When Your Holidays Weren’t So Happy

Many of us feel tension during the holidays and it seems that much of that anxiety comes from relationships. This is the first of four articles looking at holiday relational stress. We’ll begin by discussing comparisons.

Wendy didn’t say much when her friends reminisced about their wonderful holiday memories. They told tales of grandfathers reading stories, moms making special cookies, and dads dressed up like Santa. And happy kids. Not wanting to throw cold water on warm memories, Wendy stayed silent. That’s because her experiences weren’t like those of the others. Tucked away in her memory banks were recollections of broken dishes, drunk uncles, and screaming parents. Home felt like a minefield where the smallest of missteps could blow off a foot. Wendy’s background was dark and miserable, not happy. So, when her friends recounted their warm holiday memories, she was struck by the stark contrast with her own. And the comparison left her feeling stressed.

Perhaps you come from a background like Wendy’s. If so, you may not like the holidays and wish the calendar only had 10 months. You may find yourself comparing the dark reality of your own experiences with the marketing images of warm family gatherings and the comparison wears you out.

While painful memories can’t be erased, they can be replaced. You can trade out memories of the past with new memories of pleasant experiences up here in the present. It helps to start your own traditions that will be remembered fondly. Do things you enjoy—they way you wish they had been done when you were little. Create your own memories of experiences that you and those around you will remember fondly in the years to come.

Here, we’ve looked at how comparisons cause stress during the holidays. In the next article, we’ll talk about expectations.