for taking such good care of you), etc.” That’s why many narcissists don’t like receiving gifts.
How Do Narcissists Feel When They Give You a Gift?
Because they tend to see gifts as a kind of leverage, when they give you a gift, they believe you are indebted to them. They want you to react to their gift with heaps of praise, surprise, and excitement. You can bet that you better tell them how perfect it is and make a big deal of whatever they got you. If you don’t, you’ll pay for it with narcissistic abuse.
As far as the quality of the gifts that a narcissist gives you, they won’t get you what you might ask for, and the gift they do give you won’t be very good. As Lisa Luz recalls, after getting her narcissistic sister and her nieces and nephews very nice gifts, she received in return, “a bag of 2 plates from the dollar store, a chipped bird statuette, and the ugliest ornament ever.”
Still, the narcissist will expect you to proclaim that what they have given you is the best gift ever. If you don’t, they will accuse you of being ungrateful and may stonewall you.
Should I Just Not Get a Narcissist Anything?
This would be a sin worse than getting them what they consider an inappropriate or inadequate gift. If you don’t get them anything, it’s as if you are confirming that you don’t love them. They will feel as though they are not important to you, and that is something they can’t handle in their life.
Remember that narcissists are externally validated and need constant praise and adoration from the people around them to prop up their self-esteem. To not give them a gift would be like spitting in their face. They will never let you forget it, and of course, when you do get them something, they will never let you forget how inappropriate it was. You really can’t win in this scenario.
How Do You Handle Gift-Giving with a Narcissist, Then?
About the only thing you can do in this scenario is try to get them something that you can afford and you think they will like. But you have to accept that no matter how good of a gift you know you have gotten them, they are not going to like it. At least, they will never admit they like it or call it ‘perfect.’
I remember with my mother, the first time I was old enough to actually buy a gift for her, she got angry with me because she said she didn’t believe in giving gifts. She said I was just trying to show everyone what a perfect child I was and that it had more to do with me than her. She told me how she never got a gift from anyone when she was a child, and so, she didn’t think it was appropriate now. Even at that young age, I knew better than to not get her anything. I could sense that she would have reacted even more negatively.
I resolved my dilemma by deciding that the gift I could give her that she wouldn’t be upset about was to make her breakfast or dinner on her birthday or do something special for her like cleaning the living room or kitchen. The food was never good enough and I couldn’t seem to clean anything well enough, but at least she didn’t get angry at me.
It’s also important to remember to take care of yourself during those holidays or special occasions when you would normally give or exchange gifts. Try not to spend much time around the narcissist, and if you have to, be sure to take enough breaks to practice some self-care techniques like positive affirmations or meditation.
Gift-giving with narcissists is like navigating through shark-infested waters; there’s always something looking to eat you and it’s not likely you’ll make it through unscathed. The best you can do is to take care of yourself by practicing healthy self-care habits, and above all, accept that the narcissist in your life is not going to change.
With acceptance and compassion, you can let them be like they are without feeling responsible for their mental state. The truth is you haven’t done anything wrong by giving them a gift, they should acknowledge it and be grateful, but their failure to do so is not about you or your gift.
Now that you understand a little more about how narcissists respond to gifts you might give them, you’ll also want to read this post about love-bombing and the ways a narcissist will try to impress you. Narcissism is such a confusing mental condition that it’s vital to understand everything you can about it.
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