Self-Compassion This Holiday Season

We have all seen the perfect Christmas in the movies. A flawlessly decorated home sets the scene with a perfectly adorned tree. A beautiful family gathers around the piano singing carols in matching festive outfits. In the background is an impeccably browned turkey with all the yummy fixings waiting to be devoured. Grandma and Grandpa are snuggling peacefully on the couch. Mom and Dad smile lovingly at each other while the kids patiently wait to unwrap a pile of flawlessly wrapped gifts.

In my world that tree is likely of the Charlie Brown variety and tied to the wall with old rope, nails, and choice words to keep it from falling over, again. My sister and niece do play the piano however, I have witnessed the dogs place their paws over their ears to drown out the sound when we sing along. Dinner involves at least one meltdown over who is making the gravy and why it is so lumpy. We laugh a lot and enjoy the holidays but there are also tough moments, hurt feelings, and honestly who waits patiently to open gifts?

The expectation of the perfect Christmas can leave us feeling lesser than or not quite enough. The holiday season is joyous and it can also feel overwhelming. If you find yourself feeling sad or even angry this month, it is okay. That’s right I said it is okay and normal! Consider adding self-compassion to your wish list this year. Dr. Kirsten Neff (see self-compassion.org) says that self-compassion is the art of providing ourselves the comfort we easily extend to others. As we navigate the holidays, and really all year round, we can practice a simple three-part self-compassion break (see self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/).

Step one, engage in mindfulness, the act of being aware of the present moment. Life has challenges and they are time-limited. For example, if you find yourself shopping with a child who beelines it to the toy section with a speech about why he needs the latest and greatest toy, take a deep breath and tell yourself this is a struggle right now, it will not last forever.

Step two, acknowledge common humanity, we are not alone, we all have flaws and make mistakes. Imagine yourself at a cookie swap and you see all the flaws in your cookies and the beauty in your friend’s baking. Take a moment and think, “It is possible that my friends may be feeling this way too, I am not alone.”

Finally, and this is often something people find challenging, provide yourself with some comforting thoughts. When a family member gives you a look that you interpret as a judgment about your meal preparation or gift choice consider what you would tell a friend and say it to yourself. Something like, “I am doing the best that I can. I do not know 100% what that look meant and my family loves me.”

One of the most salient gifts of Dr. Neff’s work is a reminder that the actions of others are not a direct evaluation of your worth. The family member who tells inappropriate jokes is not a reflection of you, the kids arguing is not a statement about your parenting, and those gingerbread men missing an arm or leg will be as amazing as the human that you are.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources.

Photo by Krista Turcasso

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