Christmas should be the happiest time of the year, but for so many it has become a time of intense anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness, bitterness and sadness. That is most unfortunate. Why do many associate negative feelings much more intensely at this time of year than other times? Bad experiences happen year round after all. If people have a terrible day in which everything seems to go wrong on August 10th one year, they usually don’t experience intense dread when August 10th rolls around in the years that follow. They don’t correlate what happened to them with the date. Of course, there are exceptions; severely traumatic events occurring to people whose minds are wired a certain way, for instance. But, the phenomenon is noticeably more common with Christmas. How many times have you heard people say they just want to get Christmas over with versus they look forward to celebrating it? There are numerous factors that come into play.
For one, marketing, advertising, pop culture references and discussions of Christmas (more often referred to by the generic term “holidays”) are constant and everywhere for a solid month or more before the actual day arrives. So, it can be very difficult to keep your mind on other things that don’t bring up unhappy memories when you have constant reminders. For another, Christmas often means parties and family gatherings, both of which are great sources of conflict. The conflict can be between family members or come from being excluded from such gatherings. When family members who intentionally avoid each other the rest of the year are put in the same room together, there’s going to be tension and the potential for fighting. When someone is deliberately not invited to a family gathering, whether the reasons are justified or not, the excluded family member has a rationale for being bitter. There are other factors as well, but those are the most common ones from my experience.
In my family, it’s the gatherings that bring about feelings of hostility and resentment. There are definitely factions and divisions in my family. It often becomes visible when it’s discovered who spent Christmas with whom and where they spent it. Several family members are judgmental, unforgiving, and can hold grudges indefinitely (without divine intervention). These individuals essentially disown any of their family they deem unworthy, different, or not completely loyal to them and their faction. It’s completely unwarranted and it breaks my heart. However, it should be noted that these individuals also show signs of their own mental disorders, some even having taken psychotropic medication, but I will not speculate further as I don’t have nearly the requisite information to do so. Knowing they don’t have complete control over their every decision makes it easier for me to forgive them when they act callously. Whenever I’m starting to climb on my high horse with regards to them, I’m simply reminded to look in the mirror first.
Then, there have been misunderstandings, in which one party didn’t articulate their thoughts artfully and the other party interpreted it incorrectly, that have led to people banishing others from visiting them again. Even in cases where the banisher later relented, feelings of anger and resentment lingered around the following Christmas. In families where hurt can be deep and long lasting, poor communication is a recipe for disaster, not joy. Even miscommunication about where someone was going or who was cooking what for dinner has led to Christmases being nearly ruined. Plenty of research shows mental illness can be genetic and you would certainly be convinced of it by observing my family around Christmas.
OK, but is there a way to prevent further negative experiences or minimize their impact? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some good tips that help many. Temper your expectations. Don’t expect miraculous breakthroughs where everybody patches things up and parts on good terms. Of course, don’t anticipate a disaster either, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t overdo it. Plan ahead and stick to your limits. That may mean staying one or two nights at the folks’ house and the rest in a hotel instead of all the nights with them, or even shortening the whole visit to a couple nights. It may mean attending a party for an hour or two instead of the whole evening. For me, it means traveling to a dinner/party alone in my own vehicle so I can leave anytime I want. Wanting very much to leave and not being able to would be another recipe for disaster. Don’t take on more responsibility than you are mentally prepared for. That may mean not hosting a dinner/party or not playing a big role in putting one together. If you are mentally ill and there are family members you don’t wish to see because they will only start trouble when they interact with you, maybe let your supporter deal with them. In any case, know your limitations and arrange your plans to accommodate them as much as possible. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and remove yourself from a situation when necessary to prevent being overwhelmed.
The peace of the Prince of Peace be with you all. I wish all of you a very merry and blessed Christmas!