Christmas: Not Always So Cheery (2)
By: Beth McHugh 2009
In our last article on this topic we looked at the high expectations that so many of us have about Christmas and the festive season and why it is not only so stressful for so many of us, but why it is often a time of unhappiness rather than joy.
So how can we reduce the stress that many of us feel at Christmas and defuse some of the more unpleasant family disputes that often occur at the very time we should be happy?
The answer is partially contained in the last phrase of the previous paragraph. The expectations that many of us put on Christmas is unrealistically high. Do people really change their personalities on Christmas Day and be loving, warm and caring when they are seldom like that for the rest of the year? No. Do people who are lazy by nature undergo some sort of magical transformation on Christmas Eve and create parties to die for with exquisite food and decorations and lovely well thought-out gifts? No, they don’t.
Do parents who show little interest in their children suddenly get a shot of “loving parent juice” and turn into the parents we just knew were hiding in there all along? No, they don’t. Do ex-partners who are still bitter ten years after the divorce suspend that bitterness and become loving and concerned on the big day? No, they don’t.
The list goes on and you see my point. Christmas is just another day in terms of family and social dynamics and leopards don’t change their spots just because there are a few swathes of tinsel lining the halls. It is no coincidence that the workload of therapists increases dramatically immediately before and especially after Christmas.
So the first rule of coping with a difficult Christmas is to put aside all hopes that this day is going to be any different to any other family get-together. This can be quite depressing and if you feel sad, then go ahead and cry. If it is too difficult, you may think about even not attending a dysfunctional gathering of people. There is no cast iron rule that Christmas is for families. If your family doesn’t make you happy then you may wish to think about other, more positive alternatives.
If you are particularly stricken by the state of your extended family, then attending family therapy may be a long-term solution to an ongoing problem. But this is not a topic to be brought up on Christmas Day. The challenge, in difficult families, is to lower your expectations, because it is your heightened expectations and the hope of a happy time that is causing much of the grief that seems to tag along like a bad shadow on the tail end of Christmas Day. And while giving up hope goes against all our survival instincts, ironically it the giving up of the hope of a “perfect” day that will release you from sad or angry feelings in bed on Christmas Day night.