I have had an unhealthy relationship with Christmas for as long as I can remember. You see, I have always aspired to feel what it appears they feel in the Hallmark movies i.e. ” the magic”, but somehow it has never worked out that way for me. I think this is because for many years, I have allowed the experiences of my past become the expectation of my future. It is a cyclical pattern where I am activated, stressed, autopilot kicks in, and I play out that old story again. With all the self-awareness I have developed over the past 12 months, I have set the intention for this year to be different, because this year I am getting out ahead of the pattern by ensuring I put myself and my needs at top of the Christmas list, and here is how I am doing it…
I know that I am not alone when I say that Christmas can be a stressful time of year for many of us. There seems to be so many different expectations and individual needs, that it is a breeding ground for disappointment and tension. It is a time that brings up waves of emotions, some good, some not so good, and unless we can begin to understand those emotions, process them and have tools to deal with them, they come right to the surface.
For many years we have been made to believe that we need to feel a certain way (deliriously happy) or else we have failed at Christmas!. We put on a show for our families, our friends and our partners. We feel we must behave a certain way and it is a pressure pot waiting to explode, on top of the daily stressors we may already have in our life.
I grew up with a mother who found this time of year to be a very difficult and sad time. Her father had passed away 4 weeks before Christmas, and her grief would revisit her annually, manifesting itself in a variety of up and down emotions. Knowing what I know now, I don’t blame my mother, she was doing the best she could. However, she did not understand what her needs were, and she lacked a strategy to deal with those strong and painful emotions, resulting in her Christmas along with ours being hijacked every year. I know this is all too common in many families around the globe, which is why I think it is important to call it out.
I often think to myself what was it that my mother needed in those challenging times; a hug, a cry, some feelings to be validated, who knows? I didn’t ask her, I am not sure she even asked herself. I wonder do we ever ask ourselves what we need in times of stress? It is not something I learned growing up, but it is something I am learning to adopt the older and wiser I become. Don’t get me wrong, I also have many happy memories of Christmas as a child, but looking back I see that my mother was not always able to be fully present and enjoy the time, as she and all the family truly deserved.
This is a behaviour pattern that I too adopted for many special occasions in my life over the years, the habit of not being fully present, not accepting where I am at, and being ok with it in that moment. I have masked many emotions over the years, through creating busy schedules, having a hectic social life, drinking too much, eating too much and binge watching tv. I have learned to ignore those little niggling feelings of self-doubt, of loneliness and loss and distract myself with other things. I have become a master of ignoring my own needs.
This year I began to see my stress reactions as a sign that I have a need that is not being met in that very moment, and it has begun to make it easier for me to understand what is happening inside of me. You can do this too, by asking yourself 3 powerful questions.
Stress Management expert, DaviJi, describes stress as a sign of an unmet need, identified under the 4 A’s, by asking ourselves what is it that I am not getting in this moment?
When we know more, we can start doing more, by learning ways to give ourselves what we need. This is how we connect with ourselves in a deep and more meaningful way, and it is how we begin to have a healthy relationship with ourselves.
Projecting pain, reacting, arguing, losing yourself in the moment may be a learned behaviour, or a survival instinct, but ask yourself this, is that behaviour meeting your needs or are you looking to be rescued??
We all want to be seen, heard, understood and loved, but we must first start doing this for ourselves, wouldn’t you agree?
Taking some time alone to figure out your needs will be a gift to yourself this Christmas, as well as a boundary you may well need to place. A change of scenery will give you perspective, fresh air and a walk will shift your energy, and journaling “what do I need right now?”, will help you connect with yourself and take you out of that reactionary pattern.
Just because you too may have become a master of ignoring your needs, doesn’t mean that you cannot begin to see stressful situations as an opportunity to learn more about your needs. By doing this, you can begin to show up for yourself, and respond in a different way. When we start to change how we feel on the inside, we begin to experience things differently on the outside. Don’t expect perfection when it comes to behaviour change, but do keep asking yourself “what do I need right now?”
Boundaries at Christmas time
Giving yourself permission to say no when you need to, is another beautiful gift to give yourself this Christmas, although I have found that preparation is key here.
We have many beliefs around the word ‘no’, which can prevent us from using it as often as we need. We just ‘go with the flow’ to save “hassle” as we have learned that to be easier. We may have seen a parent behave that way and have adopted that behaviour as our own. Does that make it right for you?
While I am all for peace, I also believe that each and everyone of us deserve to have our needs met. Therefore if you find yourself in a tricky situation with close ones this year, why not practice some No Statements now, and have them ready, for when you need them.
With all that is going on in the world again this year, and the expectation that social gatherings must happen to have that authentic Christmas experience, you may be put into several tricky situations that you want to say no to, but feel guilty about.
Choose your responses now and ensure that you are meeting your own needs first.
‘That’s not going to work for me’
‘I wish I were able to’
‘I’d rather not’
‘I’m afraid I can’t’
‘That’s not my thing’
‘No thanks, I won’t be able to make it’
‘Not this time’
‘Unfortunately, it’s not a good time, but thanks for thinking of me’
‘I have a lot going on right now, and I need to rest’
‘I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that to be honest, but thanks for asking
Or you can try creating some of your own!