Self-Esteem for the Holidays: Part I

A happy woman runs through snow.Where should we spend the holidays this year? Should I give a gift to my neighbors? How can we invite so-and-so to dinner without inviting that annoying ______ of hers?

The holiday season can be a minefield of decisions that make us question ourselves and our goodness, competence, and worth. Our obligations to others compete with desires of our own; that everyday tension gets ratcheted up about a hundred notches during the holidays.

We feel responsible to “get it right” by making others happy and think that we have to put everyone else ahead of ourselves in order to do so. We worry that if we focus on our own needs at this time of the year, we are being selfish at worst, or at least not in the holiday spirit.

Consider, though, that not only is doing things to meet your own needs this holiday season not selfish, it will also help you communicate clearly with loved ones and give them permission to meet their own needs too.

Putting Our Own Needs Last

Each year Melinda* frets over where and with whom to spend the holidays—and she’s got a long list of choices. There are in-laws, siblings, her elderly mother, her kids’ families, uncles, aunts, cousins, and old friends. Melinda feels like she has to juggle everyone’s expectations and ends up disappointing more people than she manages to please.

As a self-proclaimed “people-pleaser,” Melinda dreads the holidays because of all those unmet expectations. The only person Melinda doesn’t try to please during the holidays is herself. She knows that the holiday season brings little joy for her, and she wishes she could find some again.

Asked where and with whom she would like to spend the holidays, Melinda is, at first, stumped. “I never thought about that,” she admits with a sheepish grin. After a few moments of quiet contemplation, she suddenly shakes her head. “I don’t even dare to wish that I could spend time with my oldest friend, Clarice.” Her face hardens into resignation. “We don’t even live in the same city anymore,” she declares. “And besides, what would I do with my mother?”

Because she does it regularly, Melinda is comfortable saying “no” to herself. She is the only person she can say “no” to, without feeling terribly guilty.

Sharon* has a similar challenge. To make sure that absolutely no one feels left out, she buys more than her share of gifts every year. The people in what she calls her “inner circle”—more than 20 in all—receive extravagant gifts that Sharon can ill-afford on her modest salary. Just about every person she sees with any regularity, including her tax preparer, receives “a little something” from Sharon for the holidays.

“I knew it was out of control when I bought a gift for the mammogram technician—someone I didn’t even know—just because my appointment was near the holidays,” she remembers.

Sharon admits that she spends far more money on gifts than she can afford and pays off holiday debts throughout the following year.

Receiving Is Generous, Too

At first glance, both Melinda and Sharon might seem “too generous” for their own good. Melinda goes wherever she feels most needed, and Sharon goes into debt to please everyone she can. Both women have bought into the idea that it’s good to be a giving person. And it is—but how much is enough? If you don’t give to yourself as well as to others, how generous are you? Don’t you deserve to receive, as well as to give?

Think of yourself as a water well. When you receive things like time, attention, caring, and fun, your well is filled. When you give, the water level goes down. If all you ever do is give, you will eventually be trying to give from an empty well, and you will feel it. You won’t be the only one who notices that all that’s coming out is rubble from the bottom of the well, rather than water.

Make sure you receive! It is the only way to be truly generous, and is an act of self-esteeming. Allow others to do for you, as you do for them.

In the next blog post, we’ll meet up with Melinda and Sharon again, and see how and why they might want to do some reality-testing around their respective behaviors—for the sake of both their self-esteem, and for their relationships with others.

*Melinda and Sharon are not actual people, but composites of characteristics and behaviors.

© Copyright 2010 by By Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • andrew

    November 16th, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    Most people try and do things to please others and to make sure everybody else is happy. But I do not agree with this thinking. I do everything that I feel is right and do not think too much about who to invite and other things. I just go with the flow and be spontaneous. And you know what? It also ends up making those around me happy! :)

  • kyle

    November 17th, 2010 at 5:50 AM

    tired of trying to “get it right” this year, this year it is about making myself happy. selfish? maybe. but that’s the way it’s gonna be. too many years have gone by with me rushing to and fro to make everyone else happy all the while i was miserable and a wreck trying to get it all together. no more. and who knows? maybe i will miss the rushing around but for this year i think i will try to see if there is a better way to juggle the holidays.

  • DS

    November 17th, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    the holiday season,instead of being a joyous occasion that it’s supposed to be,often turns into one best remembered for all the tension and apprehension that it brings along with also leaves a mark on our minds due to all the you-missed-me-out plaints that we may receive. :(

  • dUnicorn

    November 18th, 2010 at 5:03 AM

    I don’t think theres any real problem with the holiday season unless you have some complicated relationships with your friends or relatives.I for one don’t and the holiday season is nothing but all of us getting together and making each other happy :)

  • Bari N

    December 14th, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    Can I adopt you please?

