I may sound cynical, but the holidays often bring up what is most uncomfortable. There are those conversations with family or friends that we would rather not have, you know, where you slap on a smile, act interested, and eventually make a smooth escape with an excuse to get a second helping of food. It’s a time where we undoubtedly evaluate our relationship status after our great aunt’s cheerful, unintentionally judgmental comments “oh, you’re single again…” or “I thought you would have kids by now…” Where we gauge our career or personal goals and respond with “I’m not as far along I would like but…” We inadvertently scrutinize ourselves and compare to others, “They have so much going for them… Why don’t I have friends like that… I’m fun, aren’t I?!..”
To be honest, though we may feel isolated, I believe most of us are doing this. I believe if we said these things out loud, we would realize just how ridiculous it sounds to demand such perfection. But that’s not really the point I’m intending to make with this post. I find it fascinating to consider the corroding conversations we have with ourselves and yet we act like this isn’t harming us.
For many, the holidays bring many of these awkward situations and much more. We often view them with such discomfort it manifests as anxiety and disapproval – creating real emotional pain. Not to say these situations don’t have a place; I know many people that would give ANYTHING to have one more precious moment of awkwardness with that loved one that isn’t here this year.
How can one be filled with thanksgiving and joy when there has been death of a loved one, financial suffocation or the end of a permanent staple in your life? You want me to be thankful for that?! You want me to be joyful, spreading cheer when all I can do is remember pain?! Ha! I would have many words for the person suggesting I put on this front when pain and tears have been my food this past year.
So, what then shall we choose? I only really see two options.
1. Do we stuff it and disengage or react in anger towards the world? We can let everyone around us know we are unhappy. This is probably the most tempting option out there, given the fact that it means we don’t have to deal with the full extent of the change or unmet expectations or grief.
Or, and hear me out on this,
2. Do we turn towards the pain and actually embrace what has happened? Do we allow ourselves to feel the ache of sadness for the reality of where things are in our life, currently?
There is a quote by Viktor Frankl, (if you don’t know his story, stop now and do a quick Google search). It reads:
“Everything can be taken from a man BUT one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
We have the option of choosing bitterness, stiff-arming any pain that comes in our path and burying it deep, deep down. However, if we stay there, we are only creating a prison for ourselves. One where, should any situation of discomfort or agony come up, we flee from it or choose to grumble in our situation. After all, “Look what’s happened in my life. Can’t you see why I’m so angry?!”
What will life look like if we continue to choose anger or numbness?
- Emotionally, over time we become exhausted, lose motivation. The people closest to us may also feel exhausted just being around us, even as they lovingly stand beside us.
- Physically, our energy will suffer, work efficiency and health will decline. Research has shown we will actually be more susceptible to feeling higher levels of pain.
- Psychologically, we will have poor thinking patterns, making less healthy decisions about food and exercise because, “what’s the point” of being healthy when you’re numb or angry.
- Socially, relationships will suffer. In general, people don’t like being around angry bitter people all the time. Most likely, we end up making the decision to isolate ourselves from others because we feel like a burden that no one else could understand.
In the movie “Braveheart” there is a scene where William Wallace (who is played by Mel Gibson) gives an inspirational speech to the Scottish army, convincing them that fighting is the better option than running. In the scene, one man yells to him, “We will run! and we will live!” To this, William Wallace says in agreement, but with a smirk on his face that challenges…
“Fight, and you may die. Run and you will live, at least a while.”
– Mel Gibson, Braveheart
The temptation to avoid pain in our lives is the same! Face it and fight, and it may feel likely to claim victory over us. But run and stuff it… that my friend, is a losing battle EVERY. TIME. Personally, I want to fight and face pain rather than slowly corrode away, watching was is important to me disappear.
So, you have an option this holiday season to try something new. “Give thanks IN all situations”, not FOR all situations. Only an insane person would say “thank you for the death and pain in my life.” But giving thanks IN all situations looks at what has been given to you as a gift, for what you did have, and realize that it was never really yours to begin with.
Free yourselves from the internal prison you’ve created. Dismantle the barricade of bricks you’ve built up around you. Or, continue to isolate and disengage in emotions. I say, face it and fight while you’re still free, before you are taken captive by your own doing.