Christmas is a time for stories, and I don't mean the birth of Jesus story. I mean the endless stories that we internalise about how Christmas 'should' be, and the tension and distress when the 'shoulds' meet the realities of how Christmas really is. For those of us who engage with Christmas, it can, for all sorts of reasons, be an emotionally tough and triggering time.
Whilst the context encourages us to abandon all adulthood and behave like a 'big-kid' during this festive season. I would argue that what it actually takes to ride it well, is a healthy grip on adulthood.
Here, from a therapeutic perspective, are 12 suggestions for getting through Christmas like an adult. It isn't an exhaustive list by any means, and it is adaptable. Always apply to self with an equal measure of compassion and curiosity.
In this Christmas period, healthy adults …
1. Kick 'shoulding' into touch. Healthy adults are autonomous, and 'should' carries no autonomy, it is rule, expectation and demand driven thinking. Next time you think you 'should' do this or that, replace the thought with 'I can' or 'I could' or 'I will'. The assertion of your autonomy will shift something, then, make a decision.
2. Are reality oriented. See things as they really are, rather the way you want them to be. You’ll stand a better chance of navigating a new way through.
3. Accept personal responsibility. Your newly autonomous choices might irritate people, offend sensitivities, upend rituals, disappoint. But you are no more responsible for anybody else’s feelings than they are for yours.
4. Are open to feedback from others. If your behaviour is out of order and somebody you trust tells you so, take it undefensively. If you get a compliment for something you’ve done, take it undefensively. If there are helpful suggestions for doing something in an easier way, take it undefensively.
5. Set and maintain healthy personal boundaries. You are not responsible for everything and everyone, hold onto your power, don’t give it away. When it applies, don’t throw your power over other people in a harmful or hurtful way. Figure out what's going on for you and focus on your feelings, or remove yourself from the situation.
5. Are in touch with their feelings and emotions. Show vulnerability where it’s appropriate, recognise when you need help and to ask for it. Withdraw when you need to, come back ‘in’ whenever.
6. Are empathetic and compassionate. This can be a tough time for people, relentless cheer can be oppressive. Tune into other people’s feelings and experiences and check in with what they might need.
7. Have healthy self-discipline and self-control. Over- intake of alcohol, sugar, drugs takes its toll on the emotions, and the ability to regulate mood, which can take its toll on you and other people. This isn’t necessarily a reason not to do it, unless you know you cannot. The invitation is to know yourself, check in with yourself, moderate accordingly, remove yourself from situations when its necessary to reduce risk.
8. Are competent in their chosen tasks and roles. Perfectionism is a wonky story and a relentless form of self-sabotage. Good enough really is good enough. You might need to repeat that hundreds of times to interrupt the perfectionist chat, but it is possible to shut it up.
9. Distribute resources fairly. Healthy adults are aware that the world isn’t a fair or equitable place, this can feel even more stark at this time of year when the ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ comes into even sharper focus. Do something positive with your resources.
10. Supports others. Whatever way this appears in your life, or needs to appear in your life, be respectful, treat other people with dignity. Challenge the conversations and the behaviours that disrespect people and strip them of their dignity.
11. Engages in healthy parenting when appropriate. Nurture, set healthy boundaries, teach and protect.
12. Is self-aware. No one is perfect, no-one needs to be. Be decent. Know if and when you are attacking yourself, deluding yourself, denying yourself or being horrible, hurtful, harmful, unreasonable, childish around other people. Accept it, understand it, interrupt it when it needs to halt.
Whatever this time of year means to you, however you want to ride it out, I wish you good emotional health.