How to navigate our underlying stressors, triggers and emotional wounding so that we can heal and do holidays (and life) differently
Not to sound like a complete Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but let’s face it — much of the fa la la of the holiday season is accompanied by heartburn. Now before you reach for your TUMS, I’m not talking about the food or drink you may have over-indulged in. I’m referring to the all too common relational heartburn we are often left with during the holidays — the one that leaves a lingering bitterness and pain — a bruise on the heart.
There’s no denying that the holidays are complicated emotional hotbeds — often tricky waters to navigate. We can’t help it. We can’t escape the pre-packaged expectations we have been administered through media and marketing our entire lives. As soon as we see the first twinkly light in the big box stores, there is a build up for what it all ‘should be’ — how we should feel, how we should interact. Reality is seldom in line with the ‘shoulds’.
We store memories of holidays past and maintain some deep-seated notion that they will all magically appear each year, timed on cue, like pulling Christmas tree ornaments from a storage box. There are traditions, recipes, routines, familiar faces — and there are triggers.
In some ways I think families often take a deep breath, show up as their best fortified selves, determined to steer clear of the touchy subjects — and to emerge from it all triumphantly unscathed. But that’s rarely how it goes down. Somewhere along the line something gets set off and BOOM!
We’ve all been there — and we all count our lucky stars when we can walk away from a family gathering and feel as if we escaped its ugly clutches.
We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Can’t live with our families, can’t live without them. But like it or not, that’s because they are reflections of ourselves and our whole life’s experiences. And when I refer to families, I’m not always speaking of bloodlines. Families come in all shapes and sizes — as they say, friends are the family we choose. I’ll leave how you define the term to you.
Navigating these relationships tells us a lot about where we are in our own spiritual journeys.
And maybe we aren’t supposed to divert, but rather face in — and shine a light on some unfinished emotional business within.
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to agree, like or make peace with everything and everyone — not even close. We don’t even have to discuss anything, we simply have to be willing to recognize our own wounding. What’s still there getting tripped, that’s calling out for our nurturing? Shine the light there. This is more about developing an inner awareness, the tools to call upon when things get bumpy, whether at the holiday table or navigating life out in the world.
I think for most of us, hope springs eternal. We want to show up with open hearts and stay on solid ground. We put our blinders on and think things will magically be different this year. But that’s not usually how it works. I’ve spoken with far too many friends this year who didn’t dodge the holiday family bullet. It got me thinking about a lot of things. It mainly got me saying, Well, of course. What do we really expect?
There’s a bit of Albert Einstein’s theory of insanity at play: we show up with the same vulnerability, stuff it away as if it doesn’t exist and then think by doing so, we may get a different result. Nope. Same you, same stuff, same pressure points.
The common denominator is US.
Yes, this is on us.
Your wounds meet my wounds and the rest is wounded history — a recipe for volatility and heartburn, the kind no antacid can cure. (And don’t eat those anyway!)
I know that this is a complex subject because for most of us, it’s not exactly as if we are all sitting down around the holiday table having ‘real’ conversations about ‘real’ feelings. We make pleasantries. We skirt uncomfortable issues. We don’t talk politics or share true experiences.
That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. To the contrary, we may love each other deeply. We want to feel differently. We simply don’t know how.
Of course, I’m making broad sweeping generalizations to illustrate a point. And if this doesn’t resonate for you — YAY! I want more of what you’re having — authentic connection where you are safe to express yourself.
Much is written about holidays for good reason. It can be excruciatingly painful for those who are going through difficult times — experiencing the loss of someone, going through a breakup or a financial strain, etc. For those people, the holidays of others can falsely appear as if they stepped straight out of a Hallmark movie. It is a time where many feel terrifyingly alone.
And yet, we can be lonely in a crowd. We can stand surrounded by those we love most and feel equally lonely because perhaps we are censoring ourselves, feeling disconnected or afraid to say the wrong thing, to show who we are.
So what do we do?
Stay home! No, just kidding.
I wouldn’t miss Christmas with my family for anything. In fact, I think I have only missed a Christmas or two my entire life — no matter where I was living across the globe, no matter how far I had to travel back. Yes, much like homing pigeons, my siblings and I circle back around home each year with great anticipation, heart, tons of beautifully wrapped gifts — and toting our emotional baggage.
I experience an extra electrical charge because I get to return to my childhood home, the house I started kindergarten in. Talk about being surrounded by the ghosts of Christmas past — and every other big dream I dreamed and wound I licked. The walls of my childhood house hold it all.
Oh, and you don’t get to pretend you are not the same person who shows up with their family and behaves a certain way when there. OUCH. I get it. Nothing can make you feel less enlightened than your own family…ha!
Have a sense of humor about it and a loving heart to embrace the myriad facets of yourself.
Thanksgiving is the big holiday season kick-off — the test drive for the bigger holidays to come. And even if yours didn’t get off to a stellar start, don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge it, bear witness to what came up for you — and perhaps dig a bit deeper. I’m not referring to finger-pointing at others. This isn’t a time to gather evidence, create clever comebacks or justify bad behavior…I did this because you did that…
Someone else’s bad behavior is not a permission slip for your own.
But the work that you can do is on yourself. The core of our own ‘bad’ behavior leads us to our wounds, to the places we try to apply BandAids and walk away from.
We can’t fix others, but when we nurture ourselves, things blossom and we are able to show up differently for all encounters. And yes, sometimes that means giving ourselves permission to walk away — from people and situations, from anything that makes the heart burn. There is great wisdom in discernment. Peel back the layers of emotional trauma and open the discerning floodgates.
Let’s keep it simple. What if we could all agree to:
- Commit to your own personal work (own your emotional journey, it’s about you)
- Be willing to show up as is, let down the facades (allow your vulnerability to make an appearance)
- Dedicate to clear, honest communication (speak truth, be mindful of your words and their power)
- Observe our triggers (they are treasure troves of information with much to teach us about ourselves)
- Be Proactive instead of reactive (don’t set yourself up for a fall, break old patterns by cutting them off at the pass)
- Nurture yourself (make time to observe what you need — time alone, a nap, etc.)
This is a complex prescription for those who like to fix others, control situations and play nice — but it is one that will set your best self free. Besides, we teach by example. This is my wish for you as you enter into the throes of your own holiday celebrations — and truly the ultimate gift to self.
Isn’t it time to lighten the load and the holiday stress? Some traditions are meant to be broken.
Let’s have a willingness to do it differently at our holiday tables and throughout the bigger picture of this human experience (they’re one and the same you know!). That big ol’ heart of yours wants to expand in love, not burn!
Soooo, how does this play out in your life, with your family or your holiday traditions? Where can you shine the light within yourself to ease your own pain? Please share the wisdom and the love in the comments below so we can all glean some pearls.