With the Festive Season upon us, all manner of things-that-only-need-to-be-dealt-with-once-a-year appear on the horizon. Preparations. Money worries. Decisions. Actual celebrations. Handling family. Or a mere getting through it in one piece. Any of which can sometimes feel like a great accomplishment.
Out of those who relate to the concept of Christmas in the first place, I think an overwhelming majority strongly associate it with family and togetherness. Also, it’s inextricably tied to the concept of peace. Interestingly, though, family and togetherness on the one hand for many people does not translate to peace, but rather the other way around. And then there are all those who don’t have any family to speak of, or are alienated from whatever they had, who because of a suffered loss in the past year know for a fact that this year’s celebrations will be accompanied by grief … and everyone whose holiday season for other reasons almost certainly will not be pure peace, joy, and family. (As for everyone whose traditions are different in exact timing, name, or traditions and which I have not been privy to, I suspect there are some similarities here.)
Expectations colliding with reality
So while we have every chance of harbouring a holiday-ideal within our minds (possibly, and if we’re lucky, inspired from our experiences in childhood), we also have every chance of having the real thing falling short of our expectations — held our ourselves, for our own children, or for other loved ones — for a vast variety of different reasons.
I mean, even if we do get to meet lovely family members who we never otherwise see, and even if they are people we hold dear, if we suddenly are to be spending days under the same roof, this already provides plenty of food for emotional hiccups. Put that together with the traditional pre-holiday stress which results from our efforts to make sure our experience DOES match up to the ideal — and with the wide-spread tendency to regress if only ever so slightly into a pre-teen conciousness if we still do have our parents around. Stir gently, and we get a good many opportunities for growth .
The ego on the obstacle-course towards growth
When we realise there is a chance to grow, at least, it might feel a wee bit better. Possibly just a tad, but at least we can hope for that. However, this growth comes with some challenges. The first thing that’s a little tricky is that these opportunities seldom come with a manual, or even a vague, inspirational traveller’s guide. When uncle Bill is being his usual, obnoxious Uncle Bill — is that an opportunity for me to finally speak up, or to take the high road (as well as at least three deep breaths) and realise that it would just not be worth it? Or when someone brings children who tear around under the tree and harass the dog in a house that is neither mine or theirs — what exactly is my lesson? Stick up for the poor owners? Mind my own business? Or smile indulgently at the little sods and invite them to play a board game while we wait for the food? There is just no way to know which course of action would generate the best outcome.
The second challenge is personality and personal history. For some of us, it would be a great marker of growth if we told Uncle Bill where to stick it. For others, not so much. And so on, and so forth. Our Enneagram types and how we have historically acted in connection with these people will say a lot about where our growth point lies. If our general behavioural tendencies at family gatherings are typical of our type, then it might be fairly easy to see (even if that does not necessarily make it easy to act accordingly). But if our family is the one place where an assertive type has tended to use more roundabout ways to get what they want? Or where a withdrawn, generally more gentle type has habitually been more outspoken, as this was one place where I felt safe? Then it gets trickier.
To add to the general confusion, it’s not like there is a right answer to any of these questions. That’s another trap waiting to be fallen into at the beginning of our deeper inner work (and for quite some time ahead, I might add): the assumption that there is A Better Choice, that all other options are bad, and that my job (obviously) is to choose correctly. This (false) belief then gets exacerbated by the belief that as our key to whether we succeeded or not, we look at how we (and/or others) feel. If everyone is happy, that meant we made the right choice. If someone gets upset, that means we made the wrong choice. And then we often go on to judge our “progress” by that standard.
The consequences of the consequences
But sometimes people need to get upset. If Uncle Bill has been “jokingly” fondling your arse for the last 10 Christmasses together, and this time you tell him off (in a loud voice that might even come out a little more strongly than you intended, since this is the first time you actually chose to speak out), some people (including Uncle Bill) might think you ruined the ambience. The whole lunch (or whatever you gathered for) might be “ruined”, first with a strained silence, and later a weird mood overall — and maybe that was just what the doctor ordered. Maybe what you did means your much younger cousin, who has also been targeted by Uncle Bill’s “jokes” quietly realised it’s completely fine to dodge his hugs altogether at these gatherings; as she’s never liked to be close to him anyway.
And sometimes, the path just veers off
And sometimes, things take a turn that we would never have expected. Maybe it transpires that Uncle Bill hasn’t been stroking your behind at all, but just has a wonky hand from a stroke many years ago, which he’s not keen to advertise since he things it makes him look week — but now, he is mortified that you would have thought he did that. (I know, it’s a rotten example — but never mind.) Or you land in the middle of any other of a hundreds of possibly scenarios. We just don’t know. We don’t know what will constitute growth, for whom, or when.
So maybe we can relax a bit.
All this said, chances are that your holidays, just like life in general but perhaps just that little bit more amplified, will be filled with growth opportunities. Please avail yourself of those, if you like. And please, if you can — rest. It’s likely that you will need it
PS – For many of us, the opportunity afforded to us by a lot of small stressors is to practice asking for help. For a hand. For a sympathetic ear. For a hug. For whatever might help us handle a challenge, even if (or especially if) we believe it only counts if we do it ourselves