How often do we come across those posts of dear friends or relatives, maybe even acquaintances that cast out their one final social media post, proclaiming that their time on social networking sites has come to an end only to sneak back on again after a few days/weeks/months?Read More
The Webster Dictionary uses the first few words of it's definition of vulnerability to say "capable or susceptible to being wounded or hurt..." (2016). Many individuals are vulnerable during the holidays. This is a time where family gets together or doesn't, and that can stir up a great deal of intently hurtful or wounding feelings and behaviors. Many treat the holiday get togethers as something they must grin and bear with family members or family friends around that symbolize great pain or upset in their lives, or as something they must suffer through quietly while grieving a loss in their lives. There is a "keep everything copacetic vibe" during this time, many just want to get it over with as soon as possible and ruffle the least amount of feathers.
So what is so wrong with this way of coping? Well, for one, it engraves a patterned annual behavior that guarantees an absence of genuine healing from a loss or dysfunction in a relationship, and it also prevents the vulnerable individual from being taken care of and achieving an ability to move on and begin to create new special memories around the holidays. The person remains frozen in time with a groundhog-day-type annual nightmare of one dreaded holiday season after the other.
So what am I suggesting? That if we are suffering around the holiday season that we do not pretend everything is perfect, that we don't show up at each gathering saying "everything's good, what about you?" I want to challenge those of us that are hurting and feeling vulnerable to share that with those we trust. If we use caring, considerate language and use I statements such as "I am actually having a hard time because this is around the time my divorce was settled last year" or to a particular family member "We used to be so close, and since that falling out we had, I miss you and these holiday gatherings are awkward now for me" etc. Revealing our vulnerability sets the stage for deep meaningful conversations that are progressive and mobilizing in relationships. When we reveal our vulnerability to one another it can feel scary and the questions of the unknown may take hold, but it is often reciprocated with genuine feedback from the other person that is empathetic, nurturing, and healing. Remember that your suffering is not a burden on others during this time, often times a sense of relief will come over the other person being shared with, as it allows for a safe space for them to reveal their own struggles and vulnerability. Just because it is the holiday season doesn't mean we have to wrap a pretty perfect bow around everything. Life is messy and complicated and full of pain in a lot of ways, that doesn't go away during the month of December so reach out to others and connect in meaningful ways that allow you to receive the nurturing you need, and also to extend your own ability to nurture others. Remember Mr. Frost's saying: the only way around something is through
Trick or treat bags have been filled and spooky ghouls have returned to their graves until next year, another Halloween has passed. The next holiday is upon us and it is one that symbolizes gratitude for many, a time to give thanks for what and who we have. Many of us will take time out from our busy stressful lives, hit the pause button on our daily complaints, get together with loved ones, and allow ourselves to shift our focus to a place of gratitude. But what if you have nothing to be thankful for this year?
Experiencing a trauma or a tragedy can hijack one's ability to participate in normal holiday traditions, especially if it occurred in the past year. Even if you've been able to cope with your despair and enjoy good moments since, it doesn't mean you'll feel ready to partake in a traditional activity centered around shared feelings of happiness and gratitude. Sometimes the thought of participating in a holiday tradition can make it feel like your loss/trauma/tragedy did not happen, and this can actually strengthen anxiety about feelings of being able to cope, as you may fear becoming emotional in contrast to your loved ones who are in the spirit of the holiday. Is it ok to sit this one out? To opt out of a holiday get together that symbolizes gratitude? I think you have to ask yourself some important questions:
- Will missing a holiday get together make me feel so upset that I will become unsafe? (Engage in reckless behaviors, experience thoughts of harming yourself, relapse, etc)
- If I decide to skip the holiday function then change my mind, will I still be able to go?
- Could being around my loved ones this year actually be more helpful than staying away?
- Will I regret missing out on this holiday tradition this year?
