I am always struck by the paradox of Christmas. We seem to have largely agreed as a society that Christmas is all about love and hope and new life and family and togetherness, and yet what many of us actually do at Christmas is not congruent with these ideas at all. Many of us buy more than we can afford, commit to more than we have the energy for, move more frenetically than we can comfortably cope with, eat and drink to excess, and care for ourselves less than what we ideally need. Many of us allow ourselves to be sold, pressured and cajoled into particular versions of Christmas that are not truly satisfying or nourishing. We wind up anything but loving, peaceful and full of renewed energy for life.
Contrary to how we like to see Christmas, in reality it is a time where anxieties, pressures and expectations can intensify markedly and we can be particularly vulnerable to abandoning our own needs in order to please others or in order to manage how overwhelmed we feel throughout December with quick fixes and bandaid solutions. Many of us will inflict a subtle kind of violence against our selves this Christmas, and will be supported by family and society to do so, simply by making a bunch of small choices where we push past our own limits and ignore our own needs. This is a big part of how we unground ourselves, because when it comes to Christmas, the small choices are the big ones.
The small choices can determine whether we end up spinning away mindlessly with the collective anxiety of Christmas, or whether we stay more solid and settled despite it. I’ve wondered for years what that anxiety is and my thinking is that Christmas comes with such a strong push for togetherness, especially family togetherness, with the reality of family getting pushed aside in favour of a kind of beautiful fantasy. Absences, losses, relationship distances and tensions can paradoxically become profoundly amplified in this denial of family reality, making this time of year fraught and painful. The pressure to ’be merry’ or to somehow be closer or more harmonious than we actually are, can be deeply anxiety-provoking for people. Contrary to what we tell ourselves, family reactivity generally goes up at Christmas, not down. Thomas Moore describes family as ‘a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating house of love and pain’ and in my experience this has proven to be true of families on every day of the year, including, and sometimes especially, on Christmas Day.
Most of us will be members of families this Christmas who’s imperfect reality departs significantly from the beautiful fantasy. Just reminding ourselves about what families are really like at Christmas, can be grounding and settling. In this way we pierce the fantasy of ‘the Christmas family’, and when we can be with the truth and surrender the fantasy, we can be who we are and allow our loved ones to be who they are. We can have more realistic expectations and love what is, rather than bending ourselves into all sorts of unnatural shapes or asking others to become different for us. Paradoxically love flows more freely when we take this approach, and connection and closeness emerge organically as opposed to being forced or imposed. Love, peace and joy emerge when we can let go of the need for them to be present, and just flow with the river, however it is flowing.
And on Christmas love,…If we have no love for ourselves at Christmas time, we will surely have none for anyone else either. Loving others begins with loving self…. slowing down, breathing more, spending mindfully, eating well, sleeping enough, getting some rest and relaxation, having some fun, even though it would feel more natural to just skip all of that and ‘get everything done’. We don’t cease to be human because it’s Christmas. We continue to have basic needs and limits, and when we respect them, we are free to enjoy all the goodness of Christmas. Christmas can become a celebration and a bowing down to our humanness rather than an intensely driven effort towards being super-human. This Christmas, may I love myself first and be willing to meet myself and my family where we are at, out beyond the beautiful fantasy, where we can just be human.
Blessings to the Byron Private community and all who have touched the centre this year. xxx.
Anna Lloyd works both as a Family Therapist at Byron Private Treatment Centre and in Private Practice in Sydney as a Clinical Psychotherapist and Counsellor over the past 9 years. Anna works with a broad range of issues and has a diverse background in Youth Work, Drug & Alcohol, Family Therapy and Mental Health. Anna works in partnership with the clients and families at Byron Private to bring understanding to their physical, emotional and psychological life, and to the system of relationships around them. Working from a core training in Gestalt Anna is also strongly influenced by Systemic Family Constellations work and Bowen Family Systems work. Her Interests are mindfulness, creativity and Eastern philosophy.