The Nightmare Before Christmas?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Lydia Browne Registered Member MBACP, Counsellor and Supervisor
6th December, 20120 Comments
"Christmas comes but once a year. But when it does it brings good cheer". So goes the old adage anyway.
For many people Christmas time certainly is a marvellously festive occasion, met with much anticipation and embraced in with almost child-like enthusiasm. The tree and decorations go up, presents are bought, food and drink are stocked up, the family is greeted, welcomed and fed. Seemingly, it is a time of indulgence, magnanimity and abundance, (at least until January's credit card bill arrives!)
There are also many people who do not like Christmas for a variety of reasons, they might think it is all too silly and commercial and wish to avoid the mass hysteria that seems to take over around this time of year. These people are quite content to tolerate the bits of the festivities that do not challenge their beliefs or logic, and aside from the inconvenience of crowded shops, the indignity at enforced joviality, the Secret Santa at work, or having to suffer Christmas films, can get through the festivities relatively unscathed, breathing a huge sigh of relief when it is all over.
However there is another group of people for whom Christmas can feel like a nightmare. Christmas, with it's emphasis on abundance, comfort and warm glowing love, is a time that can make people painfully aware of what is missing from their lives.
During this festive season, the media bombards us with images of family, togetherness, and prosperity. The advertisements show the archetypal harassed mum fussing over the preparations, getting the home ready; then heroically tackling the Christmas dinner. Afterwards she sits serenely watching over her extended family. Everyone is happy. Everyone is healthy. Everyone is here.
This for some is an even bigger reminder that everyone might not be happy, everyone might not be healthy, everyone might not be here. So for these people, Christmas can bring a sense of dread, unease, or loneliness. Christmas can make people feel unhappy and depressed. Christmas can make people feel angry. Christmas can ignite a deep churning longing, and feelings of emptiness or overwhelming sorrow.
This could be for a variety of reasons, to do with physical or mental ill health, redundancy or unemployment, relationship difficulties, family estrangement, bereavement, to name but a few. These challenges could have occurred recently, or many years ago, or are ongoing. The painful feelings that are always there can become exacerbated at Christmas time, when everyone else seems to be happy.
For people who are facing such emotional challenges during the festive season, the first step is to acknowledge those feelings. Stoically soldiering on, and putting on a brave face can be exhausting. It is important to clear some space where feelings can be met and experienced honestly. There are many options for this. Some people might like to keep a journal, or take a long walk where they can reflect, some may prefer to engage in exercise or a sport. Some might find that helping others, perhaps through volunteering offers a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Many might prefer to share their feelings with another person, such as a close friend, a family member, a trusted colleague, or religious mentor, if applicable. Others will choose this time to seek out the professional help of a counsellor or psychotherapist.
The overall aim, whatever the chosen method, would be for the feelings to be permitted and acknowledged, to achieve self-acceptance and a degree of calmness and readiness to begin to move forwards with their lives.
As for the festivities, whilst many people do indeed enjoy this season in the traditional sense, it is worth noting that a lot of what is portrayed in the media represents an ideal. It is important for all of us to consider how we as individuals are able to mark this time, and base this on our own beliefs, values, and personal circumstances right now, whilst being ever mindful that ultimately what each and every one of us wants is to feel happy and fulfilled.
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