Blog Post 149
8th December 2016
Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: So here it is, Christmas madness…
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016
So, Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat – (and the marketeers are hoping to make a killing in our mad rush to get the best gifts for our loved ones, and the best booze, cake and other unhealthy foods for ourselves!)
Of course, I am not opposed to moderate celebration of the Christmas/Winter/Yuletide/Hanukkah celebration, religious or secular. Indeed, I will enjoy my own moderate celebration in my own way.
However: I dislike the cynical way in which commercial interests hook into the escapist tendencies of many humans, who, year after year, are persuaded that “…this time, this will be the magical turning point of your life. All your problems will be resolved this Christmas – if you only buy this, drink that, and go here, there and everywhere”.
The mass psychosis of “Christmas fun” is beginning to swing into full gear. All memories of last year’s “Christmas suffering” have been swept under the carpet. “This time it will be perfect”, say the fantasists. “This time it will be magic. This time, all my problems will be dissolved by the Christmas magic”. These are the non-conscious delusions that drive the Christmas madness.
Expectations are being cranked up to unachievable heights. Disappointment will, predictably, follow for those people who are duped by the hype. To protect ourselves from upsets and disappointments, It is important to keep our expectations in line with reality. In that way, our disappointments are likely to be less frequent and less severe.
But disappointments will come to us over Christmas, no matter who we are; and when they do, we can either get overly-upset about them, or we can learn to ‘reframe’ them, so they don’t look too unbearable.
Delusional frames and hyped expectations
As we enter the Christmas holiday period, many people will be (non-consciously) looking through one or more of these delusional frames: “It’s going to be great when (X) happens!” “It’s going to be wonderful going to the (Y) event!” “It’s going to be wonderful when (person’s name) turns up – which I’m sure they will – even though they said they might not be able!” And so on.
These ways of ‘framing’ your expectations are almost certainly going to lead to some disappointments, and often huge disappointments.
One way to clarify the concept of frames and framing of experiences is to revisit a problem I was addressing several years back, at Christmas time. My concern was that many people would disturb themselves over Christmas, because (1) somebody had not come to visit them; and/or (2) because they did not get the present they desired; and/or (3) because they could not afford to give impressive presents to their loved ones. Or – the “really big, horrible one” – (4) because they were “alone” at Christmas. And on and on. So this is how I addressed that problem:
The first thing I decided to do was to teach people the Mind Hut model. It begins like this:
The Mind Hut model of E-CENT counselling
Imagine you are standing outside a garden shed – the Mind Hut – on a piece of lawn. You are looking at some upset about Christmas – either in the run-up to the holiday, or during the festivities, or after it’s all over. You think you are looking out through your eyes at “the reality”; “the truth”; but in fact you are looking through a non-conscious ‘filter’, ‘lens’, or ‘interpreting frame’. So your upset about Christmas is really a distorted interpretation; but you cannot see that, because you, like all humans, mistake your interpretations for “reality”.
The windows in the Mind Hut
So now, come with me into the Mind Hut, and let me walk you, one by one, through the six windows, or frames, through which you had better learn to view your upset.
The Mind Hut has six windows, one in each wall, plus two in the sloping roof: one on each side. Each window frame has a ‘view of life’ written around it. Each view of life is like a slogan which claims to be true. Here are the slogans from the six windows:
Window No.1 has a frame that says: Life is pretty difficult and frustrating for all people much of the time.
(It does not matter how wealthy or famous a person becomes, they still suffer; indeed wealthy and famous people may often suffer even more than most!)
Take a look through Window No.1 at your Christmas problem of unhappiness – imagining that your problem (or a representation of your problem) is just outside – and recognise that it is happening in the context that life is pretty difficult and frustrating for all humans much of the time.
Does that make your problems seem any smaller? Any less distressing? (Normally it will! If it does not, then you are most likely looking at this window frame through another (non-conscious) frame that says: ‘Life should not be this way!’ But this window frame is telling you the truth – (life really is difficult for humans, because we are humans); and your ‘should’ is completely unreasonable, unrealistic, and ultimately unachievable!)
Indeed, all of us do suffer somewhat, much of the time. And this applies whether it is “Christmas time” or not. “Christmas time” is a “cultural creation”, after all, which mainly has commercial drivers these days. (And consider this: In December 1978, in the days before 24th and 25th, I was living in Bangkok. I was eating crabs legs – or was it frogs’ legs? – and drinking Chinese beer. I was looking forward to Chinese New Year. It was not Christmas there! “Christmas” is a social construct! It is no more “real” than “Micky Mouse” or “the Tooth Fairy”! Can you “feel it in your bones” when Chinese New Year arrives, or is arriving? No? Well in Bangkok the locals can! Because they have been trained to think and feel that way).
If you realise that it is perfectly possible to suffer at “Christmas time”, just as it is at any other time of year, then what is so wrong with the fact that you are suffering (somewhat) “this Christmas time”? Why must it not be happening, if it is? Since all people suffer somewhat much of the time, why exactly must you not be suffering somewhat this Christmas? It would be nice if it could be different, but is there a law of the universe that says you must get what is nice? (Clue: No!)
