There's nothing worse, when you are upset, than someone telling you to 'cheer up'. AS IF that would fix everything?
Firstly, being ordered or told how to feel is can be really annoying & upsetting. Human beings were born with a sense of free will and autonomy. So if someone violates this, we going to feel pissed off. They just violated a fundamental human right - the right to our own feelings!
Maybe they don't feel comfortable or at peace with us experiencing a negative emotion, so for their own benefit, they want us to 'snap out of it' so they can feel better.
This is a boundary problem. It violates the boundary that I am allowed to have my feelings, whatever they are, and you are allowed to have yours. You don't have to 'fix' me and I don't have to 'fix' you. More positively, I can accept you right now as is, where is. And please, please, for the love of God, return the favour. Let me feel what I am feeling. And don't tell me how I should feel.
These boundaries get crossed easily at Christmas time, or anytime that friends and families get together with the 'obligation' to 'have a good time'.
The fact is Christmas is an anniversary that may have a mix of memories attached. The pressure to feel happy about it can seem unbearable when, in a particular moment, we may want to burst into tears as we notice the absence of someone who is overseas or who has passed away, or perhaps a scary or upsetting event that happened at this time of year.
We may want to remember it, or we may want to distract ourselves and focus on the kids unwrapping gifts or on stuffing the turkey. Whatever we need to do in the given moment is the perfect medicine for each person. Unless it isn't. In which case, what do we do?
As an NLP mindset coach, there's a bunch of tools in my toolkit I could show you so you could change your mindset and feel happier about things. But I've learned that as amazing and wonderful as all that is, it's complete BULLSHIT if it overrides whatever is going on for you, right now!
I've just been re-reading an awesome little book by Richard Bandler, the co-founder of NLP, called "Get The Life You Want: The Secrets to Quick & Lasting Life Change. I was looking for a quote, for this article, that I was certain was in there somewhere: "It's important to know how to be happy for no reason" - or something like that.
I couldn't find the exact one. And then I paused and I thought to myself, is that really what I want to say?
No. It isn't.
I used to try and use these techniques on myself, but in the end it felt kinda fake. I think what was wrong with it was I was violating my own human rights and my own boundaries to feel what I was feeling.
To be honest, I've always found Christmas quite annoying. It always felt like there was a lot of pressure. A lot of expectations about how everyone should feel. There are a lot of reasons for this. More recently it's infused with memories of people passing away at this time of year which seems a weird contrast with tinsel and 'Jingle Bells' as I walk through the shops in town.
Putting on a happy face and dancing round as if everything's wonderful and Santa just gave me a red sports car just seems inauthentic and jarring with the emotions I feel on the inside. To 'disappear' these emotions by doing 'mind surgery' on myself, changing the tone of my internal voice, or the colour and content of my internal mental imagery would belie a deeper and more troublesome issue - I mean, why would one want to do that?
No. Losing a person I care about is a significant life event. For it to occur at this time of year is only going to intensify the emotions around it. To lose several people even more so. And missing them is a normal part of human experience.
It's not my job to be responsible for other people's feelings. Nor to try and cheer them up. Nor to avoid the topic for fear of upsetting them - because they are responsible for their feelings and it is not my job to anticipate their needs, but rather, to be authentic and truthful about what's going on for me.
These awarenesses came to light one by one after I saw a meme on Facebook a year ago titled "Boundaries" by Lisa Romano. At first I thought each boundary statement was harsh. But then, as I unpacked each one, I realised the healing truth each one contained as well as the emotional freedom that was possible for both myself and others as I embraced each one:
"It's not my job to fix others [I can accept people as is, where is, right now].
It's okay if others get angry [or sad, or upset, or tired, or frustrated or.....]
It's okay to say no
It's not my job to take responsibility for others [I can allow them to be responsible for themselves]
I don't have to anticipate the needs of others [I can allow them to voice their own needs, and I can CHOOSE IF and WHEN and WHETHER to anticipate their needs]
It is my job to make me happy [or to honour whatever emotion I am feeling right now]
Nobody has to agree with me [and I don't have to agree with them]
I have a right to my own feelings [as do other people their feelings]
And lastly, as Lisa Romano says, "I am enough"....
What this gives me, at Christmas, is a wee bubble or 'force-field' or 'shield' I can wrap around me. And inside that bubble is space for me to be however I am in any given moment. A place I carry with me where ever I go that is allowing of whatever thoughts or emotions or memories are running through my mind.
Instead of saying to myself "I should be happy right now", I can acknowledge "This time six years ago I spent Christmas with my Mum, in a cheap hotel restaurant, just the two of us, because there was chimney dust in her dinning room and our city had been ravaged by earthquakes. And the following December she passed, a week before Christmas. So that one in the hotel was lonely. And it was the last. And the lamb dish with banana was awful. I don't know why we ordered it but we did. It is what it was. That happened".
And in that space I can breathe. I can notice the sensation of the emotion in my body. I can allow that sensation of regret to be present, flower, bloom, and in it's own time pass. Without trying to fix it. Or make it better. Or, as Bandler talks about, spin the sensation faster and faster until it feels like a different emotion so I can get over it.
Actually, I don't want to get over it. I want to honour it. And acknowledge that happened. And all the feelings that go with it. I want to get present to those feelings. Because there are gifts in each one. The positive ones tell me clearly what I value in life. And so do the negative ones. Having a relaxed, low key Christmas is something I now know I value because I didn't enjoy the pressure of busy Christmas times trying to get the house perfect for people we only saw once a year anyway. The feelings help me know myself.
Whether I get the Christmas I want or not, I can at least, inside my bubble, know what I like and prefer. And feel what I feel. And instead of telling myself how I 'should' feel, I can decide to accept and honour what I am feeling. Even if the feeling that I feel is that there are some moments when I wish things were different, or I could wind back the clock, or that I could feel happier or whatever.
And that way I can accept the 'present' of Christmas. The present moment. Even if it's a present I would rather put in the recycle box and 'on-gift' to someone else!
To be fair to Richard Bandler though, I have found his book useful. He talks about asking better questions. Instead of asking ourselves "What's wrong now" we can ask more useful questions that help us feel differently about a situation.
For me, at Christmas, it's not useful to ask myself "How can I have the happiest Christmas ever?" That just feels inappropriate.
But I have settled on this question "How can I honour myself and those I love this Christmas?"
And for me that includes honouring each feeling, positive or negative, inside each present moment, each 'gift' moment.
It includes honouring the people I am with.
And the people who have gone.
Even if it's just with a thought. Or mental image from the past. Remembering how Dad cut the turkey. Or how Mum got ratty and stressed taking it out of the oven and trying to keep everything warm when people were late.
Now I realise, she was often in pain. I didn't know that then.
Now I can appreciate how she tried.
And even though the lamb was covered in banana and that was odd, at least we got to share that funny memory, together.
She got eight more Christmases than the doctors predicted.
So I can be happy about that.
But if you told me that at the beginning of this article, I would have told you to piss off.
Because Christmas is about unwrapping the presents.
And I needed time and space to unwrap one of mine.