Tidings & Triggers
It's here, ready or not. Have you picked a 'holiday survival guide' yet? I wanted to write up a great list of self-care survival tips and ways to navigate difficult relationships, but about a thousand other experts beat me to it.
Although, perhaps what would make this holiday season better for you is giving yourself a little grace for the way you're going to get through it.
I'm not a Grinch by any stretch. Come this Friday I'll be putting up my tree with White Christmas on the TV (then probably Die Hard) and a glass of eggnog near at hand. I love all that stuff. I even kind of enjoy the frantic holiday vibe at the airport. Weird, I know.
But I also know it's a time when people put so much expectation on ourselves. It's about more than the turkey or the guest towels. Old stories that wound us crop up as dependably as claymation reindeer. How can it be helpful to tell ourselves we should be able to turn all that around?
The Season of Expectation
Couple years ago a client was describing a private meltdown they had while preparing the Thanksgiving meal. A couple of things went wrong. They got behind. Suddenly they were yelling at the kids just for being there and contemplating spending the weekend at an undisclosed location.
Talking it through, we tracked the emotions of that meal prep back to the label of 'The Disappointment' they'd been wearing since adolescence. Messages both real and perceived had crafted something deep in the heart that my client was unknowingly trying to remedy in the splendor of a perfect holiday meal. No wonder there wasn't room for anything to go wrong.
I saw a social media post a while back from someone who was just absolutely over the "Elf on the Shelf" thing. In a long rant, they sneered at everyone's cutesy little traditions and boldly declared their intention not to make a "magical" Christmas for their family.
We put so much expectation on ourselves for these celebrations. And so often that's exactly what kills our ability to engage with any joy or comfort the season may hold.
And that's why I don't want to add to it with a bunch of 'tips and tricks' on how to wow everybody with your suped-up boundaries or your inexplicable holiday zen. Because that can end up just playing into the hands of a story you don't get to write, anyway.
Be Where You Are
If you can finally stand your ground with the person who's never respected your uniqueness or your choices, that's truly fantastic. If you're able to set a new tone in which you can move more freely and focused, awesome.
And if you just smile and get through it, that works too. As every comedy about a doomed attempt to pull off the perfect holiday will teach you, there are a ton of variables you can't control, and probably shouldn't try to. You can't decide what stories people tell themselves, just the one you do.
Boundaries and mindfulness and all these great mental/emotional tools exist for your good, not to be obsessed over. Kind of like all the holiday cheer should be.
So wherever you land on the spectrum from Bailey to Griswold, just be kind to yourself. Accept yourself (which is the best setup for accepting what else comes your way).
If it's the season of charity, recognize that it's okay not to have all your crap worked out, and that you don't have to be the paragon of mental and emotional health that literally nobody is. If it's the season of gratitude, be intentional about enjoying what you can and appreciating your ability to do so. And don't be the one who doesn't give you room to breathe.
And if you just can't do it this year, that's allowed (despite what anyone says). The one gift I hope you choose to give is not beating yourself up for it.
And I also hope you're surprised by a happy holiday.
Mike Ensley, LPCC is a professional counselor in Loveland, CO.
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