After the tinsel fades

What to do about that holiday hangover
by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCThis 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.

Discarded Christmas Tree

Flickr Creative Commons Photo © wetwebwork

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?

Be courageous,
David

Being Normal

by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

Just some thoughts on DOMA.

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCNow, I’m a therapist, not a lawyer or a politician, so when I think of DOMA, I think of the emotional aspect of its symbolism in the lives of lesbian and gay individuals. That is not to say that heterosexual folks can’t empathize, but it is quite a painful statement of inequality when your government declares that your relationship with the one person you love is invalid. With as much resiliency a gay individual can muster in that stiff upper lip, it is difficult NOT to internalize negativity into his/her identity as a person in this society. Just the mere verbiage alone…”defense of marriage act”… has such a powerfully insidious meta-message. Not only is a gay person unable to have his or her relationship validated by the government, the institution of marriage itself has to be PROTECTED and DEFENDED against gay people. How does this alone not make gay people think twice about who they are and who they love?  It is high time that discriminatory laws such as DOMA be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Yes, DOMA’s demise does not make same-sex marriage legal, and the LGBT community has many more legal fights ahead, but it is the statement alone that has the potency of an antidote to gay individuals and couples. There was an emotional healing that began to take place the other week that will continue on in the lives of gay people and those who love and support them. More importantly, our children will not grow up in a country where our government endorses discrimination.

Rainbow flag and blue skyAs I stood in the middle of Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh early that morning, I felt my husband beside me and my daughter’s hand in mine. A lesbian couple in their fifties gave their gay pride flag to my daughter who had already asked the simple and innocent question, “Daddy, why is everyone getting together in the streets on a work day and being all excited?” And thus, I had to explain to my 6-year-old daughter about one of the many injustices in the world. To which she replied, “Ok, I can celebrate something that should already be like normal!”

So in this blog, to whomever may read it in public or in private, please be encouraged. Embrace the honesty and authenticity of your love. Bring your legitimacy and quest for legalization inward to know that your love is yours and it is valid. Even though the death of DOMA was a grand taste of external validation, enjoy it like the sweet pleasure of dessert, but may you always remember that your true nourishment will come from within yourself.

Nothing can be harder than watching your spouse, partner, boyfriend,or girlfriend endure this discriminatory pain, so hold them close and remind them that the love you share is more powerful than laws and especially other people’s fears.

And to all lesbian and gay individuals out there… know that a very wise 6-year-old insists that you all celebrate that which “should already be like normal!”

Be well,
David