How to have a happy family Christmas
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Jennifer Hope-Spencer UKCP Reg., Reg.BACP, PGC Supervision, BUPA reg.
5th November, 20150 Comments
Wishing you a stress-free Christmas with tips for holiday family happiness!
Christmas comes but once a year… but do your family members develop three heads when you’re together? Christmas is recognised as an intensive time where expectations are unrealistically high. The ‘right’ food, presents, social activities are part of the mix of expectations that, fuelled with alcohol, late nights and anti-climax result in tension, tears and trouble.
Do you believe that everyone else is having a wonderful Christmas, except you? Do you notice families on Christmas day and think: ‘how have they got such a happy family and I/we haven’t?’ The illusion that everyone, apart from you, is ‘simply having a wonderful Christmas time’.
Maybe you’re one of the few adults who enjoys Christmas, has a happy family time, perhaps with grand-children to focus on. That’s wonderful if that’s the case. Christmas is a magical time for children and a time that resurrects memories of childhood Christmases with family members, which were (hopefully) happy. Perhaps you have painful memories of childhood Christmases. Whatever your memories, there will be hope and anticipation that this year, Christmas will be a happy occasion with all the family.
Very often marriages break down, or bad feelings develop into arguments and emotional conflict that bring confused, hurt and angry family members into therapy, hoping to make sense of what’s gone wrong. Internal conflicts about family relationships can come to a head at Christmas bringing emotionally unresolved issues to the surface that cause resentment to build. Not knowing what to do to resolve conflicts eventually brings family members to seek counselling and psychotherapy to discover what has gone wrong, yet again, with being with their family who they love and care for the rest of the year.
So, what does go wrong? Why do family members who manage to get along together during the year, suddenly develop three heads at Christmas time?
The answer lies in unspoken resentments, unmet emotional and practical needs from family members, judgements and dislike of others’ behaviour. Also attitudes that are always present but with limited time together during the rest of the year are containable.
Counselling and psychotherapy get to the root of the problem: understanding how unconscious family patterns and constellations (how family dynamics become unconscious learnt behaviour from childhood), expectations, disappointments and projections are in the recipe mix that dictates whether you and yours can accept each other’s foibles, faults and different perceptions.
Counselling and psychotherapy can:
Help you understand your family dynamics.
Show you how to recognise projections, transference and counter-transference so that you can step out of negative family dynamics.
Help you decide how you want your relationships to be and learn how to create them.
Help you change your behaviour so that you help others to change around you.
Understand that your perception of events may not match other’s perceptions.
What’s important is the understanding that no-one has a perfect Christmas, or life! Everyone has problems, challenges and dark and difficult times to work through in their life and relationships. It’s how you think, behave and ultimately, feel about them that decides whether you can accept your family as they are – imperfect.
The stress of Christmas lies in trying to please and appease everyone, provide what you think family members want even though you might be a seething with resentment inside.
- Ask for what you want - you’re entitled to.
- Accept that your family aren’t perfect – and neither are you!
- Acknowledge them for who they are – not who you want them to be.
- Listen to them, be patient and please yourself as well as trying to please them.
Ask for counselling and psychotherapy to help you resolve and work through difficult times, at Christmas or any other time. If you follow these guidelines, you will have a happier Christmas. It may not be perfect, but it will be real!
When you look at other families, remember appearances can be deceptive. They will have family ‘issues’, difficulties and challenges like you. Accept Christmas for what it is meant to be: a time for listening to others you care for, making allowances for them and finding the positive, not remembering the negative. This year’s Christmas will be next year’s memories: make them happy ones to remember!
About the author
I have practiced as a counsellor and psychotherapist for over twenty years and worked with clients in the NHS, privately and with EAP schemes. Clients bring similar basic issues: anxiety, depression (anger and sadness), frustration, guilt, poor self-esteem, self-image, identity and worth, all of which results in loss of confidence and self-belief.
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Sophie Spiegler14th December, 2016
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