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Feeling Overwhelmed or Disappointed by the Holidays? How to Handle Your Insecure Attachment This Time of Year

woman sad holidays

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. I dream of fun family gatherings, the magic of Christmas morning, twinkly lights, creating fond memories, feelings of love and appreciation… All of that seems entirely possible as fall winds down and Thanksgiving approaches. 

Feeling used

Then I put a lot of effort into a full-out traditional Thanksgiving meal and end up feeling kind of used. Dr. Jonice Webb writes about this in her article 9 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes Your Holidays More Difficult. She says, “When your parents failed to notice your feelings and emotional needs in your childhood, they give you the message that your feelings and needs are unimportant. This plays out powerfully during the holidays when you are prone to be too worried about making other people happy, and not paying enough attention to yourself.”

Staying on the outside of the experience

It is easy to get lost in the trappings of the holidays. All the images about the holidays are bright, cheery and warm — like a family and holiday should be, right? We can go through all the card creating, gift buying, gift wrapping, food preparation and holiday entertaining and not really get to experience the cheer and warmth ourselves. We stay on the surface of it all, where all the work and very little of the warm feelings live.

As kids or partners in insecure relationships, we learn that our experience and emotions are not priorities. Perhaps our parents were preoccupied with making ends meet. Maybe we had/have a sick sibling or special needs relative. It’s possible our parents are immature or insecure themselves and never learned how to access their own emotions, let alone foster someone else’s. Maybe our last partner let us know daily they did not respect our opinion. Whatever the reason, we learn to downgrade the importance of our feelings. We focus on tasks or other people’s feelings. 

Disappointed

It feels comfortable to give everything we have so others feel happiness. That is the pattern we have followed for years. It’s familiar and therefore attractive.

We think if we buy enough presents, create memorable meals and shine warmth and love on others, we’ll be rewarded or at least appreciated for our efforts, but quite often our family members don’t have the bandwidth to reciprocate the warmth and attunement. We end up disappointed.

I sound like I’m campaigning for martyrdom. I do believe a good amount of parenting is catering to the young ones. But I also believe a good amount of maturity is learning to reciprocate when someone gives you their time, attention and hot fudge fondue on Christmas Eve. 

I thought I’d feel more connected 

Many families look normal and healthy on the outside. We can look like we’re emotionally connected, but that empty feeling in our chest tells us something different. The excitement of the potential to connect with family members during the holiday break, sadly often leads to disappointment when no emotional connections occur.

Insecure attachment primed for rollercoaster

Insecurely attached people are especially primed for this kind of rollercoaster. We look for threats on the horizon. Our nervous systems pick up novelty and stimulation (conflict is very stimulating) at a masters level. We avoid all of these to keep our systems calm. We people please to keep the peace, but often lose peace within ourselves.

We caretake because that is what got us attention as children. We were little adults who took care of themselves and others. We carry on this pattern today.

How to break the pattern

I hereby give you permission to break this pattern.

Make yourself a priority before your health deteriorates from stress and fatigue. Slow down on the holiday buying and preparing. Keep rest space between tasks and activities. I know how hard it is to pull back. Your family probably won’t like it, but they will like your new happier, more energized demeanor. No more crying in the egg nog.;)

Ask for help. Don’t beat around the bush. I am a world-class bush beater. I continue to work on my requests for assistance. Not too mumbly. Not too bitchy or naggy. Just right, so they’ll help without getting defensive. 

Don’t give yourself away with the Amazon gift cards and holiday newsletter. Stay present and away from old patterns of subconscious people pleasing.

I hope all of you celebrate the season without getting too wrapped up in the trappings. Let yourself feel the experience of it. Get away from the cold surface tasks and into the warmth of the season’s beauty and joy. May you get through a holiday gathering and still feel uplifted. 

Do you get excited and then deflated around the holidays? How do you remedy this? 

