As much as I hate to say it, this Christmas felt like more of an endurance test than an enjoyable holiday celebration.
For a number of reasons (none of which change the reality of the situation and what happened), it just didn’t really “feel” like Christmas to me this year.
What it did feel like, if I’m being honest, was something to be “gotten through” as quickly as possible. I felt relieved when we finally got home after a few days of bouncing around, visiting family and doing “Christmas-y” things. It felt like a breath of fresh air to be back home, in our quiet apartment, just the two of us.
Noticing this really surprised me.
Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year, and certainly my favourite holiday. I usually look forward to all of those “Christmas-y” things, no matter how cheesy or silly they are. I love watching the Hallmark movies, singing the carols, decorating the tree, and taking part in whatever other fun options present themselves leading up to the holidays.
This year, though, I was presented with an important lesson grounded in plain old reality. And in the moment, I must say it kind of hurt.
This holiday season I was reminded that if there’s one thing I can absolutely count on, no matter what, it’s that people will do what they do.
If they constantly bicker, they’ll bicker. If they pick fights and start arguments over petty or unimportant things, they’ll do that. If they become loud and obnoxious in social settings, they’ll do that. If they seek attention, they’ll continue to seek attention by creating problems and constantly talking about challenges they’re having and everything that’s going wrong for them. If they’re negative and pessimistic, they’ll still be negative and pessimistic — and to top it off, they’ll probably try to bring you down with them.
Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean people magically change their disposition and start lifting others up instead of tearing them down (as much as I may wish for this every single year). The arrival of another December 25th doesn’t mean their problems disappear, or that the battles they’re personally fighting (whatever they may be) lighten or fade away altogether. It doesn’t even mean they start behaving!
My desire for everyone to get along and play nice in life — and especially just for these couple of days that mean so much to me — doesn’t mean they will.
When I expect that or get my hopes up about it, I’m setting myself up for disappointment and frustration more than anything else.
I also can’t be responsible for other people’s thoughts and feelings and opinions when it comes to the holidays. I can’t be responsible for making everyone happy, for doing what they want, and for making sure their feelings aren’t hurt. I simply don’t have the power to “make” another person feel loved and happy or disappointed and gipped. How they respond to a decision I make is their business.
What is my business is deciding what feels right for me, and then following that internal prompting to the best of my ability — regardless of the “consequences.”
This has never in my life been my strength; and as this Christmas proved, it still isn’t.
My nature seems to be to want to make everybody happy. I’m the person who wants harmony and cohesion and peace, even if it means stifling my own desires and ignoring what my own head (and especially my heart) are telling me.
But that needs to change.
As I’m learning, this habit of paying more attention to what’s happening outside myself, rather than what’s being shown to me on the inside, isn’t taking me in the direction I want to go.
It isn’t helping me create the kind of life I want to live — one of happiness, peace, simplicity, and meaning.
Listening to the opinions, needs and desires of others above my own and trying desperately to find a way to accommodate them all so that everyone is happy and feels acknowledged and valued doesn’t leave me with much time or energy to listen to myself and to take care of my own needs.
In the best case scenario, what usually ends up happening is that everyone else is satisfied, and I am left burnt out, unsatisfied, and feeling more disconnected from myself than ever. In the worst case scenario, I still feel the exact same way, and despite my desperate efforts, others still aren’t happy.
What I Can Do
So if I can’t control others and how they act (and react), what can I do?
I can turn inward more often, to the dimension I am responsible for: myself.
I need to figure out what’s important to me, because after all, this life is mine, and only mine.
And once I figure that out, I need to communicate it with the people I love as clearly and as openly as I can. I need to be honest, follow what feels right, and learn to be okay with the consequences.
In doing so, I need to accept that my decisions will not be approved of by everybody I love. I need to acknowledge, at the very heart of it, that I will not be able to please everybody, regardless of what I do.
And that, in itself, will be a feat for me.
The Gift Within
I may be wrong, but I don’t think that self-care is selfish. I think that self-care is an absolute necessity.
And until now, I haven’t been very good at it.
So while this Christmas may not have been a favourite in my books, it did bring some pretty important realizations and confrontations to the table so that they can be examined and acted upon.
And for that, I am very grateful.
Now that I’ve started to become more aware of the true cost of my neglect, I can start to take action in the right direction to create a life that actually works for me and feels right to me — one that I can be happy with and proud of.
We all deserve the right to take care of ourselves in whatever way we need to, even if it means someone else disapproves or gets a sour taste in their mouth.
Staying true to yourself, honouring what you need, and loving yourself is the greatest gift and contribution you can make during this time of year, for the simple reason that it allows others the freedom to follow your example and take care of themselves, too.
Have you experienced similar challenges during the holidays?
Share your self-care tips or tricks in the comments below.