Using Your Resilience When the Holidays Threaten to Be Not So Happy

By Patricia O’Gorman, PhD,
author of: The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (HCI, 2013)

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It’s the holidays . . . so be happy

Isn’t that what all the songs, the stories, the TV specials tell us? Happy is even the first or second sentiment of all of the messages we receive on everything from our postage stamps to the music in elevators: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Eid Greetings, Happy New Year.

The message is clear—have fun. There is such hype about feeling good, giving gifts, and, of course, receiving gifts. But the happiness is all very idealized.

We see holiday perfection depicted over and over again wherever we look. Family gatherings are portrayed as loving; members are connected, respectful, and understanding. Meals looking delicious, and we can almost smell them through the pages of our favorite magazines. And we all want to enjoy those we love; but that’s not always how it works, particularly in some families—like my family of origin, and maybe yours.

. . . except for those other families

Yes, this is what we all want, but for some families, these times are less than happy. Family alcoholism, divorce, job loss, or death of a loved one all create stress that seems out-of-place during these idealized joyful times, making them somehow even more painful.

So what can you do? Yes, you can get super-stressed, very depressed, and just get through it. Or you can use your resilience to actually enjoy the holidays. In fact, the holidays can even help you develop conscious resilience, as they certainly give you enough adverse circumstances to bump up against! But you can make choices to do something about them.

What you can do . . .

1.  Actively love your inner child. You deserve no less.

  • Hold the hand of your inner child, the part of you that remembers and feels the memories and the feelings of the past.
  • Find time to be with this part of who you are, whether this means:
    • finding time to have a good cry, or
    • looking at those cute baby pictures and appreciate how that adorable child is still alive within you.

2.  Set helpful limits (for more information on this, read the second step in my newest book, The Resilient Woman) to actively care for yourself during this time:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Don’t overindulge with alcohol.
  • Allow yourself some treats, but don’t feel you need to jump into the dessert table with both hands, and God forbid, both feet.
  • Say “no” as a complete sentence when asked to do something that is not right for you.
  • Say “yes” to doing something you want to do, even if it is not part of your family tradition.

3.  Create new traditions that make more sense to the adult you are now:

  • Buy yourself a present instead of being stressed about not getting what you really want.
  • Take the pressure off. Tell yourself you don’t need to:
    • make the perfect meal, or
    • send out cards to everyone you know, or
    • have the perfect tree.
  • Get other family members involved:
    • ask family and friends to not bring alcohol to your family gathering, or
    • ask everyone to bring a dish instead of trying to make all the food yourself, or
    • decide when to spend quiet time with those you love, rather than feeling you need to say “yes” to all invitations.

What does this all add up to? Giving yourself permission to try some new behaviors by putting your resilience into action.

Challenge those girly thoughts that tell you to please others, and try to take care of yourself. Now that’s a real gift!

For more tips on dealing with the holidays if you come from a family that had those painful struggles (particularly over the holidays, like the tree being thrown out the window), listen to Dan and I speak about my book, 12 Steps to Self-Parenting on, a radio show for baby boomers …12.6 @ 3pm ET. To join our live conversation call — (724) 444-7444. Dial 59781# when asked for talk show ID. Or listen to it online.

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Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Albany, and Saranac Lake, New York, is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and funny presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations in preventative and clinical strategic planning including Lifescape Solutions in Delray Beach, Florida. Dr. O’Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from clinical director of a child welfare agency to interim director of a crime victims organization to director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Learn more at

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