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Exciting news! I’m working on an online course about connection. It’s tentatively titled: The Secrets to Creating Connection with Ourselves and Our Partners. I intend to release it in January. Stay tuned for more details. You will be the first to know! 

For now, pick up a copy of my book The Quiet Rise of Introverts. It makes a special holiday gift. 🙂 Click the image below to purchase. Thank you!!

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3 Comments

  1. Anne-Liesse PERSEHAYE January 12, 2019 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Thanks for a great post, Brenda!

    I’m not sure disappointment is the feeling I have most during the holidays. I think frustration is – but I’m working on it! After loosing a baby right before the Christmas period 14 years ago and going through a separation 5 years ago I’ve slowly moved towards respecting my needs more during the holidays, all the while trying to please my two kids (who are 7 & 11). Those are my priorities – not everyone or anything else.

    For example, I’ve tried for several years to have my family cut down the number of gifts we exchange – it seemed outrageous and obscene how much there was. I’ve made arguments for it, explained where I was coming from (quality over quantity, time over things), offered several options (using a lucky draw for instance), but was never heard. This year, I decided I would hear myself!!… and stuck to my no-gift policy. In exchange (because I have to admit part of me felt guilty not abiding to the traditional social rules) I offered to have my family over for Christmas lunch. I had just moved into a new place and was keen on having everyone over and recreating the ritual we used to have at our parents’s (my mum turned 80 and said she’s had enough of organizing those big meals).

    Things worked out pretty well – save the family drama before we even had our appetizers… and my exhaustion after caring for so much on my own on D-day (despite the fact I asked everyone to bring something to partake). I did give little “cadeaux de table” (gifts everyone found on their plate before starting lunch) – I chose accessible (both on a financial level for me and on a content level for the reader) workbooks on self-development themes I found helpful for each guest (my brother received the non-violent communication one…) that everyone seemed to appreciate. The meal was yummy and everyone seemed to enjoy it. My kids surely did.

    Being a HS introvert, it was hard for me to actually enjoy lunch while being so busy serving everyone, but I’m happy I did it anyway. And guess what? I’ve already decided I’m NOT going to be the one maintaining the lunch ritual next year. I don’t care who it’ll be. I just want to feel free to do it… or not. Just like I want to pass on offering gifts if it’s too stressful a prospect for me. Holidays on my terms (as much as possible) – that’s how I manage to avoid being too frustrated or disappointed.

    Happy New Year 2019! Let us dare to listen to our feelings and needs this year!

    Love from Lyon, France.

    • Brenda Knowles January 17, 2019 at 10:18 am - Reply

      Dear Anne-Liesse, I like how you are mindful of your energy and needs. You are good at putting your beliefs into action. I’m working on simplifying my contribution to the holiday festivities and asking for help where needed. I still believe it is necessary to take other’s feelings into consideration. For example, I think it’s really important to my children that we keep up certain traditions such as sharing appetizers together on Christmas Eve and hunting for the pickle ornament first thing Christmas morning. I also don’t want to push my personal ideals and agenda on everyone else. If my relatives love to give my kids presents, I let them. We all have to do what feels right for us and our families. Kudos to you for working through this to make it manageable and enjoyable.

  2. Kat December 14, 2018 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    I miss visiting you Brenda! That’s one!

    Two: Great advice! I agree with everything you said!

    My wonderful father in law, used this line twice, not once, during two separate family dinners this past summer ‘:) ..:)…you! Do you know who you remind me off in the bible?! Jezebel’! I had noooo idea who she was! He’s a Christian scholar! Then?! One day, I found out who she really was by accident! It crushed me! I thought my fatter in law actually liked and respected me!

    To make the story short, I have not spoken to my in-laws since June! However, being the good person I am! I will go out of my way, to keep the peace and the usual tradition, by going out with them to dinner on Christmas Eve! I will do it to keep my spouse and grown son happy! That’s the only reason.

    Thank you for a great post as always Brenda!

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