When you think of the holidays do you think of the aroma of roasting turkey, cinnamon spice and mulled cider and the presence of happy family members and friends?
Or do you think of endless obligations, exhaustion or recollections of past holidays gone awry?
The holidays represent different experiences to different people, and an array of feelings ranging from joy and contentment to sadness, loneliness, anger or worry. Here are a few of the issues or circumstances that can suck the joy out of the holidays.
- Lack of communication among family members
Hurt feelings can arise when a family member commits to plans without checking with other family members. Lack of communication can also happen with couples and their choices about whether to spend the holiday with his family or hers.
Communication can be difficult among extended families and blended families, and even among siblings. Whenever plans or communications are unclear or non-existent, someone often ends up feeling hurt, angry or rejected.
- Efforts to please everyone
A friend of mine recalls having to make brief visits to several family members each holiday, sometimes eating a meal at each place so that no one would feel left out. For those who share that experience of making the rounds on holidays, the day is seldom pleasurable and overall exhausting.
- Unhappy or traumatic holiday memories
In families where one or more parents were alcoholic or abusive, holidays can be depressing due to memories, such as when Mom, in a drunken rage, threw the Christmas tree and all the decorations out the front door, or when Mom and Dad started screaming and punching one another until someone got hurt.
The unpredictability of addicted or abusive family members in the past or present makes holidays, and any days, very stressful.
- Financial problems
People who live paycheck to paycheck or have a limited income often find holidays stressful because it takes money to participate in some of the traditional activities, such as gift giving or preparing lavish meals.
One woman told me she was trying to scrape some money together so her family could have a turkey. Many people get through December by using credit cards for extra holiday buying, and are often depressed in January when the bills are due.
- Divorce or separation
A change in family dynamics through divorce can forever change holidays for families. One person told me that she and her siblings now dread the holidays and being in the same room with both parents, who want to be there to be with their grandchildren but do not talk to one another.
- Loss of a loved one
The holidays are usually difficult times for those who are grieving.
The absence of the loved one and memories of the past make it difficult to be around other people, especially at this time of year.
Peace, joy and love. Those are my hopes for all this holiday season.
Mary Bieda, MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor and pastoral counselor in private practice in Old Town Bluffton.