Written by Dr. Danielle Delaney, Th. D.
Many call it “The most wonderful time of the year” and sometimes, it can be. But to be fair, for a large amount of people, the holidays bring a deep feeling of loss, longing, emptiness and pain. The reason? Well, society has basically banged us over the head with the idea that a happy family or marriage or partnership is the yardstick by which to measure all things. When we are in transition in any way, be it a divorce, job loss or change, change in relationship status, death of a loved one, ending of a friendship, ANY transition or change at all, the message we are given by society at large is that we are not in sync with those Norman Rockwell paintings & the images that many of us grew up with as the picture of happiness and fulfillment. Besides...that family portrait with the happy, successful people and the kids and the Golden Retriever most likely wasn’t ever what it appeared to be.
Appearances tend to be deceiving and are not the whole story!
How accurate is that image that many cling to so tightly as “the way things should be”? In reality, it should differ for each and every one of us. Navigating through the rough currents of life is a very individual undertaking, and one size certainly does not fit all. One way of LIFE does not fit all. So, why do we feel such fear and loss as we go through change? Why does the holiday season seem to highlight these feelings?
A simple “What are you up to for New Year’s?” said in an offhand manner by the pharmacist or the checker at the supermarket can cause a racing heartbeat and a feeling of inferiority when one is in the throes of change at the holidays. Visions of happy families gathered around the table, friends laughing around a fireplace enjoying a meal together and people racing home to visit with their loved ones often pass for the norm. Actually, a good percentage of people haven’t observed a formal sit-down holiday meal since their youth. Plenty of people come from divorced families where both parents will never again both be present at a holiday celebration. Often, siblings are estranged from each other, or from a parent. Couples sometimes do not “get along” with one of their families, making it a tense time of year. People going through relationship breakups or divorces may feel a sense of loss and not feel at all celebratory. Others equate the time of year with a traumatic experience...trauma does not take a holiday! Still others have social anxiety, and don’t enjoy the pressure of a crowded room with the expectation of sharing stories and being pleased to meet everyone in it. There are many reasons that a “normal” cheerful holiday season may not resonate with someone’s reality. It’s doing everyone a disservice to blindly expect it.
‘Tis the Season to Be (not) Jolly
Whatever the ideal of security and happiness that many of us feel we are “supposed” to meet, it is often elusive. When whatever is going on in our personal lives is not measuring up to the expectation placed on “holiday joy” and “tradition” we can feel a deep, painful disconnect. To feel that disconnection and yet feel forced to smile and soldier on and attend events or to answer those “What are you doing for the holidays” questions with grace can feel like a very tall order. The season highlights the feelings of pressure to act like everything is “fine” because, by definition, ’tis the season to be jolly.’ When you don’t feel at all jolly on the inside, the incongruence is excruciating. That exterior of cheer is just a facade.
Creating Something Better for Ourselves in the Present
Please know that you are not alone in feeling a sense of sadness. There is a natural tendency to reflect upon our upbringing and our past holiday seasons whether good or bad, and to feel a sense of nostalgia for days gone by. It is a nagging longing, because those days are never coming back. We know this truth deep inside of our psyche, and it hurts. Even if it was not particularly good, it was all we knew when we were young, and now it is up to us as adults to create something that feels better for ourselves. Not for our past self, but for our current, present self. That is the self that is going through changes and transitions that are not simple. Divorces, separations, ending friendships, severing ties in business and in life.
These changes are necessary, or you wouldn’t be making them. If what you had together felt rewarding and healthy, you would not have felt the need for a shift. Perhaps someone else initiated the ending of a relationship that you thought would be forever. While this is painful, when someone wants to leave you it only makes sense to let them go. Feelings of loss are only natural, but it will get better. The holidays will indeed end, and you will get through this time of feeling like you are the only one not feeling the joy. It will be difficult, but it can be done. With the help of counselors, coaches, and therapists, it can be an opportunity for growth. We tend to grow when we face challenges, not when things are simple. Going through an excavation of the self and unlearning unhelpful patterns is an excellent way to return to yourself.
Holiday Survival Advice—Exits Are Entrances!
Take extra time to take care of YOU. You are not required to show up at events to please anyone else and to feel uncomfortable for the benefit of another. You may have to tolerate the extra cheer at work, but don’t allow yourself to feel forced to attend parties or other activities that just don’t ring true for you and that you don’t enjoy. Avoid self-medicating with food, alcohol, internet fixations, drugs - face your reality. Buy healthy food that you like, get in a hike or some exercise even if it is just a walk, watch movies that make you laugh. Spend time with anyone that you can think of by whom you don’t feel judged. You don’t have to be “on” all the time, and you aren’t obligated to be anywhere other than work. It’s okay to feel your feelings, and it’s always brave to ask for support and help. Seek the services of a mental health counselor if the blues feel like too much for you to handle and you are feeling fragile. You aren’t alone in feeling this way at this time of year.
All exits from one thing are also the entrance to something else. This is a fact, and recognizing it is a vital ingredient in the science of creating a satisfying life. Every ending is also a beginning. In many ways, exits can set us free. Hold tight, breathe, and hang in there - a new year and a fresh start is just around the corner.
Read more about mental health.
About the Author Dr. Danielle Delaney
Dr. Danielle Delaney, Th. D. is the award-winning author of Expect Delays: How to Reclaim Your Life, Light, and Soul After Trauma. She is a Certified Crisis Interventionist, a specialist in Recovery Aftercare and Life Stage Transitions, and is a Spiritual Counselor. She also specializes in the area of Adults Molested as Children, Rape Crisis, and LGBT issues. The Los Angeles Office of Protocol has hailed Danielle as “a proven asset to the City and County of Los Angeles.” Danielle maintains her private practice in Hollywood, California and she can be found listed in Psychology Today. She is a frequent contributor to magazines such as InRecovery and Keys to Recovery, and has made numerous appearances on RadioMD, Rewired Radio and various other shows. To contact her or to learn more about her practice, her book or her radio show The Real Deal With Danielle Delaney, please go to: DanielleDelaneyCounseling.com or ExpectDelaysBook.com. You can also link to her profile on it’s over easy the index.