If you feel confident that skipping a holiday function is best for you, then be mindful of how you'd like to spend that time. Will it be curled up with a good book or a classic movie at home? Will it be shopping at the mall or doing some overdue reorganizing around the home? While it is important to do work to process your trauma and strengthen your coping tools, it is not recommended to actually do any of that work on the day you'd normally be spending time with loved ones. For example, avoid engaging in activities that might be triggering for you, or may test the limits of your coping skills (looking at old pictures of a lost loved one, replaying music you heard on a day something tragic happened, etc). Save that work for a different day. The day you decide to opt out on a holiday function should be spent doing something soothing or distracting, even self indulgent as long as it is safe (Ex: binge watch Netflix reality TV shows, play old CDs/tapes from your favorite adolescent artists, etc). It is also recommended that you communicate openly and honestly to your loved ones about your decision to opt out of the tradition this year. It may take being vulnerable and disclosing a bit more than you may have liked, but people really respond well to honesty, and will be more likely to support your decision if they have a transparent reason to why you have decided to skip on the event for the year. Remember, that it's ok to feel as though you have nothing to be thankful for this year. If you've had a bad year and that is the case, it is important to be true to your feelings and express yourself genuinely, repression can lead to dysfunctional behaviors. Healing from tragedy is painful and you're brave if you're willing to admit you're not grateful this year. That same bravery will also be what helps you grow strong again, to feel gratitude in following years while surrounded by the people you love.
The word autumn comes from the ancient Etruscan root aut- and has within it connotations of the passing of the year (Breyer, 1993). Here in our beautiful New England state of Connecticut, we experience many signposts in autumn that tell us the year is passing. We begin to see the leaves on the trees change color and fall, we begin to feel a chill in the early morning and early evening hours, and we see traditional holiday garb creep onto the shelves of our local shopping stores. In many ancient and historical cultures, and in some current cultures today, it was customary to greet the change of seasons with festivals, religious rituals, and communal harvest gatherings. In our busy modern day lives, we can miss out on the benefits of syncing our consciousness with our environment even as it gives us cues that it is time to stop and reflect. Fall is also the beginning of an academic year for many and the beginning of the end of the calendar year. What better time to do some self reflecting than at a time where the world around you is changing over to another season and the New Year is just a peek around the corner? Here are some self reflection prompts and exercises to do this October to generate some self reflection. These can be done alone, in a journal, or with loved ones.
Where are you with that resolution you made on January 1st 2016 or with that goal you promised you'd achieve this year? What steps have you taken to get there? What has gotten in your way? Will it be achieved by the time December 31st 2016 arrives? If you have achieved your goal or resolution what was the journey like? Do you feel like you thought you'd feel when you imagined achieving it?
Heading into the holiday season means a time where many of us get together with loved ones. This can be a time where we are reminded of loved ones we do not have anymore, and it can be a reminder of the pain that is connected to unhealthy relationships we've had in the past or currently have with family members. Knowing hard feelings and difficult interactions are coming up in the next few months, what do you want to do to better prepare yourself this year compared to last year? How do you want to celebrate holidays you traditionally participate in this year? Do you want to do what you've always done or is it time to do something different? What would make this holiday season truly enjoyable for you so you can participate in the holiday glee this year instead of being a scrooge?
If possible, take a stroll on one of Connecticut's many hiking trails. As you walk to the top focus on all of the major accomplishments and failures of the past year, consider new relationships formed, old relationships weakened or lost, and think of the ways in which you have grown or have not grown during these past months. When you get to the top, practice some mindfulness and think of who you are at this moment in time and where you are in your life. Consider what is important to you now and what a loved one would say about you today if they were describing you to a stranger. Take a few moments to focus on your beautiful surroundings and quiet your mind, listen to the breeze shake the leaves off the trees, take in the different smells, feel the chill in the air. On the way back down, think of where you are going in the immediate future, who you want to be, how you may want to grow, and what goal you want to focus on.
Start a new tradition and get some of your loved ones together for a harvest. Bake or cook seasonal food together or agree to come together for a harvest season potluck. Share in self reflection together and honor the passing of the year in a way where you can spend some time outdoors. Take the time to slow down with loved ones and look around at the beauty that surrounds you. Maybe visit a local farm ahead of time together to do some fruit picking.
Our daily demands make it difficult to find time for self reflection, but it is important to schedule it in just like it is important to schedule your routine medical appointments and time to do your taxes. If your mental and emotional well being never gets a tune up, then how can you be expected to keep running on full throttle? Take time this October to check in with yourself and you'll realize just how better able you are at returning to checking in on everything and everyone else.
