Home for the Holidays: Finding Refuge In Yourself

Holiday decorations sit on a windowsill, including apple candle-holders, candles, and pine cuttingsThe lyrics of the song say, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” —Is this true for you?

It goes on to say, “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home.” For how many people is this true?

For how many people is this song simply the idealized image resulting from:

• Madison Avenue and a market-driven culture?
• distortions of the soul of their religious and spiritual traditions?
• cultural mores fed by movies, television shows, and songs like “Home for the Holidays?”
• longings for a loving, harmonious family by, both the inner-child, still lives within each person, and the adult living in the current time?
defenses against feelings related to our earliest wounds and our earliest experiences of the holidays?

For many, the holiday period between Thanksgiving and the day after New Year’s Day is the most painful time of the year. I know clients, colleagues, friends, and people in passing who dread this time. They wonder how they will bear the loneliness they feel—loneliness they experience whether they are all by themselves, with a small group, or in a huge gathering of people. They feel intense anxiety about the celebration.

Will there be another blow-up at the holiday dinner—just like last year and every year before it? Will they be able to tolerate walking on eggshells, to hold the blow-up at bay, only to have it occur anyway? People worry themselves sick trying to “do” the holidays in a way that meets the idealized image: trying to buy the best gifts without “breaking the bank” of their financial reality; trying to prevent disappointing, angering, or losing the connection with the people they are closest to and need most; trying to prove their worth or their love to themselves and in each relationship in their life.

The truth is, for most people, there’s no way to go through the holidays without being triggered. You can try to go around the holidays—travel to a country that isn’t steeped in them. You can attempt to go away from them—become a hermit. You can do everything to try to escape from them—take mind-altering substances till you don’t think you’re in this reality anymore. But the holidays. and our triggers, will still be there within us, in our hearts.

Simply put, the holidays trigger some of our deepest, most primal wounds, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we’d like to be conscious of it or not, whether we wish to admit it or not.

So when you think of the holidays, what gets triggered in you? No, no. Don’t run away from it. Don’t bury it. Not this time. And please, for heaven’s sake, don’t pretend about it this time—especially not with yourself.

When you think of going home for the holidays, what gets evoked in you? Do you dread the family focus on appearance? And feel the pain of the dearth of real connection, real heart, real soul in your family interactions?

Do you feel terrified—anticipating the family dysfunction in whatever form? Do you fear the fights at the dinner table. The drinking that inevitably leads to a final explosion that ends the gathering? The ever-so-polite and deadened social conversation that hides the truth and the hurt heart of each family member?

Are you determined to try once again to simply be your real self, no matter the response? Do you try to talk about your vision for your calling in the world, or your vision for our world, only to be dismissed, discounted, ridiculed outright, responded to with contempt, or even worse, ignored?

Do you want to have your idealized holiday gathering with family, but know it won’t happen? And so want to stay away this year only to be afraid of the reaction of parents, siblings, and extended family?

So what’s a person to do? This year, meet what is triggered in you by the holidays. Explore what gets evoked in you. Work with what gets brought up in you, for the sake of your holidays, for the sake of your own healing and growing, and for the sake of all those you have an impact on.

But let’s take one more step as we think about going home for the holidays. We have numerous primal connotations and responses to “home for the holidays” or simply going home:

• The home of our family of origin—the current home of our parents.
• The actual home we were children in.
• The home in our mother’s arms.
• Home in our mother’s womb.
• Home with God, or Christ, or Allah, or whatever other name you call God.
• Can you think of any others?

The others that comes to me:
Home to our Selves.
Home to the real, authentic person we are.
Home to the self we are that is not idealized.
Home to the self we are that can and does feel our human pain and joy and doesn’t need to defend against it.
In other words, our undefended self. (Undefended does not mean defenseless, quite the opposite. Defended emotionally, we can only use our hardened defenses, causing harm in the process. Learning to dissolve our defenses is a real strength, and in doing so, we learn to truly protect ourselves.)

Home to the self we are
Home to our soul.
Home to our spirit.

Whatever your experience in your family, past and present, exploring your triggers and the roots of your triggers during the holidays is exactly what will help you come home to your self.

This holiday season, wherever you go geographically to celebrate, and however you feel about that, may you add a meaning to “home for the holidays.” This holiday season, may “home for the holidays” mean home to your self.

May you be blessed during this season, as you come home to your self.

If you have a family that can hold the connections and the disconnections, the closeness and the separations, the idealized and the reality, and still have a truly loving, healthy relationship—and holiday—how blessed you are! Do your work where triggered and hold others in your heart and prayers.

© Copyright 2009 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • tony

    December 21st, 2009 at 5:09 PM

    There are a lot of people who actually fret the holiday season, as you have mentioned.They do this because they either have a bad memory about the holiday season or they are scared about managing everything and stuff.But what I believ is that if you go with the natural flow and be who you are and do not try to be extra something, then it will be just fine…the holiday season will be the same good period you enjoyed as a kid.Do not put yourself under pressure to do things opr achieve something in the holiday season and I’m sure it will be a great one :)

  • Lib

    December 21st, 2009 at 6:02 PM

    My holiday does not consist of toms of time with my family because it always makes me so crazy. My brother and I always end up fighting about the same dumb things that we did as teenagers and it drives me and my mom both nuts, So I just stay home and enjoy the silence and I like it that way.

  • reggie H.

    December 22nd, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    Almost everybody I know has some negative feeling about the holiday season, and I’m no exception. Hence I’ve learnt to take things as they come and I try not to stress myself that there is the holiday season coming up.

  • themuse

    December 22nd, 2009 at 8:25 PM

    That reminded me of a passage in Running from Safety by Richard Bach where he’s chatting to his wife.

    “Home, I think, is the known and the loved”. I felt it click inside, the way every real answer clicks in mind. “Isn’t it true? You sit down at the piano, just to play for yourself, you know the music and you love it, isn’t that coming home? I sit at the controls of a little airplane, there’s home for me. We’re together, you and me, so right now home’s in a moving automobile; next month it could be some different city. When we’re together, we’re home.”

    “Home isn’t a place. Known and loved, I don’t think, aren’t nailed or roofed or planted. We can become attached to nails and roofs, but shift their order from known to un and when we come back we say what’s this pile of sticks? Home is a certain order that’s dear to us, where it’s safe to be who we are.”

    Wherever we go, home is with us inside. I enjoyed your article, Judith! Blessings to you this holiday season.

  • Dionne S.

    December 22nd, 2009 at 8:33 PM

    I blame the influence of TV as well. If I had my way Christmas family movies would be banned. All the ads of fabulous family meals where everyone gets along perfectly, no one gets drunk and they all live happily ever after would too. They project unrealistic standards that no family on the planet can live up to! Why? Because we’re human, living unscripted lives! I can’t put aside resentments I’ve carried around all year just because of a date on the calendar and play happy families. I’d rather stay away than be a fake.

  • Judith Barr

    December 27th, 2009 at 7:18 AM

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Just a quick recap as we move from the holidays through this week to passage into the new year . . .

    Whatever our experience of the holidays, they reveal to us wounds in ourselves that we need to heal.

    We can see them as mirrors and gifts for our healing . . . and utilize them for magnificent good.


    We can see them as obstacles, something to avoid, something that says more about others than about we, ourselves.

    How will you utilize your experiences?


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