Last year, I wrote my first blog about the holiday season, in which I gave my take on how we can best address whatever might come up for us when we spend time with our family over the Holidays. I feel this need to say something again this holiday season, maybe as a kind of annual part of my own holiday ritual, by putting out something about what I’ve learned from doing therapy with clients over this past year. I guess it’s a chance to do a recap on some themes that have come up in therapy. I also know for many of my clients that the holidays are a trying time, in part because expectations for them and from their families are different than any other time of the year. So a holiday blog seems like it might be a way to help people think about their options for how to experience the holidays in a less difficult, more enjoyable way. I also fully recognize that my clients and others come from vastly differing cultures and traditions when it comes to the Holidays, with some spending many days with their families, to those who have little or no tradition and spend little or no time with their families during what others call the Holidays. So I try to make these blogs pretty general, yet still useful, as best I can.
The general theme of this year’s holiday blog is actually two-fold: (1) stay frosty and (2) stay flexible. “Stay frosty” is an attempt at a catchy reference to the Holiday season; so in that sense is a little tongue-in-cheek. It is not meant to encourage you to stay aloof, distant, detached, or alone (as in “stay cold”). “Stay frosty” is a military term that I remember first hearing in the second movie of the Aliens series of movies. It basically means, “be on the lookout” for unfriendly situations. Simply put, it means “be aware.” I am using it to describe the importance of being aware of your own mental and emotional status as you spend your holidays, and be aware of the mental and emotional status of others. The Holidays are a time of often heightened expectations by family members from other family members. You might be expected to act in certain ways you during the Holidays that are only true at that time of year (e.g. more involved, more committed to events, or even just interacting with people you do not see at any other time (old uncle Charlie) etc.). This can cause confusion or resentment within families because the rules have suddenly changed or have reverted to rules you haven’t had to live by for years in your now mostly separate life. Staying frosty about your own feelings about these changed rules and about others changed expectations will help you make decisions about how to respond to these changes in ways that will accomplish what you need or want from the event without later regretting it.
As to the part about flexibility, I have lately shared with a number of clients this aphorism: “flexibility is the hallmark of mental health.” I had this thought when recently writing a series of blogs on how to resolve conflict. This thought is also consistent with a number of blogs I’ve written over the past two years about choosing your feelings (e.g. “Choose your guilt” and “Choose your anger”). The idea is that the more flexible you are with how you respond emotionally in your life and in your relationships the more you will be likely to get what you need and want for yourself from others in a way that is constructive to your relationships. I plan to write an entire separate blog on this topic in the near future, but thought it fit nicely into this holiday message, so am giving it a brief explanation now.
If you can stay frosty and also stay flexible, you will be prepared to deal with whatever comes up for you and with your family during the holidays. Imagine for a second you are playing tennis. You are waiting on your side of the court for the person on the other side of the court to serve the ball. You are moving your racket back and forth, your knees are loose, slightly bent, maybe you are tipping back and forth from one foot to the other, all the while your gaze is intent on the person on the other side of the net. You are loose, flexible, ready to bounce this way or that, backward or forward, and you are also watching carefully, aware of both your own position and their position. Okay, now step back from that analogy and think of yourself walking into your family’s home, or your family coming to your home. Are you loose, flexible, and aware? You needn’t be quite so intent or intensely vigilant as the guy playing tennis, but the analogy can be useful to demonstrate both awareness and flexibility at the same time, looking inward at yourself and outward at others, aware of the needs of both.
Last year’s blog about the holidays emphasized a central theme of seeking what you need. This year, my emphasis is more on how you respond to others, while remaining very aware of your own internal emotions and needs. In fact, in order to be able to be flexible in your emotional and behavioral responses to others, you really need to have a pretty good amount of self-awareness. The two go together quite nicely. By staying aware of your own emotional state, you will be in a much better position to know when it is important to express needs and how to do so in a way that is both satisfying to you, without unnecessary conflict with others (e.g. taking a stand on something, or letting it go, depending on whether it is really very important to you at that time).
So, stay aware, stay frosty, yet remain flexible, so you can enjoy your holiday time, and really all of your time, in ways you define for yourself, while staying close with others.
Copyright, 2011, Michael Kinzer. Blog entries and other materials available on Jupiter Center’s website are intended to stimulate thoughts and conversations and to supplement therapy work with Jupiter Center clients already in therapy. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness, you are strongly encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional. For further information about this blog, or Jupiter Center, contact Michael Kinzer at 612-701-0064 or michael(at)jupitercenter.com.