December 7, 2018
As mental health professionals, if we could give any gift for the holidays, it would be this: Permission to care for yourself as you are right now. There is a tremendous cultural pressure to rejoice, to spend time with family, to buy gifts, to fit into a template of what a happy family or relationship looks like. But guess what? Your family or lack thereof isn’t a reflection on you, and isn’t your shame to carry. Much of what we view as “normal” in terms of family is a cultural projection of hopes and ideals, and not reality. In reality, so much about family is luck of the draw and beyond our ability to control. Family can be a close-knit group of a few friends. Family can be your community at work, or in a place of worship, or in a hobby or interest you truly love, or amongst one or two relatives. Family can consist of canine or feline companions. So often we focus on what we don’t have, and feel shame that it is somehow our fault. We reject this. We believe that all human beings are worthy of respect and dignity, and that the bonds of love can be created for all. If you don’t have these currently, do not give up! A caring, committed counselor and a community of likeminded individuals can help you to create this for yourself.
For those of you for whom family is dysfunctional or unsafe, know this: Your first responsibility is to yourself. Holidays are not worth sacrificing your mental, physical, or financial health. If a trip home to visit your family will cost you too much, in either dollars or increased stress, consider whether you can really make that work. Guilt is the payment dysfunction exacts from those it seeks to control. Healthy guilt is about feeling badly for something we did that we know we could have done better; healthy shame helps us to correct longstanding patterns of behavior that harm ourselves or others. If we are feeling guilt and shame for taking care of ourselves emotionally, physically, and financially, there is something else at work. Be curious about this, and explore it in therapy or in a journaling practice.
At NCC, we believe that the true spirit of the holidays is kindness and compassion toward others and ourselves, rest, rejuvenation, and celebration. It is a way to mark the passage of the seasons with meaningful rituals that connect us with something bigger than ourselves. So, in that spirit, be kind to yourself in whatever ways you choose to celebrate or not. Take breaks. Put time limits and boundaries around stressful interactions or people. If you are unwell, stay home and rest and catch up on a great TV series or those books we rarely have time to read. Our bodies naturally want to slow down at this time of year. Take time to engage in practices that YOU enjoy; some ideas are baking cookies, taking a bath, meditation or prayer, creative expression, singing, watching beloved movies, decorating your space, etc. If you are in need, reach out to your community for help; there are many people out there who want to help you. There is no shame in accepting the help of others who give it freely and with an open heart.
Article Written By: Korina Jochim, LMFT, Clinical Manager at The Northwest Catholic Counseling Center