Home for the Holidays
When we hear the word “holidays” a number of images may spring to mind: blazing fireplaces and tables swelling with food, close times with family, lying on the beach at Cabo. For some of us, however, the images may be a shade darker: a sense of loneliness, the pinch of limited finances, changes and losses in our relationships, or juggling competing social demands. The gap between our expectations and our actual experience is often quite jarring. Even in the best families, we must adjust to a different rhythm of life and stubborn expectations which may no longer fit who we are. For those who feel distant from their families, this can be a time of reopening old wounds and emotional pain. Other feelings that commonly arise during the holidays include: guilt, stress, boredom, resentment, and homesickness for your life at college.
Keeping the following ideas in mind might help you not only to survive the holidays, but to appreciate them for what they are and can be.
Frustration is built into the system. Wherever our expectations of love and understanding are the highest, so will be our sense of hurt, disappointment, and betrayal.
No expectations - no disappointment. Having few or no expectations is the best preparation for being satisfied with whatever happens. The Taoist discipline of becoming like water and “going with the flow” can help us from get stuck, even when others are.
It is okay to attend to your emotional needs, even if this means disappointing others. Unfortunately, taking of oneself is often as interpreted as selfishness by others. Only you can decide where the balance lies.
Instead of thinking about what gifts you would like to receive, you might yourself the question: what three qualities or experiences do I want to have more of this holiday? Time to relax, good communication, intimate conversations, a chance to explore a hobby or creative project - answers may vary widely. The main point is to keep these three things in mind and actually put them into practice.
If last year’s holidays were not a good experience for you, allow yourself to re-evaluate how and where you would like to spend the break this year. If you feel constrained in your choice, can you at least realize your wishes in part? Think ahead, and don’t simply assume that your needs will be met if you don’t attend to them.
Finally, a sense of humor can also be helpful. For instance, psychologist James Hillman, extols extended family gatherings as the one place where we get to meet people with whom we have so little in common.
Written by Mark Evans, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist, University of Oregon Counseling Center