Holidays bring us in contact with people we don't normally see and expose us to announcements, life events and celebrations. This can be very painful if we're struggling with our own feelings - perhaps grief, a challenging relationship, loss of a job, a child going through a hard time, etc. We often feel confused and polarized into "either/or": I'm either happy for you or I'm sad, I'm either a good person who feels joy for others or I'm a selfish person who only feels my sadness. The truth is we often feel both - happy for the other person's joy and sad about our own pain.
The word "and" allows us to be healthy humans who feel more than one emotion at a time.
Creating a statement (to use aloud, or to say silently to ourselves) can help.
- I'm happy to learn about your engagement, and I'm struggling with my own recent break up.
- Congratulations on your promotion, I'm happy for you, and I'm having a really hard time with my own unemployment.
- I'm happy for you that your parents' are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and I'm deeply grieving another holiday season without my mom/dad, etc.
- It's wonderful that you're expecting a baby - I'm happy for you, and I'm sad that I'm still trying to have a baby.
- Congratulations on your child getting into a wonderful college, I'm happy for him/her, and I'm very worried that my own child is struggling so much.
It's important to remember that our own pain does not mean we resent the happiness of others, and it's equally important to remember that we are allowed to feel and express our pain - doing so does not take away from the joy of others.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, you can choose to share out loud that you're feeling complex emotions, or you can acknowledge it silently to yourself - this will give you permission to have joy for others while also having your own grief/pain without self-judgement.
Click here for more ways to cope with stress during the holiday season.