Getting through Christmas intact
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Caroline Brown, Reg. MBACP, Counselling individuals and Couples
27th November, 20140 Comments
Christmas. A word that will mean something different to each of us. For many, Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends. And for many others it’s a time of difficult feelings, sadness and regret. Something they would rather skip through as quickly as possible.
Whether happy or sad, Christmas usually brings about strong feelings. I remember lying in bed as a child on Christmas Eve trying to calm my excitement enough to get to sleep before the day-like-no-other-day would begin, hoping that Santa would bring me the thing I wanted most. Back then, the thing was most likely box-shaped and wrapped in Christmas paper. For a long time since, its been less tangible than that, not available to buy, and often slipped through my fingers, out of my grasp, leaving me feeling like a sad and wistful little girl.
It took years before it dawned on me that my hopes were too high, and that was the problem. The law of reason said it couldn’t live up to my impossible expectations.
Being with family at Christmas, even (and may be especially) when we love them can be very stressful. Of course it is! Because, regardless of our real age, we are all somewhere between five to 10 years old come Christmas morning! Our hopes, dreams, remembered promises are all there to be fulfilled or broken. Such a lot is at stake, it can feel that our world might end if our dreams don’t come true.
Emotions run high. What we can easily overlook is our family and friends each have their own hopes and expectations too. Emotionally-speaking, there may be eight or nine ‘children’ in your home on Christmas morning – and even more around the dinner-table! And if you’ve ever been to a children’s party, you’ll know that it is rare that there won't be any tears. And yet we expect Christmas to pass without a critical word, an impatient sigh or our children squabbling.
There are four thoughts I try to keep in mind at Christmas.
There is more than one way. People are different. My idea of Christmas day will probably be different to yours. Even if only a bit, it is unlikely we’ll have exactly the same thoughts and plans. Similarly your family and friends have their own ideas too. If you feel surprised or disappointed by your Mother in Law’s opinions, keep in mind that it doesn’t mean your way is wrong, just different.
Freedom to choose. You may have a family member who you always find it difficult to get on with and she, or he, is going to be there this Christmas. Perhaps they are critical, bad-tempered or just have the knack of saying the wrong thing. You can choose how you react and even if to react at all.
Listen more, talk less. Whether or not you are the host, you don’t have to be the one in control or the one who provides everything. Try to see yourself as being one of the party. Just one person in the group, be it family or friends. You are not responsible for keeping everyone else happy. That’s far too much pressure!
Let go of perfectionism. Finally, think in 60% terms. You have heard the saying: expect nothing and you will not be disappointed. It’s understandable to hope your Christmas celebrations go well. The danger is when the perfect ideal takes hold of the reins and gallops away and nothing short of heaven seems good enough. In this mode, even small things that go wrong can seem devastating. Having had my share of disappointment at Christmas, all due to my own unrealistic conditions, I changed my thinking: The day would not go 100% as I hoped, and at some point of the day I would likely wish to be beamed away from my family and land somewhere in the middle of January and the normal hurly-burly of life. When that happened I would take five or 10 minutes time out for myself, maybe go for a walk. I would come back feeling refreshed. I found myself feeling far less anxious and more able to enjoy the day for what it was. And I found that Christmas could be great!
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