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How to Handle the Excitement and Hurt Christmas Brings

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Dr. Meg Meeker

As Christmas approaches, every one of us feels a mix of emotions bubbling up. Even those who don’t celebrate it feel something. Christmas is different and the joy is hard to miss. Many of us love to celebrate Christmas. Others, however try to pretend it isn’t there because it brings back too many painful feelings. And some like Christmas but dread the trouble it can bring; families arguing, Uncle Joe getting drunk at the dinner table or Grandma saying something derogatory.

Rarely do we move toward Christmas with joy alone. Even if we love the Christmas season, we may have melancholy because a loved one died or can’t be with you. Others see Christmas through unrealistic lenses. They want everything to be perfect but it never is. One thing is certain: Christmas can be an emotionally complex time.

We know how to handle joy but dealing with sadness and other emotions at Christmas throws us a curve ball. Here are some of the things that trip most adults up.

Sadness.

Many feel sadness because they grieve the loss of a loved one. If you are in this situation, I encourage you to think about that person. Tell God that you are grateful for them and all that they gave you. In your grief, focus on gratitude as well as sadness. If there is any time that we should focus on gratitude and feel hopeful that we will be with a loved one again, it is Christmas.

Anger.

There can be a multitude of reasons for anger to well up at Christmas. Your parents never paid attention to you, got drunk every Christmas, abandoned you or told you that you didn’t deserve presents because you were no good. There can be anger at friends who have good Christmases and you wonder why you can’t. You might be angry because you experienced horrible abuse around the holiday. Even something like a Christmas tree reminds you of the abuse.

Resentment.

Many adults have difficulty with boundaries. I do. We go along with everyone else’s wishes, even those that are harmful. When Uncle Joe comes to your home year after year gets drunk and then acts nasty to your kids, you fail to protect your kids from his abuse because you don’t want the family to get mad at you.

You may get criticized because you didn’t give the right present, send cards or cook the turkey well. People grab any reason they can just to be mean. If you are around those people, they make your life miserable.

So how can we shift our Christmas experience a few degrees to make it more enjoyable?

First, think ahead. Several weeks before Christmas, review in your mind what you anticipate feeling. What will you do when you feel sad? Work hard to allow yourself to feel it. Many people get angry at themselves for feeling sad at a time that is supposed to be joyful. Don’t do this. Allow yourself to feel the sadness before Christmas.

If you anticipate getting angry because Christmas reminds you of years when your parents disappointed you, tell yourself that those days are over. This is your Christmas, not theirs’s. You are in charge and have every right to be happy. The same is true with resentment. Look forward not back. Let others be who they are and give yourself permission to be different. Avoid being jealous because it is a toxic feeling. It never leads anywhere good.

If you have a habit of allowing everyone to make your life miserable year after year, set some boundaries. You can visit with Uncle Joe and Grandma but tell them that you will only be staying a short while. You can also tell Grandma that saying mean things hurts and that if she starts, unfortunately, you’ll have to leave.

All of these are hard to do. You may need to practice and as I’ve said, mentally prepare. Envision what the day will look like and let it be simple. Don’t expect too much. Just enjoy what you can and work at navigating the difficulties that come.

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