Dear Those Who Are Hurting During the Holidays,
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or so you are told. If you’ve had a rough year, maybe you are dreading this season when you feel pressure to be happy, connect with family and make too many plans. Maybe instead you want to crawl into a cave and hibernate until January. I can understand that. If you are hurting, feeling pressure to be happy is a heavy burden. I feel for you because I have been there. The holidays can act like a magnifying glass on our losses, loneliness and failures.
I remember seeing people’s pictures on social media or hearing people discuss their holiday plans with their happy families and significant others and feeling like a complete loser. I had so many wonderful friends I knew loved me but during the holidays they were unavailable, leaving me feeling alone and unwanted.
Maybe the holidays are hard for you because you have had a recent loss, divorce/break up or financial stress. I want you to know that you are not the only person feeling the weight of the holidays. So many of my clients’ symptoms intensify in December and then after the 25th they calm down again. Know that you are not alone.
I hope you can find ways to make this season more bearable for you. Maybe the first step is just acknowledging that this time of year sucks and giving yourself permission to not be super happy and festive. Then maybe you do things differently, doing new holiday activities and making new traditions. Find people who will support you in this. One year I asked my best friend to help me with “Operation Redeeming Christmas” and we did lots of fun things together that month to soften the blow that the holidays would bring me.
Maybe there is a family explosion every year during the holidays so you dread your family holiday gathering because you are waiting for the bomb to go off. This is incredibly common. Law enforcement consistently sees an increase in domestic disturbances during the holidays.
If this describes your family, maybe making this season bearable also means not seeing certain people. Maybe you spend it with friends and “chosen family” instead of your relatives. By doing this you might be breaking the unspoken (or spoken) rules of your family. Your family might hold to “family first” but if your family is unhealthy, unsafe, abusive or dysfunctional to the point that it negatively impacts your emotional health, its okay to take a break. It is okay to take care of yourself, even if your family doesn’t validate or understand it. You are not separating yourself out of spite or to punish them, but to protect your own well being. You may have never been allowed to do that when you were younger, but you can now.
If you dread the holidays because they are so busy and hectic and you feel the pressure to do a million things such as hosting beautiful dinners and parties all with a smile on your face, I invite you to give yourself a break. You do not have to say yes to everything. Think of the events, activities and traditions you really love and prioritize those. Everything else can be optional. Again, this may mean you are not meeting certain people’s expectations. That is okay. The people who really love you will still love you and will understand.
If finances are hard this year due to a job loss or other major changes, this time of year may be incredibly stressful. You may not have the resources to travel to family like you usually do. You may not be able to get your kids everything or anything off of their Christmas lists. That might make you feel like a failure or like a bad parent, son, daughter, sister, brother, friend, etc. Financial limitations are real and nothing to be ashamed of. I hope you can find other ways to make this time special without needing to spend a great deal of money. What would it look like to show your family you love them without having to purchase anything? What if you can only offer your presence? That is a wonderful gift. I don’t remember many gifts I got as a child but I remember the time I had with my family and the fun we had together. Those memories are so much more valuable to me than the gifts I got that I was excited about for a month and then forgot about.
If nothing else here brings you comfort, remember that this time of year will pass. This can be a hard month but it will not go on forever. Take breaks when you needto, cry when you need to and say no when you need to. Get through as best you can and don’t judge yourself for not being super excited and happy about this season. If life is hard right now, that doesn’t change just because of a holiday. Be good to yourself. May you find some peace and joy amidst the pain and chaos this season can bring.