Two weeks from Christmas, and it’s cranking up now.
But it started a month ago.
In session after session I heard uneasy anticipations.
The holidays are coming (sigh),
I’ve got the family coming for Thanksgiving,
followed by an eye roll.
There’s real anxiety here. For some, it approaches panic.
This happens because, around now, a particular myth takes on a terrible importance:
The myth of the Big Happy Family.
It’s a myth with the power to yank us right out of our comfort zones and twist us into emotional pretzels.
It forces people who normally don’t speak all year to sit side by side in living rooms and pretend to find each other endlessly interesting and amusing.
It makes people who secretly hate, fear or distrust each other pretend to a bond of mutual love and affection.
It’s kind of nuts.
And it can do real damage.
For control addicts (that’s me, and probably you too) the holidays are a setup, a virtual invitation to relapse.
How do we relapse?
Let’s count the ways:
~ We imagine ideal holidays and try to manufacture them.
~ We remember traumatic holidays and try to compensate for them.
~ We notice relationship problems and try to disguise them.
~ We notice feelings that don’t match the holiday mood (resentment, jealousy, anxiety, rage) and judge ourselves for feeling them.
~ We associate with people we really don’t like, then suppress or deny our inevitable discomfort.
~ We use the holidays as a benchmark to measure our progress through life, then try to conceal our sense of disappointment or inadequacy.
~ We mask our awareness of all the above by eating or drinking or drugging or spending too much, then wonder why we end up feeling empty, lonely and mad at ourselves.
The Big Happy Family is an aspirational myth. Like Santa Claus, Heaven or the United Nations, it describes how we wish things could be.
It’s a lovely aspiration.
But it’s dangerous to take such myths too literally.
Because to do so creates denial of how things really are.
And that’s rarely a good thing. It stops us from dealing with life on life’s terms. Makes us ignore our own feelings, needs and preferences. Tempts us to try to control people, places and things instead.
And that way lies madness.
Or at least a holiday that feels like a picnic in a minefield.