    People who don’t get along with family are overly Independent & Prickly.
    They stay in a perpetual state of being the victim.

  • Amelia

    November 18th, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    My mom always makes me feel so unworthy around this time of year. The food is dry. I have gained a lot of weight. She is so critical that I have my defenses up for days just thinking about it. How is it that I can be so successful in most areas of my life but I still feel like a belittled little kid when she comes to town? Ugghh!!

  • karina helmes

    November 18th, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    the holiday season actually becomes somewhat of a burden…it’s almost as if you are compelled to blast money and to gift even some people you do not really want to.then ofcourse it is difficult to keep up your sanity in such a situation and condition…

  • Gayle

    November 18th, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    That was a great article! Tina, I can relate. Every time I think about the upcoming holidays I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Just once I would like everything to go along perfectly. No overcooked food, no dramas, no old arguments brought up by drunken idiots. My family loves to reopen old wounds instead of letting sleeping dogs lie. My only hope is that I don’t need to host it so I can leave before that all starts. Maybe I’ll just fake flu when Thanksgiving arrives LOL.

  • Dina

    November 19th, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    Or you could be brave and say you won’t be going this year, Gayle. Anyway, if you say flu they may all come visit you anyway to see how you are. Fess up and say you want to do your own thing, then please yourself like Tina said.

  • Curt

    November 19th, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    When my extended family gathers I feel like I’m in a time warp that’s rolling me back decades. I’m normally confident and self-assured. I have a prestigious, high paying IT job and wonderful circle of friends. When I get in amongst family, I’m treated like a kid despite being 28 because I’m the youngest cousin. It’s maddening! All my confidence evaporates. I’m probably the highest earner in the room too and not one of them could say what I do.

  • Sara

    December 14th, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    Why do you see your self this way? When I was about your age I felt the same. My sister who is 15 years older said to me ” then stop thinking this way, just be your self. ” it worked. Now we take turns hosting the holiday dinners and lunches. This year I hosted my very first Thanksgiving dinner & that Goofy kid vanished.

  • Raven

    November 19th, 2010 at 9:12 PM

    I hear you. Being the baby of the family (at 33!) I’m not asked for opinions on any topic that would be considered a grownup one like politics or the economy. And if I do go ahead and share them regardless they look at me as if I’ve grown horns… or worse, answer me in a condescending way. All that’s missing is a ruffle of my hair and me being told to go play. I get through it by telling myself it’s only a couple of days out of 365 every year I need to suffer that.

  • Lindy

    November 19th, 2010 at 11:48 PM

    You know, some day older family members will be gone and you’ll wish you’d been more tolerant. I’d give anything to have my grandpa back at the Thanksgiving table and hear him gripe about hating brussel sprouts. That used to get on my nerves. He did it every year. Now there’s just an empty chair there and I wish I’d just enjoyed spending that time with him more. Count your blessings.

  • Tina Gilbertson

    November 20th, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    Thank you all for your thoughtful and heartfelt comments. It seems the article touched something in you that made you want to respond. I’m glad to have connected with you, and to see you connect with each other, through this topic.

    I hosted a “holiday anxiety” discussion group in my office last week, and the comments here echo the conversation in the group: For too many of us, the holidays bring at least as much pain as joy.

    Whether it be conflict & sniping, absent loved ones, dealing with criticism or feeling less-than, the holidays often expose our soft underbellies.

    That’s why self-esteem – our relationship with ourselves – is so very important; somebody’s got to be in our corner with us during difficult times. As long as we have ourselves, we’re never truly alone.

    Thanks again and best wishes to all. If you are in the Portland, Oregon area on Saturday, Dec. 4, you can attend my free discussion group on this topic.

  • Belle

    November 25th, 2010 at 11:08 PM

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And thank you Tina for sharing your thoughtful words with us. They were a pleasure to read. Wishing you all blessings in abundance this Thanksgiving. :)

  • Bari N

    December 14th, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    Kyle you are as happy or sad as you want to be honey. No you are not selfish. You are just tired of rushing around that makes no sense any more. All this hype for just one day makes no sense not only to you & me but to millions of others. Oh, yes it was lots of fun when we believed in Santa, tooth fairy & the Easter Bunny…. Maybe you can let your family & friends know you are not joining the shoppers madness and be just as happy.
    Enjoy life is beautiful.

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