The holidays can be cold and rough. As a therapist, I often have to come up with new and creative ways for helping clients cope with the toughest two months of every year.
Heading into a season known for family gatherings, caloric minefields, excessive consumerism, and constant reminders of how you are supposed to feel can bring everything but lasting peace and joy.
So this year I wanted to come up with a simple question to offer my clients an alternative way of thinking about the holiday season.
“What do you need this holiday season?”
This question serves many purposes. Primarily it asks what you want, and not necessarily what you don’t want. Sure many of us could do without the harsh voices in our heads as we reach for that second helping of pumpkin pie, or our parents' passive-aggressive comparison to our older, more successful sibling. But that's not the point.
Asking, ‘what do I need?’ implies a choice, ownership and most importantly, options.
And it’s pithy. It’s yes to this and no to that. It’s not wallowing in what you don’t have, or stewing in anger. It’s taking responsibility for your holiday season and not allowing others to dictate how you feel, think and behave.
I need to know my struggle is not my identity.
I need to be able to laugh, cry and accept my emotions.
I need to notice what’s different about this holiday season.
I need to breathe slowly and deeply when I feel overwhelmed.
I need to choose where, how and when I spend time with family.
I need to feel free from feelings of sexism, racism, classism, and size-ism.
I need to remember that I’m a different person now than I was in childhood.
I need to remind myself of my sensory triggers: sight, smells, people, places, etc.
I need to feel confident that I will not allow my mother-in-law’s opinions get inside my head.
I need to remember that I’m no longer 15 years old when I walk through the foyer of my family’s home.
I need to let go of trauma. I’m not discounting or dismissing what I’m dealing with, but accepting that I choose to move forward.
I need to celebrate by doing something nice for myself. The holidays can be rough, for sure. The good news is they have an end point!
The holidays may bring cold weather and dark nights. But you will find warmth and light in your heart and in your mind when you remind yourself about what you need to get out of this holiday season. Pardon the pun.
Copyright 2015 Linda Esposito, LCSW