Sometimes it is our unrealistic expectations of the holiday season that causes stress and emotional deregulation. Holiday music, comfort food, and cheer do not always bring on the spirit of forgiveness, acceptance, or forgetfulness for those with strained family relationships. It is often the hope of many that the presence of the holiday season will solicit a renewing attitude from the family member who has behaved un-lovingly in the recent past, and often times when this is not the case, we are left feeling even worse about where our relationship stands than before. Expecting apologetic words or behavior from a family member around the holidays when it wasn't present before, is an unrealistic expectation that can leave us feeling increasingly betrayed, lonely, or unworthy. These heightened feelings can cause emotional deregulation that can then spill over to affect our loved ones who are good to us all year around. These sour feelings can also cause us to become unfocused on our tasks at hand at a critically chaotic time of year. Tasks such as preparing adequately for hosting or hosted events, buying holiday gifts, remaining professionally organized with less working hours as holiday parties eat up company time, and continuing to manage household chores as well as continuing to practice one's health promoting routines can all become increasingly difficult to do with the added stress of false holiday family expectations. Do yourself a favor and do not pick the holiday season for the time of year for expecting loved ones to put their grievances or dysfunctional behaviors aside.
The holiday season is full of advertisements of happy healthy nuclear families all across media. Holiday movies, commercials, and TV show specials are kid friendly and full of warm and fuzzy story endings that can leave us feeling as though our familial issues are much more pressing than before.
It is also the time of year that the friends and non-familial support systems we are use to spending time with are less available as they may be spending more time with their family members, influencing us to potentially look more closely at our less than ideal familial relationships. Community hang out spots may have shortened hours and hobby or social groups may skip a month of meetings in hopes of accommodating people being absent around this time of year. Once again, a reminder that we may not be happy about our model airplane club being canceled for the month as we aren't exactly able to fill that space with spending time with a family members or members due to strained relationships.
So what can be done?
Do not add fuel to the fire- There is no use in further straining an already tense family relationship. When considering confronting a family member you have a strained relationship with, think about how this may affect your relationship with anyone else you may also see around this person during this time of year. Consider that attacking this person for the wrongs they have committed may impact your ability to spend time with another family member you enjoy seeing. If the desire is there to resolve a historically strained relationship, consider waiting until the holidays have passed. After going this long, why not wait a little longer to work on resolving issues without the distraction of added holiday stressors or the input of spectators
Expect that the person will behave as they always do-Because put simply, they will.
Take care of yourself- Stick to the health promoting routines you were already subscribed to. Taking any hiatus from your work out schedule or your nightly meditation will only leave you feeling more vulnerable as something that normally makes you feel good will also now be missing.
Be kind to yourself-Give yourself that extra half hour in bed on the weekends this month, read some low brow entertainment, or watch that campy horror flick; indulge a little.
Avoid overdoing it on the holiday goodies- Trust me on this one, it is easy to go for the comfort food, and you should have some, I mean after all it is that time of year but going overboard on the sweets too frequently is all too easy to do right now, and will only cause your blood sugar to yoyo, your stomach to retaliate, and disturb your sleep cycle which are the ingredients emotional deregulation are made of.
Do something you have been putting off- Why not spend some of the unwanted extra free time during the holidays to get around to that one thing. Is it donating old clothes? Organizing your home office filing cabinet? Getting your car that 60,000-mile check up? Going to the dentist? These types of tasks are never exciting to start but always make us feel good about being productive once they are finished.
Try something new- Experiencing novelty is a full body experience, requiring engagement of all of your senses. We often remember novel experiences because they are unusual and stick out from our daily routines. Do you remember the first time you drove a car? Or rode a bike? Do you remember also being upset about something during that time? Probably not because when you're focused on trying something new you have to dedicate 100% focus to that activity, there is no time to focus on feelings of sadness or anger.
Remember that this too shall pass- The holidays come but they also go and within a matter of weeks all will resume to the pace and normalcy you are use to. Keep in mind that you weren't feeling this way before the holidays began and that chances are you'll be back to feeling more yourself once they are over.
This can be a tough time of year to get through but with realistic expectations, self care, and an understanding that it will not last forever, you will be able to avoid emotional deregulation and enjoy more peace as this holiday season passes.