You can work on practicing your skills of connecting with others at Christmas, but you may find this isn't enough, forgiveness may be your missing skill.
At Christmas a lot of old hurts can show up. You may be catching up with people you only see infrequently, and so whilst you have been able to practice avoidance throughout the year, all of a sudden that is no longer possible. And then amongst other expectations at Christmas is that you ‘play nice’ or the day.
You may also have trouble forgiving people who are now no longer in your life, or have an ex-partner who has chosen not to see their children at Christmas (and yes it happens a lot) and be feeling resentful about this. There may be fractious family relationships, there may be hurt from friends who don’t seem to be making an effort to catch up. The list of possible sources of resentment is almost endless.
So what is forgiveness? Do you do it once and only when the person involved has apologised and promised not to do it again? Do you forgive someone as many times as it takes? Over and over?
Can you forgive someone who doesn’t want to be forgiven? Is forgiveness an act of self-care, of grace, or an act of rebuilding a friendship or relationship? Or perhaps it can be any of these and all of these.
As a parent sometimes I am practicing forgiveness almost on an ongoing basis. There is a constant reminder that we and our children are imperfect but if we dwell on that it will get in the way of relationship building.
We need to let go continually of the hurts and the disappointments that come with human imperfection. And this comes more easily to some people. And it is easier to forgive some people than others...
Forgiveness is first and foremost a choice
Forgiveness is first and foremost a choice, an action. It involves moving from a space of blame to a space of release. My question to you is, do you want to put the burden down?
Forgiveness is an act you do for yourself. It does not mean you agree with what someone did, it does not mean you agree with whatever you did. It does mean you are choosing to release the blame, anger, resentment, and hurt. There are five steps you can practice towards this.
Are your thoughts about Christmas decorations hijacking your enjoyment of the Christmas season? Christmas is the season of expectation.
It's the first of December. In many homes that is when Christmas starts to ramp up. It's traditionally the weekend for decorations and Christmas tree, although the timing of this is up for lively debate!
How do you feel about your Christmas decorations? Do you suffer from tree envy? Do you judge your decorations as not being coordinated or new? Or perhaps you love the hand made decorations and are proud of them. Do you think maybe you should 'do' Christmas lights, or get new Christmas lights? Maybe your tree needs updating?
Is decorating a source of stress or enjoyment?
Have a look at the two Christmas tree images in this post. Which one do you think is mine?
Yep. We are constantly sold on the magic of Christmas with beautiful perfect images. You and I both know that that is not how real people live! And you can turn yourself inside out with trying to match this.
I discussed in an earlier post about how the number one way to reduce Christmas stress was to ask yourself and your family what was the one thing they looked forward to and enjoyed about Christmas. Tip no 1. Remind yourself of what this is.
.I have been through the whole putting up the tree journey. For many years the children fought over who would put the star on the top and took it in turn each years, often accompanied by tears. They took great pride taking the decorations out and placing them on the tree. I used to be a little concerned with how 'bizarre' everything looked and secretly moved some decorations around after they finished.
Now? Well I was out for an hour, came back and the tree was up. No star. I asked where the star was. My youngest found it and put it on the tree... Just like that.... I actually kind of miss the fight, it reflects how important it was for them.
Tip no 2. Look at how what you are thinking about your Christmas decorations. Is your thinking realistic? If your thinking revolves around comparison with others, wishful thinking and a sense of not being good enough.... take a step back. Is it more important to put the decorations on the tree that your child has made at kindergarten or for the baubles too match?
Tip no 3. Check whether you and your children are enjoying the decorations and tree. If not, it's time for a rethink. What is most important to you about Christmas. Is it how great the tree is? If that is actually really important to you, maybe you could have two trees - one for you and one for the children. If it's not actually that important, release the thoughts and the feelings so they no longer are hijacking your Christmas!
Bonus tip If you are not enjoying your decorations, and/or have too much, think about those that are the most important to you and your family and give the others away. Too much clutter - even if it's Christmas clutter - can be overwhelming.
So, if you find yourself being swept away by the need for perfection, judging your decorations and lack of colour coordination and thinking you don't have enough time to do it right. Check your thinking! Don't let unrealistic expectations hijack your Christmas spirit.
No matter what remember, your tree is enough and you are enough (funny but not funny).
ps. our tree is shorter this and on a table because we have a new guide dog puppy (@guidedogejeanie)!.
pps I'd love to see a photo of your tree. You can post it in the comments below..
Carrying around the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’ of Christmas is exhausting, stressful and can cause anxiety. There are ways to manage this, particularly using mindful awareness and self-compassion and create some Christmas calm.
It’s not called the ‘weight’ of expectations for nothing!
So what are expectations?
Expectations are guidelines, written and unwritten rules about behaviour. They create boundaries and provide guidance. For example you are expected to walk before the age of 12-15 months and be talking before starting kindergarten. .
You are expected to do your homework, obey the teacher, eat your dinner etc…. You are expected to obey the law, be a good neighbour, a good friend.
Is there a purpose to expectations?
Expectations are one way society and families encourage behaviour and growth for the good of your development as a child and teenager, and that of the community. The broad aim is for you to become a functional human being who makes a positive contribution to society.
Then there are individual family differences based on culture, religion, family structure, birth order, personality etc. For example in some cultures girls are expected to be married young, and not pursue further education.
As you entered adolescence you probably rebelled at many/some of these expectations, but you probably also carried many of them into adulthood.
In adulthood, on top of family of origin and society expectations you now have expectations from your work place and expectations from your partner, and maybe your children.
And then there's consumer expectations.
And, if that’s not enough you also have the thick layer of consumer ‘expectations’. In a world where economic growth is still valued above all else we seem to have really internalised the ‘greed is good’ doctrine in our society. You are encouraged to buy, to have more, to be good consumers. It is an insidious expectation. It is difficult, but not impossible, to take a mindful approach ad actually see expectations for what they are.
How can we manage all these expectations?
First, step back. What happens when you simple observe and notice all the expectations and it feels to have them? Look at them again. Where have they come from? Are they necessary, important, do they add to your life?
You can see the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’ for what they really are; they aren’t rules by which you have to live by, they aren’t absolute truths, they are just thoughts your mind is holding on to. By seeing this you can you can choose to let go of expectations that have no meaning or satisfaction for you. And knowing this you can choose.
Making your own choices
You can choose to participate in activities leading up to Christmas that you value. That bring joy to your heart and that of your family. You can choose activities that focus on kindness, gratitude, togetherness. You don’t need to be religious to tap into the good will that exists at this time of the year, where most people are actually actively trying to make other people happy.
There is a lot of freedom that comes with being an adult and having so many choices to make. We might feel the heavy weight of expectations, but when we lose that weight it is not just freeing, it also exposes us and makes it vulnerable. I think that is one reason why treading your own path at Christmas, in line with your values and not others expectations, is so difficult, but for you, it might be the path to your Christmas calm..
Are you looking for easy ways to connect with other people at Christmas? Sure there is giving gifts, but what about looking beyond traditional gift giving?
Feeling connected is important for your mental health. There are links between loneliness and depression; social connectedness and feeling happier.
But where do you start? Working on how you view social situations to reduce your feelings of loneliness is very important, but here are 7 easy and practical strategies you can do to reach out to others.
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy..
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.