In this last blog of the year, I thought that I might acknowledge what we all know anyway. The Christmas season brings out in us a longing for a cozy family time, where everyone feels delighted to be in each other’s presence. For many (most?) families, this is not what happens.
Even when we tell ourselves not to get our hopes up, popular Christmas songs work against us! Once we start singing about dreaming of White Christmases and mistletoe and fires with hearts all aglow, then we easily slip into actual dreaming. In short, Christmas as it is celebrated today has a way of pulling up all our old attachment patterns – the unconscious hopes and fears and expectations and interpretations that we carry in our brains and our hearts. Of course it is seasonal family times that call them up, because it was in family times that they were created in the first place!
Holidays where hearts are not all aglow occur for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you have to share your children with an ex-partner. Maybe you have to visit in-laws you have never felt comfortable with. Maybe you are visiting siblings or parents you don’t see very often. Maybe you decided to skip all the tension by jetting away to the sunshine and are being given a hard time for failing to come home. Maybe everyone around you is sure to get drunk. Maybe you haven’t got anyone to share a meal with. These are the realities of many people’s holidays.
So how do we work with that reality? I can’t do better in answering that question than to point to the work of Diane Poole Heller, who works to help adults heal difficult attachment patterns. In her blog this week, entitled ‘Santa’s 12 Tips for a Securely Attached Christmas’, she makes some of the following suggestions for ‘small BIG things that you can do to enhance relationships’ this Christmas.
- Share hugs. They boost oxytocin.
- Increase play time. She suggests doubling your current levels, whatever they currently are!
- Give gifts the way your partner likes to receive them. This may differ from your own preference.
- Sing carols. Singing together changes us physiologically.
- Repair a broken bridge. Making repairs yields an 80% greater chance of sustaining relationships.
- Make a date with yourself. Connecting with your own emotional needs is as important as connecting with others’ needs.
- Share hugs. Diane says they are so important she lists them twice.
As I write this, I recall a conversation I had this week, with a mother who spoke of the sadness and anger she felt that not all of her children were willing to join her for a Christmas meal. As we wandered through the unexpected conversation, she also talked about the violent relationship she had been in when the children were little, and what it had taken for her to eventually leave, especially as her own parents believed that divorce was just plain wrong. And she even touched on the fact that her birth mother had died when she was young, but her father had never been willing to discuss that loss.
This entire Christmas story was, for me, a story of loss and abandonment over three generations. Yet my conversational partner said, sometimes with an astounded tone in her voice, that she had never ever considered that the events (and feelings) of this coming Christmas could have been connected to these earlier times. I admired her courage in being willing to stand there, digging up painful memories in what is supposed to be the Season of Cheer. The conversation was not one that either of us could have planned for. And yet, there she was, able to stay curious enough about her own pain to see if she could find within it some nuggets of healing.
I doubt that she will have seen what she was doing as courageous. She just wants to find a way to get her children to join her for a Christmas meal. But I myself certainly saw what she was doing as courageous. I have learned that courage only looks like courage from the outside. From the inside, it usually feels like desperation – a person is simply trying to find a way to get their life to work.
So this Christmas I celebrate the courage of all of us who are doing our quiet damndest to have a good time with family who don’t know how to set our hearts aglow.