I have been working with people for a long time and, for most of my career, I have worked with people who were living in poverty. I started to notice very early that, despite budgeting with them and setting limits on spending for the holidays, my clients would go overboard and purchase things that were way out of their limits buying gifts for family and friends. It wasn’t long until I realized that there was a lot more behind purchasing gifts than just the gifts themselves. For the most part, these clients were motivated not just by the Christmas spirit, but they had a deeper drive pushing them. This pattern of behaviour is not limited to my previous clients. I see this type of behaviour in all people from all walks of life. I have even noticed it in myself!
When our spirit of the season is not about the feelings of the season and rather is motivated by some underlying energy, it can take our holidays from something fun and enjoyable to stressful, chaotic and even self-loathing. There are three motivating factors that I have noticed in myself and others that can wreak havoc on your holidays.
Any of these sound familiar?
I think this one can be especially true for parents. Guilt is evident when we
- Exhaustedly scouring stores for hours
- Fight with shoppers because we NEED that item
- Go overboard and have a million presents under the tree.
- Or by putting ourselves in debt to make sure you have everything on the list.
In these cases, the energy behind the action is not just wanting a good Christmas, there is something more It feels more like a ‘need’, like you have to, or the holiday will be ruined.
I think the guilt comes from personal perceptions of short fallings as a parent, wife, friend etc. Like my clients, they felt guilty about their kids living in poverty, so they compensated by overspending. For others, I think that the driving force is guilt around not being a ‘good enough’ parent, friend, or partner. They perceive that they have fallen short in some area such as too much work, too little family time, too strict, too preoccupied, generally not being a good enough parent, friend, or partner. This guilt fuels the insanity that is Christmas shopping for many of us. We are motivated not by the spirit of giving or the joy of the season, but rather feeling like we ‘need to’ compensate because we don’t measure up in other ways.
Another driving force that I have observed is the need to make the holiday ‘perfect’. Some people NEED the holidays to be perfect, for whatever reason, and they won’t settle for anything less. The results are the same they may put themselves in debt, drive themselves crazy trying to find that perfect gift, run themselves ragged trying to make everything perfect. The thing is, the harder we try to make things perfect, the more we notice that it’s not perfect! Therefore we can either surrender or keep pushing and driving ourselves nuts.
I have observed this perfectionism playing out at family dinners. People spend hours to set the table so it looks just right, spending the whole day prepping and cooking, fixing and adjusting, then collapse at the end of the night from exhaustion. Meanwhile, they missed out on the joy and fun of the day! If we are in this mindset, then I hate to tell you, but there is no such thing as perfect and all the energy you use to make it perfect could be spent enjoying the holiday instead! (Sound like you? Learn more about the problems with perfectionism, here.)
This one is similar to guilt and can go hand in hand, but the energy behind it is a little different. From this perspective, gift giving is viewed as a time to compensate. For example, getting the right gift so that your children, family, spouse, etc. know that you love them because throughout the year you avoid sharing your feelings and yourself with them. This can be either a perceived shortcoming or actually not giving them all of you because your energy is focused elsewhere. Whichever it is, you take Christmas as a time to share all the things you haven’t said, how much you care, how grateful you are for them, how much you love them, how important they are to you. And again, you drive yourself crazy trying to find the perfect thing to express all those locked up emotions. The pressure on getting the gift is immense because it is no longer a gift, but the way to communicate your feelings because you haven’t or feel you can’t do it throughout the year. That is a lot of pressure on a purchase!
What we are really doing
The ironic thing is if the energy behind our holidays is any of the above, what we are actually doing is spending the holiday doing exactly what we are trying to avoid. Our spirit of the season is not about love, and connection rather it is guilt-ridden, chaotic and stressful! Needless to say less than enjoyable.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a good holiday or to find your loved ones gifts that bring them joy, but if you are finding you are killing yourself and stressing yourself out over it, then you need to ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’.
Then really check into the motivating energy behind your actions. If it is guilt, compensation or the need for perfection, then you need to ask yourself if this is really what you want from your holiday. If it’s not, change it!