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December 2006
By Sandy Plone, Ph.D.

The holidays can be joyous or fraught with pain and disappointment. Both women and men often feel physically and emotionally drained, unable to revel in the joyous feelings and confused or unaware of the painful feelings. Clients in my psychotherapy practice often report feeling depressed during the holiday season, without understanding why, and it is from them, as well as my own life experiences that I have learned of some possible explanations to these seeming contradictions.

Holiday experiences from the past and memories of childhood may have seemed magical, or perfect-- so that no present-time reality could possibly compete. Current significant others may not be able to guess, or fulfill our unexpressed wishes--so that the high expectations of gift-giving and receiving may give way to disappointment or hurt. For example-if one wishes for the warm feeling of a partner being able to "read our mind" like a sensitive parent did long ago. If no one ever understood our needs sufficiently-the pressure is heavily on current significant relationships. Conversely, childhood memories of holidays may be bleak, and the present time with its potential for abundance and beauty may be an opportunity to compensate for old deprivations. (The child whose family was too poor to exchange gifts may develop into a generous shopper, intuiting the needs and wishes of all those around him or her.) Loved ones may have departed, so that each tradition becomes tinged with grief, and incomplete mourning may cast a shadow on joyous festivities. The feelings may vary depending on the time elapsed since the loss, and on the resolution of grief and mourning. Also, our standards for ourselves may be unrealistically high as we try to emulate Martha Stewart in creating our own holiday traditions, often pushing ourselves beyond our energies, or budget of time or money.

There are no perfect solutions for these scenarios--only awareness that the past is deeply imbedded in the present, and that unexpected or unwanted emotions may come to the surface during the pressure-filled (and sugar-filled) holiday season. Each of us may need to develop strategies for easing through the holiday season with the least pain and the most pleasure possible.

©copyright by Sandy Plone, Ph.D. 2006

Dr. Sandy Plone is a clinical psychologist in West Los Angeles, and a member of The Independent Psychotherapy Network. She can be reached at (310) 979-7473 for confidential questions or information.

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