What to do about that holiday hangover
by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC
This blog post was born from a reoccurring theme amongst my clients. Now with the holidays behind us, some may be left with unresolved feelings stirred up by obligatory holiday reunions – isn’t it amazing that an entire year of gatherings and milestones can be dodged or postponed save for November and December (missing Aunt Joan and Uncle Bill’s 25th wedding anniversary or Johnny’s birthday party is a little easier than say Thanksgiving or Christmas.)
Bottom-line: These unavoidable visits often have such a painful power to remind you that, as much as you hope people may have changed, often they are still the same. These tricky, unconscious expectations you hold often set you up for disappointment. The kind that quietly whispers, “maybe this year dad will give me a compliment and tell me how much I mean to him,” or “maybe my sister will stop bragging and competing with me.” Even in ones 30s, 40s, and 50s, these silent expectations somehow reduce individuals to children again, pining for validation or to have unmet needs finally achieved. You walk into the bear trap of deep rejection over and over again. This supposed festive visit to return to home and hearth becomes nothing more than further trauma, and you walk away with a lot more than just a tin of crunchy cookies.
In retrospect: It is wonderful to expose this dynamic, but how do you deal with this unneeded pain after the party is over? Do you always wonder why you don’t understand how others seem so happy during the holidays? Do you leave those experiences feeling resentment only to take it out on those closest to you? Are you even aware of how all these emotional dots are connected?
The decision to let certain family members into our lives and to minimize exposure with others is a difficult one. As adolescents, managing time and visits with family may have been impossible; however as an adult, have you ever considered that maybe some family members can actually be a source of emotional poison? But then again, is it merely a perception of them that is the poison? How do you change your perception of others’ hurtful behavior or lack of desired behavior? Do you keep coming back to the same person expecting him or her to be a different? Or is she/he consistently the same, as unfortunate as that may be? Making sense of a mother who has created emotional distress or even neglect can be complex to navigate, but what you should know is that her behavior speaks more to her personality and struggles than it does to you. But alas, human beings tend to internalize this neglect as a statement against ourselves.
Where to go from here: Luckily the holiday season is almost 12 months away – time to work on a few coping skills. I think that it starts with acknowledging and expecting people to be who they are and who they have always presented themselves to be. If for some reason you get some long lost desired compliment or validation, then that is bonus.
You need to bring closure and mourn the loss of the silent expectations for which you still pine. You need to let go of wanting these needs met by those people and find other areas of life where you can meet those needs. Perhaps you already have a relationship that is ripe with meaning and fulfillment; however, you cannot grasp it fully because you are still looking over your shoulder through the eyes of the wounded child within waiting for some validation from someone you probably will never get?