Window No.2 has a frame with this slogan: Life is without difficulty provided you give up picking and choosing.
In other words, if you look out through Window 2 at your problem (or a mental representation of your problem), and you feel there is any difficulty involved here, then you need to know that this is because you are picking and choosing how it should be! If you give up choosing that it be the way you would like it to be, does it seem any better? (Normally it will!)
If you are seriously emotionally upset because you did not like the present you got, you are (non-consciously) choosing (or electing) to have got a different problem; or at least to not have got ‘than one’!) You are (non-consciously) choosing (or electing) to have got a different present – the one you did not get. Is that sensible?
If you are upset because you ended up in the company of somebody other than the person you would have preferred, aren’t you (non-consciously, automatically) choosing (or electing) to have been with the one you were not with? Aren’t you (non-consciously) choosing (or desiring) that it be Sunday on Monday, or evening time in the morning! Aren’t you non-verbally and non-consciously implying: “What is happening should not be happening; and what is not happening definitely should be!”?
And if are seriously emotionally upset that you could not afford to buy the presents you would like to have bought, aren’t you really non-consciously and non-verbally implying that: “I live in this reality, but I should be living in another reality”. How realistic is that?
To be really kind and accepting towards yourself, I would encourage you to think of this coping statement:
‘If this is the way things are this Christmas, then this is the way things are this Christmas’. (This is a form of realistic acceptance of the unalterable aspects of reality!)
Or try this coping statement:
‘It’s tough stuff that my life happens to be the way it happens to be!’ (This is an implicit acceptance that the situation is tough, but not 100% tough. It is tolerable! Not the worst thing imaginable).
Try these phrases out, and see if it helps you to feel better. (It normally will! But you might have to repeat them many times, day after day, until you get your strong negative emotions under control.)
Window No.3 has this slogan: Life is both difficult and non-difficult.
When you look out through this window at (your imaginary representation of) your Christmas problem, do you notice anything? Where in this vista are the non-difficult bits of your Christmas? Isn’t it the case that you have filtered them out of the picture?
In other words: although your single-pointed angle of orientation towards your problem makes it look as if the world is “all bad”, there are lots of really good things about your life right now that you are filtering out of your awareness. Choose to see the balance in your life, or choose to moan and groan about your distorted perception of your life. But know this: It is you who is choosing your angle of orientation; especially now I have woken you up!
Another useful technique
Try “negative visualisation”. This is a Stoic technique which involves imagining all of your current ‘possessions’, things and people alike, have been taken from you, including your own health, wealth and sustenance.
Eventually life will take everything from us, in death. So think of all the things you will lose in the future which you are actually able to enjoy today. Normally you do not even notice these ‘blessings’, because of a psychological phenomenon called ‘hedonic adjustment’, whereby, once we have something that we once valued getting, we now downgrade its significance to us, and we ask the world/life: “What else ya got for me?” And then we feel bad if there is not much ‘new stuff’ (or ‘special stuff’) coming our way! Negative visualisation is a way to wake up to all the ‘goodies’ we have in our lives, and to enjoy them now.
Gratitude list: Try to think of three things you can be grateful for, in the midst of your disappointment! Write them down, and go over them many times, to remind yourself to be grateful for your blessings; and to enjoy what you have, right now.
Suppose you burned the turkey; the person you were hoping would turn up for the festivities decided not to come; you got crummy presents; and somebody did not like the present you gave to them. So what? Were there any good moments? Did you eat anything that was nice? Did you drink anything you appreciated? Did you have any little conversation with anybody that was positive? Did you meet, or notice, anybody who was worse off than yourself. (We worry about the quality and quantity of our shoes until we meet somebody who has no feet!) Make a list of the things you can appreciate about this Christmas (including the fact that you have feet and can walk around in the world! Or that you have a wheelchair and can wheel yourself around in the world. Or that the pain has subsided again, for a while!), and then go over it many times until you overbalance your pessimistic ‘frame’ of mind.
…End of extract.
Perhaps you have always been very sane about Christmas and the other major holidays. In which case, you will be fine. If not: Has this blog post changed your views in any way? If so, you might want to find out more. These are really valuable insights which can save you massive amounts of emotional and psychological energy! And there’s more…
Although this is the end of this extract from my 32 page pamphlet – How to Have a Happy Christmas – Despite the disappointments and frustrations of life – there is more to learn.
You can find Windows 4, 5 and 6 – which are really helpful – in the pages of that pamphlet, which is available here: Happy Christmas Secrets – the pamphlet!***
There is also a good introduction to the psychology of human perception in this pamphlet, which clarifies how we very often misperceive our social situations through false interpretations. You will come to understand better how you are framing your life, and how to re-frame it so that it shows up as much more manageable and must less emotionally distressing.
And the pamphlet ends with a case illustration of how I used this model with a woman called Rita, and what she learned as a result.
The Happy Christmas Secrets pamphlet is available here: Happy Christmas Secrets – the pamphlet!***
Best wishes for a moderately nice Christmas and a realistically peaceful New Year. (And please remember to keep your expectations in line with reality!)
Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services