If you enjoyed Thanksgiving, and if you enjoy the holidays with no problems every year (or almost every year), and if you don’t know anyone who struggles with the holidays, then this column is not for you. Look at a different page.
The first part of this article, in the last issue of Baltimore OUTloud, explained how to use thought techniques to decrease or completely get rid of the negative, depressing thoughts that trouble many people around the holidays. Most of these are self-critical thoughts. Once you identify these thoughts, you can see that they are not true and can stop them.
To use these techniques, it’s important to understand that there is a thought that leads to every feeling. Identifying the thought you had just before an unpleasant feeling is the key to stopping the thoughts and feelings that can drag us down so much. Most of these negative thoughts do not hold up to scrutiny and can be erased, out-argued or defeated.
Many people become anxious, overwhelmed, angry, and even seriously depressed at this time of year. For some people, upsetting and sometimes disabling feelings are triggered mainly by family. The triggering thought could be an in-person encounter with family members, a phone call, text, social media message or a Christmas card. It also could be a thought or a memory.
If you have trouble identifying thoughts that set off feelings, think in terms of what the thought might be. Just a few types of negative thoughts account for much of the distress caused by family interactions. These thoughts are criticisms of appearance, doubts about being lovable, and doubts about being competent or successful. Many negative thoughts include negative comparisons of yourself with others. For example:
• I am (or should be) ashamed of my appearance / my body. All my cousins are (thinner, taller, blonder) than me.
• I am unsuccessful compared to other people. I’m a loser. A failure.
• Everyone else is in a relationship, but no one wants me. No one ever will.
These thoughts can even stack up on each other, such as, “I’m so fat, old and ugly that I’ll never have a partner or get any recognition at work.”
Sometimes, you might be feeling fine, and it’s someone else’s comment, or what you think they may be thinking, that sets off your negative thoughts. Here are some examples.
• “My, you’re looking good. Did you get that at Lane Bryant? Large-size clothes are so much nicer now than when we were growing up, aren’t they?” This means, “You look well-dressed but fat, and when we were younger you were poorly dressed and fat.”
Neutral: “Yes, clothes are nicer now.” Then change the topic: “Do you think we’ll get much snow this winter?” Or
Responding in the spirit of their comment: “Yes, they are nicer. I see you’re still making do with Walmart fashions?”
• “So, you’re by yourself again this year?” This means, “Poor thing, just can’t get a date, can you?”
Neutral: “I do enjoy my own company.” Or
Sarcastic: “I thought about bringing one of my lovers, but I didn’t want to make the others jealous.” Or
Very direct: “I see you’ve brought that same guy again.”
• “You don’t need that [high calorie food!]”
Responses: “I didn’t know you’d gone back to school for a nutrition degree!” Or
“When I want your comments on my nutritional needs, I’ll ask you.”
“You’re still working at xxxx Company? No other offers, I guess?”
Neutral: “I prefer to stay where I am. I enjoy my job.” Or
Snarky: “Yes, and I’ve heard you’ve just changed jobs again. They never seem to keep you past a year, do they?”
If you would rather not respond to implied criticisms like those in these comments, you might do best to avoid the settings and people from whom you are likely to hear them. Do what will leave you feeling best. There is a reason why movie theaters are open on the holidays. The one thing we’re guaranteed is that the holidays will be over by January 2nd!