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For Many People, The Holidays Aren't a Comfort, They're a Disappointment - 1/16/2014

By this time, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwaanza and New Year are only a memory. The stress and ordeal of buying gifts, cleaning and decorating the house, and feeding visiting relatives is behind you. You’ve probably packed up the ski wear or bikinis you wore on your holiday vacation. The pets have been picked up from the kennels. The holiday decorations have been packed away and the kids are back at school or have returned to college. The welcoming of the new year and the frivolity that went with it, has dissipated and you are slowly returning to your normal routine. Now you have to get back to work to pay for the enjoyment you had and the memories you collected.

But, for many of you, that’s not the case. You’re still physically drained from the effort you expended, and saddened by your disappointment over what did or did not occur in your interactions with family members and friends. In retrospect, nothing changed for the better. There is little that you recall positively, and even less that you look forward to next year. For those of you who fit this category, rest assured you’re not alone. You’re similar to all too many of the individuals I’ve recently seen in therapy, and have seen year after year following the holidays. For you, the holiday season only refreshed old hurts that you tried to keep buried for years, and exaggerated your inner feelings of loneliness and estrangement from others. In your eyes, the past year only included hurt, loss and depression, all of which left you feeling that there is little, if anything, to look forward to, or to give thanks for. The words and kindness you receive from others, although well meant, have little effect on the way you feel, and fail to change what you perceive as a dismal future. To make matters worse, the more people try to help, the more their words and actions seem superficial and inconsequential. Why? Because in your mind, they really have no idea how hopeless, despondent and alone you feel. They don’t comprehend how empty and hopeless your world seems, or understand your overwhelming sense of isolation and sadness.

However, I believe that the way you feel has little to do with the holidays themselves. Instead, it has an awful lot more to do with your world as a whole and the way you’ve dealt with issues throughout your life. You may not believe that, but I beg you to consider it. That doesn’t mean that you’re not hurting, that holidays, anniversaries, and even weekends serve to make things worse, or that you see no way out and no possibility of change in the future. But please realize that your view of your situation may serve another purpose. It justifies your depressive emotional state and supports your reluctance to consider looking at yourself and altering some of your behaviors. You see, the real problem is you.

That being the case, the question that has to come to the minds of those who love and care for you is, what can they do to help? Is there anything they can say, provide, or suggest that will make your future appear pleasant, enjoyable, or encouraging? The answer is, NO. But that doesn’t mean that those who love you as a friend or a caring relative shouldn’t try. Instead, it behooves them to call, to leave messages, to give you invitations, but not to be hurt or discouraged if their calls aren’t answered, their invitations are refused, or their messages and  texts go unanswered. After all, it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about them, it’s more about you.

To help those of you who are dealing with someone of that nature, you must first accept the fact that they’re allowed to grieve, mourn, or be depressed in their own way, even if it seems unproductive, or destructive to you. Second, remind yourself that your primary purpose when interacting with anyone in that emotional state isn’t to “fix” them. It’s to say “I love you. I care, and I’m here. I know you feel bad, and there are reasons for it that make sense to you. However, I want you to know that whenever or if ever you need or want me, I’ll be there.”   Third, remember that the best medicine is time. It has many medicinal components. Think of it this way: no matter what medicine you take, most colds will still require seven days for you to recover. It’s similar for any wound; it takes time for a cut or bruise to heal, and it’s the same whether the wound is physical or emotional. Fourth, your job is to be there consistently, letting them know that you can serve as a security blanket, but recognizing that they won’t always be able to avail themselves of what you offer until their acute pain subsides.

For those who are suffering, you first need to recognize that you have a right to hurt, to cry, to scream, and to feel bitter and angry. Second, you don’t have to apologize or feel badly over your feelings or actions. Third, at the same time, you need to know that where, initially, the open expression of your hurt, and feelings of loss and anger was therapeutic, after some period of time the same emotions can become non-constructive.  The reason is that they begin to eat up their container. Thus, although you have the right once again, to feel weak, helpless and hopeless, there will come a time when that will be harmful. Fourth, there will also come a time when you’ll be in  need of a hand to reach out to. But, if you’ve  pushed others away in too harsh a manner, or for too long a time, there may no longer be hands willing to reach back. That means that you must not forget that others have feelings just like you, so don’t be blinded by your pain.

There is also a  lesson inherent in this article that I would love for all of you to recognize. It is that life is not a quality restaurant where the waiter brings you what you like, choose and order. Instead, life is more like a buffet line. You won’t necessarily like everything that is served. Some of the dishes won’t be to your taste or liking. They might even be noxious to you. But, if you open your eyes to all the dishes provided in that buffet line, there is usually much that can prove satisfying, comforting and palatable, but only if you open yourself to what’s offered, even if it’s something you’ve never tried before, you need to take the risk to taste and enjoy it.

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