I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and your holidays are filled with joy! That’s what everyone is saying now, and many of us mean it. We really do wish good things for others — and peace on Earth, too!
This time of year, more people are saying and sending well wishes more often, and to more people wherever we go. That’s great!…except when it’s not.
The winter holidays are simply stressful, if not downright difficult for many of us. It’s estimated that 10-20% of us, especially here in Ohio, get SAD this time of year. That’s Seasonal Affective Disorder. The lack of sunlight can cause, and be complicated by, a vitamin D deficiency. It’s enough to make you feel run down and blue, even without the flu.
Then there’s the mammalian urge to hibernate that comes with freezing weather. All of these things can dampen the mood during December.
There’s also the social reality of getting together with family that maybe you’d rather not see. Heaven forbid a distant cousin or that new nephew-in-law should bring up a taboo topic at a family gathering. Oh, don’t get grandpa started! All it takes is one blow-up to spoil an occasion for years to come.
And what if it’s our fault? What if we’re the one who lost our temper? What if we slung insults and innuendos until relatives started ranting? Even if we were on our best behavior, and everything went swimmingly well, there still might be all kinds of nastiness that isn’t said, and is only thought. I’m not sure which is worse.
But, I am absolutely certain the most important person to forgive and embrace, now and always, is yourself.
How many of us really don’t like ourselves? Me, I’m too quiet, I don’t say enough. I also wish I lived more sustainably. For some, they’re too fat, too short, not healthy or wealthy enough. For others, they’re not smart enough. How many of us tell ourselves that we’re stupid? Do I tell myself that I’m a failure, that I’ll always be awkward, and I’ll never be able to live zero waste — especially at Christmas time?!
I try to avoid such self-talk, putting myself down, or talking in terms of my own self-worth. Instead, I try to talk to myself about the mistakes or decisions I’ve made. It might seem like a subtle difference, but one has to do with identity, while the other with behavior. The first is shame-talk, while the other is gentler, and more healthy.
Shame is toxic, and yet, like the Grinch, it can rear its ugly head and have a devastating impact around the holidays. Brené Brown, who studied this for years, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging, unworthy of connection.” The holidays should be all about love and belonging, nurturing connections.
Self-care/self-love is the best way to start spreading Christmas cheer. This is not to be confused with self-pity, self-absorption or self-indulgence. The Dalai Lama has much to teach us about loving compassion, and he declares that it must start with self-compassion.
Be kind and considerate to yourself. You are worthy of and deserve love and belonging.
And do you know who else can instruct us on this important life lesson? The teacher whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day. Jesus loves me, this I know. And, if he loves me, I can and should love myself. He gently reminds us to remove the beam from our own eye before we try to remove a speck from anyone else’s. In this way, Jesus urges us to keep our own house in order.
So when this holiday season gets tough, put on your own oxygen mask of self-care and self-respect first, before helping others. It’ll do us all a world of good.
David Soliday is the minister at the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.