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 GoodTherapy.org.
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