Surviving family dynamics at Christmas, being single or alone at Christmas, & Christmas overeating
Take extra care of yourself at Christmas
Some of my client work involves talking about Christmas all year round. Most of us are going back to our families; to the places where we learned how to relate. Some of us don’t have family or partners at all, and will be spending Christmas alone. On the whole, we will apparently eat 60% more than usual, at Christmas.
I can’t offer a magic pill for any concerns around these things, but I can encourage you to look after yourself. This really is the key to feeling less alone and more worthwhile at Christmas.
Surviving a family Christmas
Going back to family can be a dread for many people. There’s often a fear of conflict, boredom, resentment, not being heard or accepted, a feeling of having to play along with how the family communicates, and not being able to ‘be yourself’ in this situation.
Kudos to the clients I’ve seen who have been trying to understand and challenge these patterns. It’s not for the faint hearted! Christmas is a time which puts all the skills and capacities you’ve been learning, of self compassion, self soothing and taking the risk of being genuine, to the test. The familial patterns are never stronger than at Christmas, when traditions are emphasised, anniversaries are remembered, and emotions are heightened.
In the intensity of Christmas, I encourage you to take some time to come back to yourself and separate from the family attitudes. If you can do this internally while you’re around the Christmas dinner table, great. If not, maybe later. But sometime soon.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself
- What is the role you play in your family?
- Are you the rebel? The mediator? The black sheep?
- Do you get a payoff for taking on this role?
- Might being a rebel make you ‘interesting’? By being quiet about yourself and helping calm others, might you get to be ‘perfect’?
- Is there a cost to you of doing this?
- What might the cost be to others?
- Are you holding anything back?
- Are you avoiding or not taking responsibility for anything, by taking on this role?
An exercise to try
If you can recognise that you feel at odds with the people around you, try separating from them by thinking:
”That is them, and this is me”
You can imagine putting a hand in a stop position between you and the other people as you say ”That is them”.
Imagine putting a hand to your heart as you say ”And this is me”.
Christmas can be a good opportunity to graduate from feeling stifled, to being more honest about yourself.
What if, instead of keeping quiet and letting the louder people take over, you took the risk of telling your family something about yourself? If it’s too risky to say this to your family, could you ask yourself the questions you might want to answer? How have you been? What’s been important to you? What are you proud of? What has made you happy? This is you. Any difficult or critical response they may have (even in your mind) is them (or your perception of them).
Whether it’s possible or not for you to be able to hold your own with your family, I encourage compassion for yourself. This may be a thing that your family doesn’t ‘do’ but is available to you.
One thing I’m sure of, is there’s nothing wrong with you.
Being single or alone at Christmas
I work with a lot of ‘single’ people. One thing I see quite often at Christmas is a depression about ‘still being single’. Even if you are in relationship, you can still feel alone.
We can often think the grass is greener on the other side, if we’re single. That doesn’t appear to be true. We have all the same patterns and dynamics to deal with, whether we are in relationship or not. In fact, being in relationship, as above, can be the really testing ground.
It takes time to do the work of understanding what your contribution may be to your relationship situation; understanding why you’ve been attracted to certain kinds of partners, and challenging yourself to be more boundaried and engaged. It takes time to graduate from this position of attracting and entertaining dates who don’t respect you, to a more loving equality and care. It’s a skill to learn and to practice. Dating is a good opportunity to practice being more authentic, even if you’re still meeting unresponsive people. Christmas is a good time to practice being the partner that you want, by being kind to yourself. How else can you be treated that way by others?
Perhaps look for evidence in your life of where the quality of your relationships has improved this year instead? How have you learnt to be kinder to yourself? It takes time to change the pattern of a lifetime. Don’t lose heart.
This is a tough one at Christmas. I’m lucky enough to work with some amazing people who battle year round with the compulsion to eat, as a way of managing feelings. But this is a problem for all of us at Christmas.
It’s not a bad idea to start asking yourself questions about what you’re actually doing. There are so many physiological, genetic, psychological and environmental reasons why it’s easy for us to overeat. But the one you can really start to get behind, is being curious about what feelings you might be stuffing.
Here’s a quote from ‘Grace Unfolding: Psychotherapy in the Spirit of Tao-Te Ching, by Greg Johanson and Ron Kurtz:
”The impulse to eat when we are not hungry does not need to be conquered or controlled. If we simply become curious about it and pay it friendly attention, it can become a vehicle for self exploration.”
For example, you might discover that you ate that extra mince pie to squash feelings of anger or resentment about someone putting you down. Becoming more aware of this, you might eventually find the courage to stand up for yourself instead.
Goodwill to all (wo)men
There aren’t enough role models in our World for being loving towards ourselves. Surely Christmas is a good time to start? As the saying goes ‘Goodwill to ALL (wo)men. That includes you.
A poem by Leah Perlman ‘Can you love the One Who?’
There’s one in you who’s sweet.
There’s one in you who’s mean.
Can you love them both?
Can you let them both be seen?
Can you love the one who tries?
And love her when she fails?
Can you love the one who lies?
And love the one who wails?
Can you love your tears?
Can you love your worry?
Can you love your darkest fears?
Can you love your fury?
Can you love indifference?
Love the one who clings?
Can you love the vibrant one?
Love the one who sings?
Can you love your addict?
Can you love your thief?
Can you love your vanity?
Can you love your grief?
Can you love your inner child?
And your body as you age?
Can you love your wild side?
Release her from her cage?
Can you love the one fulfilled?
And the one who’s not?
Can you love the one who’s chilled?
And whose temper’s hot?
Can you love the weakling?
The one who’s sometimes sick?
Can you love the warrior?
Who fights through thin and thick?
Can you love your crazy?
Can you love your sane?
Can you love your foolish heart?
Love your scattered brain?
There’s one in you who’s bored.
And one who’s often stressed
Can you love them both at once?
And she who tries her best?
If the answer’s “no.”
To some of the above
Then can you love the one in you
Who’s learning how to love?
Want to go deeper?
The Understanding Your Eating Programme is enrolling now for January. Now is a good time to commit to addressing your binge eating after the Christmas onslought.
I also have limited space available for phone/ internet call 1:1 sessions for my 8 week programme on addressing toxic patterns around being single.
I will send you more information on how I can help you.