Help! I Feel Guilty About Not Giving Gifts This Christmas

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

Christmas is coming up and I’m dreading it. I’m so sick of all the commercialization. I’m also pretty much broke. I know I’m going to get all kinds of gifts, some of which are expensive, and the expectation will be that I return the favor.

Christmas is big in my family, and everyone tends to spend big accordingly. Even if I had money to spend, though, I don’t want to spend it on gifts. And I work two jobs, so I don’t have time to make things for people. So I don’t know what to do. I just want to skip Christmas and go straight to New Year’s, but instead I’m going to have to deal with all kinds of guilt over not being a good reciprocal gift giver. If you have any ideas or words of wisdom for me, I’ll take them. —Giving Up

Dear Giving Up,

You are not alone in dreading the expectations of the holidays. What once felt like it was about gathering with loved ones and sharing in the joy of the season has, for many, become about obligation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Do you think your family would be open to looking at this holiday differently? Some families are moving in a direction to replace tangible gifts with experiences. Would that be something you could all discuss?

My recommendation would be to talk about how you are feeling with your family. Let them know you aren’t able to participate in lavish gift giving. You could ask them what might be something meaningful they would like from you. If you are clear with them before they select a gift for you, they can still choose to give you an expensive gift; they cannot expect you to return the favor.

For some families, doing Christmas “big” is half the fun of the season. You can, however, define for yourselves what big means.

If your family traditions are inspiring feelings of guilt rather than joy, before the holidays is a good time to talk about them. For some, the giving is what brings them joy—even without the expectation of a return. For some families, doing Christmas “big” is half the fun of the season. You can, however, define for yourselves what big means. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the price tag that is big. What could make the holiday fun for you? If you come with some suggestions about what you’d like the holiday to be or mean, you may find that others get excited about your ideas. At the very least, you are starting a dialogue about what matters to you and what you hope your family traditions may be.

If you have been honest with your family, and they have let you off the hook for lavish gift exchange and you are still feeling guilty, you may want to explore those feelings with a therapist. You may want to look at how you wish to engage with your family around holidays and other traditions in ways that work for you. Sometimes we believe it is impossible to break out of family patterns that seem entrenched. Getting support on how to start that process could be helpful.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.

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