Christmas time can be tough. We are sold images of Dickensian firesides with ruddy cheeked children or supermarket's extended gaggle of giggling friends and family and yet for so many of us, this isn’t our experience at all.
We know that busiest time for divorce solicitors is January and that domestic abuse rates peak at this time of year. I hear of people not eating properly in the run up to Christmas so they can save money to splurge on the big day and of other people who run up credit debts which stay with them, accumulating into the following year.
So how do we avoid the temptation to overstretch ourselves financially and also socially and emotionally? Here’s some coaching questions to help.
Stay true to your values
Values are in part our morals and principles and they might also be part of our belief system. They are often unspoken but hidden in the way we live our lives. Values include words like: peace, cooperation, trust, creativity, excellence, loyalty, pleasure. Have a look here to help you identify yours. Write down the words which you resonate with and then add any others which aren't on the list. Then narrow it down to your core values, the ones which matter most, your top 5.
Having done that, reflect on how you can have a Christmas which in more in line with your values. If creativity is important to you, can you take time during the day to do something creative for yourself? If nature is important to you, how can you make sure you get out somewhere beautiful during the day?
If you care about the environment, then why buy loads of plastic that you know will end up in landfill? If you don’t like violence, then make sure your viewing choices and gaming choices reflect that. If you think that community matters, invite your neighbours around.
When we act out of line with our own values and beliefs we experience cognitive dissonance which is uncomfortable and can lead us to feeling bad about our self or other people, so the more aligned we are with our values, the better we will feel. Walking our talk is always important so let’s not throw that aside in all the hype.
Albert Ellis coined the phrase ‘musterbation’ and he said it was one of the ways in which we make ourselves really miserable. We believe that ‘I must….or X will happen’. We also believe that other people .’must’ so that we can feel or do X and we believe that the world must be a certain way in order that we feel X. When we think ‘I must’ or ‘they should’ or ‘it should’ what we are actually doing is denying reality. We wouldn’t think ‘he should help me with the washing up’ if he actually were helping with the washing up!
So, let’s start off with ourselves. What are you telling yourself you 'must' do or 'have to' do or 'should' do or be this Christmas. Make a list whether it is ‘I must buy sprouts’ or ‘I must make sure everyone has fun.’
Now look at that list and question it. Must you buy sprouts? Or do you want to? If you want to then great, off you go. But if you don’t want to then do you have to? Who says? Who else could buy them? Do you even like them? What would happen if you didn’t buy them and how bad would that be?
Replace the 'must's and 'should's and 'have to's with the question; ‘Do I want to?’. Do more of what you want and less of what you don’t want.
Then let’s come to other people. ‘I must make sure everyone has a good time’. Can you really control what everyone else does and feels? You might like them to have a good time but you have no control about how they chose to experience things. We tend to make unilateral assumptions about what other people want and think and then don’t check them out. So this Christmas, be direct and ask people. What do they want to do that they would enjoy. How can they contribute to making the day fun for themselves?
We’ve all said it; ‘The kids should have helped do X’, ‘Partner/ parents should or shouldn’t have…’. But we are rarely explicit up front about our expectations and then are disappointed when people don’t live up to them. So ask people for what you need from them. ‘I would like you to lay the table’. ‘I would like it if we didn’t talk politics at the table’. The clearer you are, the more chance there is of getting more of what you want. Of course, people can say no, but at least then you can negotiate and discuss other alternatives rather than just expecting a miracle sea change in behaviour.
Do it as a team
Christmas is for everyone so share the planning, the cooking, the shopping, the card writing. You don’t need to do it all (unless you want to because you like it). Have a card writing evening. A present wrapping night. A joint table laying and carrot peeling morning. Again, being clear of your expectations is more likely to lead to you getting what you would like.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s OK if the kids argue, if the potatoes aren’t quite cooked, if no one wants to play scrabble and if you don’t get that gift you wanted. Every other house hold all around the country will be having an imperfect day too.
Christmas has turned into a commercial enterprise focused on what we can get and give. Spend some time during the day appreciating what you already have. We are so abundant in this culture. Most of you reading this will be online somewhere safe and warm, with food in your cupboards and a bed to rest in. Make a list of all the things and people you have to be grateful for; your health, the people who care for you, your work, your breakfast, your life.
For, as those of us around in the 80s know; 'The greatest gift we have this year is life'.
Wishing you all the best for your holidays
Ps, spread the word about how to spot domestic abuse and support people with it - Into the Woods on Amazon Kindle for £2.49
Thank you Jon Lydon for your photo