The holidays are here and I have no idea what to get my husband for Christmas. It doesn’t help that he tends to go shopping for himself right before Christmas, his birthday and father’s day which limits my choices and is the source of mild frustration. As a matter of fact, he just walked in from the mall with the very thing I was considering getting for him. Arghhh!
If you’re at all like me and hate crowded malls and sometimes agonize to find the perfect gifts for family and friends, then maybe you can sympathize. Today as I sat scouring the internet for gift ideas, the thought occurred to me that perhaps others are really struggling with this time-honored tradition of gift giving and receiving at this time of year. Or maybe some of you are worried that you will not receive the gift you are hoping for and have trouble trusting and waiting.
Gift giving and receiving, particularly during the holidays, can bring joy but can also be stressful. For some, the mere thought of what to buy someone can trigger anxiety, guilt, or even fear. For others, not getting a desired gift can lead to disappointment, anger, blame and arguments. On the flip side, sometimes being showered with gifts can trigger feelings of unworthiness and lead to shaming behaviors. Financial issues can add an additional layer of stress and shame to what is termed to be “The most wonderful time of the year.” So why all this tension and stress around something seemingly simple that can bring so much cheer? And what can be done to alleviate it?
Looking through the lens of the Restoration Therapy model, these distressful feelings can often be traced to our childhood. Did someone reject an expression of our love or violate our trust in our formative years? For me, I remember dreading participation in gift exchanges in elementary school. My family did not have a lot of money when I was growing up and there were times when the gifts I offered at school were ridiculed by peers. There were other times I spent more than I could afford and was disappointed with what I received. These experiences caused me to second guess myself and question the safety of gift giving in relationships. As a result, I learned to cope with feelings of inadequacy by shaming myself through unnecessary apologies and being negative. I internalized the sensed rejection of my gift or the unequal reciprocation to mean something was wrong with me. As an adult, sometimes when faced with gift giving or receiving I tend to experience the same dysregulating feelings of inadequacy and enact the same negative coping behaviors. This usually results in “perceived” criticism from others (i.e. “You shouldn’t have.”) which only feeds more into my feelings of inadequacy. In restoration therapy this pattern is referred to as a pain cycle. When we experience a violation of love or trust we create meaning about our identity and/or safety. This meaning we create drives our actions and influences how we cope. The way others respond to our actions feeds back into our painful feelings. So in essence it’s never about the gifts but what they represent to us based on our past pain. It’s about the meaning we attach to them and thoughts we create about ourselves. The good news is we can also create new thoughts and feelings to break the pain cycle.
A good place to start is by gifting yourself with love and compassion, recognizing your cycle of pain and practicing what Professor Terry Hargrave calls your peace cycle. This is done by following these 4 simple steps:
- Say what you feel…I feel unworthy
- Say what you tend to do when you feel that way…When I feel unworthy I shame myself by being overly negative and apologetic
- Say your truth…The truth is I am worthy of love & acceptance and I love & accept myself
- Say what you will do differently…Therefore I will give freely with joy without apology and accept gifts with gratitude
Although I’m still not sure what I will get my husband for Christmas, I am certain that as I practice my peace cycle my emotions calm and I’m reminded that the greatest gift is love. Love keeps on giving and for this I am forever grateful.
May you experience peace as you choose to give and receive the gift of love to yourself and others this holiday season and always.
Latest posts by Lisa Locke (see all)
- 5 STEPS to Resolving Marital Conflict - August 11, 2017
- 7 Things You Should Know Before You Get Married - July 15, 2017
- “If it bleeds it leads”–but may also lead toSecondary Traumatic Stress for Individuals and Families - June 23, 2017