This time of year, the build up to Christmas, then Christmas itself, and the week in between, and then the New Year, can be all kinds of things, and sometimes a lot of different things all at once.
All the adverts at this time of year might make you think that everyone else is having a super time with friends and family. Everyone is buying each other thoughtful gifts, cooking elaborate meals to share together, and dressing up to go out together for a great time.
What if it’s different for you? Maybe you aren’t going to be doing any of those things in the adverts. What if your life looks very different from the adverts? What if your life looks a bit like the adverts, but you don’t feel like those people look like they feel?
If any of those apply to you, you might find this time of year hard. You might have a sense of the Christmas you ‘should’ be having, how your family ‘should’ all be getting on together and how you ‘should’ be feeling. At the same time, you might also know that those thingss are not possible for you. Perhaps your family history is complex, and difficulties will arise between you all. Perhaps you don’t have the money to be able to do anything or everything that you’d like. But maybe you are also someone who holds hope every year that it will be different this time.
The cocktail of expectations around this time of year can be a tough one to navigate. What can you do to protect yourself?
It might be really helpful to remember that a lot of what happens at Christmas is going to be out of your control. And some of the things that you in theory could control, in reality might be out of your skillset. I’m thinking of something like a difficult family member or friend. Perhaps you are able to speak directly to them, and ask, for example, that they don’t do something that you don’t like. But it’s hard to hold boundaries like this – to state a consequence, and then stick to it. You might be able to ask your brother not to tease you, and state that you will have to leave if he continues to do it, but following through, especially at Christmas, with all its expectations, might actually be a bit too hard.
If you’d like to work on establishing and holding your boundaries, Neddra Glover Tawwab might be a good place to start. She has a couple of books and some great online resources.
It’s also a time of year when you might feel other people’s expectations of you. Perhaps you’re the person in your family or friend group who does the Christmas shopping, organises get-togethers and does their best to make it a lovely time for everyone else. Maybe you’re someone others expect to be cheerful, thoughtful and helpful, no matter what. Some years, you’ll be able to meet their expectations. Other years, maybe you don’t have it in you. And other years, maybe you’ll decide you don’t want to meet these expectations any more.
Something helpful could be to do some work on putting yourself in the centre of the picture. If you can set aside some time for a good think, perhaps ask yourself what you need at this time of year, and what might make you happy at this time of year. These questions might sound easy – but for a lot of us, it’s really hard to know what we need and what we like. Are you able to give yourself the freedom to look for your answers? See how it feels. Perhaps you can pick a few things: what might they be: some time to yourself? some time with particular people? certain food, or certain activities? You might well feel that some of your wants or needs aren’t going to be possible – they might be things for next year.
Being able to get some of your needs and wants met will often mean that you feel better, and this in turn might mean that you have more space to tolerate the parts and people of the festive season that you don’t like, but can’t avoid. For some of us, it’s helpful to remember that taking better care of ourselves will mean we are better able give to others. As you have more chances to practice, how would it be to suggest the idea to yourself that maybe it’s ok for you to get things you need or want?
This season can be tough for so many different reasons, so above all, I really hope you are able to be kind to yourself. I hope you have compassionate words inside your head for yourself, and calmness and reassurance for yourself when you need it. Especially when things are at their toughest, it’s important to encourage yourself internally with kind words, a soft tone, and some love for yourself.
If you’d like to work on self-compassion, here are a couple of places you might like to start:
Good luck this festive season.