For many, the holiday season brings the hope of get-togethers with family and friends, special church services or the expectation of that wonderful gift. For others, the holidays can be less than joyous or even downright painful.
Two area counselors share their thoughts on surviving this holiday season.
The root of the problem
For some families, the holiday dinner table is a time to reconnect. For others, what should be a happy time becomes a hurtful one when family members just can’t seem to get along.
Mike Haney, director of Behavioral Health for Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, said there are reasons families tend to fuss at the holiday functions. One of them gives credence to the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt.”
“You know each other, you know each other’s faults and it’s easy to pick,” Haney explained.
He said when the fussing starts, families need to remember why they came together in the first place: Because these people sitting around the holiday table are a family.
Another reason for fights and bickering is that one person wants to have that Kodak holiday moment, when the tree is perfect, the meal is perfect, the kids are all well-behaved and everyone is smiling and happy and reality never quite lives up to all their expectations.
Haney said those who plan the celebrations need to remember that holidays are not made and should not be marred by the quest for perfection.
“The people you are inviting over know you. You don’t have to put on airs. So don’t drive yourself crazy to trying to make everything just-so,” he said.
Booze and the bickering family
One of the most common causes of holiday angst is substance abuse. The inability of one family member to confine his or her alcohol consumption to an acceptable limit leaves the rest of the family frustrated or angry.
Haney said it is important for family members to set limits — if a loved one tends to drink too much, don’t feel the need to accept their subsequent behavior.
“You want to offer help and support but if they’re not going to get help, set limits, even if this is your parent, your child. Insist on them doing it elsewhere. He suggested family members having to deal with the substance abusing loved one seek guidance and support through such groups as Al-Anon. And he said it is okay to avoid those who don’t know when to say when.
“It’s not being selfish to protect yourself and your family,” Haney said.
Haney said kids facing the substance abuse of their parents need not suffer in silence.
“Tell somebody,” Haney said. “Tell someone you can trust, reach out to another family member, even social services.”
Loss and the unhappy holidays
For those who have lost a loved one, whether or not the loss was recent, holidays can bring more pain than happiness.
“The thing with the holidays is, we have such high expectations of the way we think things should be like and rarely do the holidays ever meet our expectations,” Debbie Smith, bereavement counselor for Community Hospice, said. “Then when you’ve lost a loved one, it is really not a happy time of year.”
Smith said it is important to remember it is okay to miss the departed loved one and to keep expectations of the holidays realistic.
“A lot of them say, ‘I just don’t want to do anything.’ Especially if there are children in the home, it’s hard to do,” Smith said.
Smith said a person who has lost a loved one often need time alone and this is also true during the holidays, though they should not isolate themselves completely.
Holidays can be especially hard if the loved one is a child.
“I don’t like to compare grief and all grief hurts but when you have lost a child, no matter how old that child was, the grief doesn’t ever go away,” Smith said.
Smith said people who have lost a family member should seek the support of people who will listen to them. She urged friends and family members to forego giving lots of advice and platitudes and instead lend a shoulder to cry on.
“Advice is not necessary,” Smith said. “They don’t need to hear ‘it’s God’s will.’ Even if that’s true it’s probably the last thing they want to hear. Grieving people need someone to be there for them.”
For those seeking bereavement counseling, Community Hospice offers in even if the person who died was not a hospice patient. For more information call (606) 329-1890.