The opportunity of a difficult Christmas
20th December, 20140 Comments
We all have some expectations of what a family ritual is meant to look like, whether it be Christmas, a family holiday, wedding or birthday. Similarly, we have some sense of how love should flow in a family – between parents, down from parents to children, between siblings, grandparents supportive and wise in the background. Simple expectations.
Christmas, for many people, confounds these expectations, whilst simultaneously encouraging them. We are forced to compare the ideal family Christmas of fantasy, fiction and advertising, with the ordinary, sometimes painful reality. It is easy to blame our expectations on the culture that surrounds us, on advertising, on peer pressure. But what if the culture doesn’t so much create our expectations as reflect them?
Of course, the rational reasonable part of us may think it has come to terms with the family losses or the rifts, the grudges or the favouritism. We may expect to be able to manage the situation and enjoy it. And yet, so often, Christmas brings out a more primitive or child-like yearning. And here is the opportunity. For noticing what troubles us or what we feel is missing or who is missing, can actually tell us a lot about our own inner worlds and inner struggles.
Why do we instantly feel furious when a particular family member says a particular thing in a particular way? Why do we so easily get flooded with emotion, overtaken by a way of being that usually we try to keep hidden? What is it in our pasts that we have yet to come to terms with? It is harder to bury these things on Christmas Day, when everyone is present, or deafeningly absent. The festive season provides a snapshot of the true state of the family. Of course, the issues and emotions that disturb us are likely to rise to the surface.
Whether or not you are in therapy or looking for a therapist, this can be an opportunity to notice the yearning, notice what is missing, notice the occasions that suddenly trigger anger, rejection or shame and to wonder why the feelings are so strong and what has been buried. There may also be pointers towards what could change and how you would like Christmas to look next year, or in five years. And so, as well as helping us to see what is yet to be resolved in our pasts, Christmas can guide us into the New Year, as we look to do things better and to bring about the changes that will lead to a more fulfilling life.
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