Ho, Ho, Ho it’s Merry Christmas…or not?
It’s that special time of year when people are shopping like their life depends on it and sentimentality is at an all time high. Families are preparing to spend “quality” time together and gifts are being bought for loved ones. The ideal of the nuclear family persists in the collective psyche and the Christmas cards on our mantle continue to portray this. It’s as though Christmas can erase the reality of life and can cover a multitude of sins simply by being Christmas and who doesn’t want that? I do. I love the idea of everyone getting along and enjoying the generosity and love of those who are important to them. I enjoy buying, wrapping and gifting presents to family and friends and I love the idea of the family all being together for this special time.
For some of us this is a reality, however there are others for whom Christmas is nothing like this.
Three particular groups of people come to mind when I think of those for whom Christmas can be especially challenging: the bereaved, the lonely and the separated and/or estranged. If you belong to one or more of these groups then this may be one of the most difficult times of the year for you? I would like to consider Christmas through your eyes in this blog:
If you are bereaved: so many of us belong in this group and for varied reasons. Some of us have lost our child and others our spouse and of course, a multitude of other loved ones. No matter who we have lost Christmas can be a time that makes that lost feel even more poignant than usual and the days may seem longer.
So this begs the question “how do I get through this time in the best way possible?” Big question. Without being trite the answer really does lie within. Only you know what the person you have lost means to you and how you can grieve them and remember them best at this time. I would encourage you to spend some quiet moments thinking about what you need to do both to honour their memory and to care for yourself this Christmas. For some it’s important to do something that celebrates the life of the loved one such as decorate their grave by placing flowers or Christmas decorations and for others it may mean quietly having a favourite drink or visiting a favourite place. Whatever it is for you the important thing is that you care for yourself and your talk to those close to you if things get really tough for you this Christmas.
If you are alone and lonely: Being alone can be a choice but being lonely is never a choice. Christmas is a time when togetherness is “in your face” and it points out just how alone we are rather than invites us into the togetherness. So how do we combat this and can we? We can feel as if we are powerless to reach out and try being with others but it is in our power to do this. Today there are so many ways that we can be with others and there are always churches that open their doors on Christmas day for those of us who want to be with others but find themselves alone. Perhaps you aren’t keen on the idea of church for many reasons but there are many meet up groups that can be found through a quick web search. Being lonely can be more of a mental prison than an actual reality and we can escape it and find others with whom we can share time and ourselves. I encourage you – don’t stop looking for your tribe.
The separated and/or estranged: If you belong to this group then there is a distinct possibility that you may also belong to one or both of the other groups. You may be part of a separated family – either a parent or a child and if you are then grief is a very real part of this experience. For the parent who has children they won’t see at Christmas the grief is very real and it can be even more complex depending upon the separated parents relationship. This is a whole other blog topic and one that I shall attempt to cover later.
Families are either a source of great blessing or great pain and they can be a mixture of the two. The reality is that even if we are better to be away from our families because of their toxicity, it can still be a grief filled space that we feel all too acutely. So how do I manage this kind of pain, I can hear you thinking? First of all we need to acknowledge that it is painful and it is grief and we need to allow ourselves to feel it. Then we need to consider why we are estranged/separated. Is it our responsibility to address the issues that lead to the estrangement or are we caring for ourselves by choosing not to be with unsafe people even if they are our family members? If we have done something to cause the estrangement then perhaps it is easier to “fix” than we think. Sorry can be the hardest word (oh dear, I’m writing song lyrics now!) but when it’s used sincerely and without justification it can also be one of the most powerful words on the planet. I challenge you if the estrangement is of your doing, dig deep, get humble and apologise and seek to put things right. Now maybe this will mean that Christmas will be with your family this year or maybe they won’t be able to move past whatever you have done but whatever their response is, stay genuinely sorry without expectations and fill your Christmas with the knowledge that you have done something wonderful and true to this special time.
Alternatively, you may be estranged because of what has been done to your or how you have been treated by your family. We all want to belong to our family not matter what they have done or how they have treated us but is belonging to a toxic group the best thing for us? Research would say that it isn’t and as a counsellor I would agree. In order to belong to a toxic group we have to deny aspects of our self that really matter and compromise who we truly are in order to fit into the groups norms. Don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel are the unspoken rules of dysfunctional families and if you recognise these rules in your family system then it’s important to be true to who you are rather than bowing to the family rules. Usually we find ourselves ostracised when we begin to challenge these rules but I guess the reality is if we don’t challenge them, we will be maintaining them for the next generation and w won’t be allowing our true selves to live.
How do I get through Christmas if I am on my own because my family are toxic? I would encourage you to look for other meaningful ways to engage with people as with the lonely person. The main thing is to remember that even tough it is painful; you are honouring yourself by not playing the “game” anymore.
At the end of the day Christmas is only one day (or a few if you like to stretch it out) and you have got through so many days prior to this, so put in that context it can seem a little more doable.
If you are really struggling through the festive season then please one of the emergency numbers listed below and talk to someone about it. It may also be time for you to make that appointment with one of our counsellors (or another counsellor is you aren’t in this area) in order to explore and work through these issues. Take care and all at Integrate Counselling and Psychotherapy wish peace for you this Christmas and throughout 2019.