The Secret to Staying Sane this Christmas (Around Our Crazy Families)
The Christmas season can be a truly joyful time of year, but it can also be stressful for those of us spending the holidays with families who push our buttons.
According to Charles Whitfield, author of “Healing the Child Within,” 80 to 95% of us grew up in dysfunctional families. Well, pour yourself some eggnog, snuggle up under a warm comforter, and read on to learn how to keep from going crazy this Christmas.
Do you remember the island of misfit toys in the TV special “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” This sanctuary of unwanted toys was home to such rejects as a Charlie-in-the-box, a polka-dotted elephant, a bird that swims instead of flies, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, a train with square wheels, and a squirt gun that shoots jelly. If these fabulous creatures were ever to take a creativity workshop from me, I’d instantly give each of them an A+ for originality and inventiveness.
I’d also give you an A+ for being YOU. Right now. Just the way you are. Period. Sure, you could always improve. But the most important thing you can do to stay happy and centered, no matter what happens this holiday season, is to accept yourself exactly the way you are. Yes, even if your mom yells at you because you’re “selfish” for not making the type of cranberries SHE likes to eat.
What’s the secret to staying sane? Dysfunctional people don’t see YOU. They see who they think you are. So it really doesn’t matter what they think of you, does it?
Let me put on my professor hat for a moment and explain why self-acceptance works so well in such situations. Take the phrase “THE CAT,” written in a funky way here. Even though the character for the “H” and the “A” is the same, it looks like an “H” in the word “THE,” and an “A” in the word “CAT.” But, if a Martian were to beam down to earth who can’t read English, it would seem like the same squiggle in both cases because it IS the same squiggle! The bottom line is, the way something or someone looks to us depends on what we’re evaluating it against. It’s called a “context effect.”
Now, what does this have to do with dysfunctional families? Well, what’s wrong with a squirt gun that shoots jelly? Or a bird that swims? Or an ostrich-riding cowboy? NOTHING. It’s only when we compare these toys to what we think they SHOULD be doing that they seem defective. In the same way, dysfunctional families measure you up against the you they think you should be, so it’s no wonder you always come up short. It’s not a reflection on the real you; you’re a squiggle, remember? Some folks will love you just the way you are; some won’t. You don’t need to change a thing. Just be the squiggle that you are.
So if you’re sitting around the Christmas dinner table this year, and your aunt asks you to pass the mashed potatoes with a harsh tone that implies you’re too “fat” to be giving yourself a helping, take a breath, smile, and don’t play the game. Embrace yourself, warts and all, and eat those mashed potatoes with glee. Even if you want to lose weight? Yes.
The wonderful side effect of self-acceptance is that those little things you want to improve about yourself tend to right themselves effortlessly. Self-hate keeps you stuck. Self-acceptance heals. ‘Tis the season to love yourself just the way you are.
I hope you have a beautiful and fulfilling holiday!