You know the scene. It looks so warm and cozy and loving. The large, smiling family is gathered around an exquisitely laid-out table, brimming with beautifully prepared food. All of this is playing out against the backdrop of a roaring fire and holiday trimmings.
You’ve seen the same image portrayed in commercials, television specials and movies for years. But holiday scenarios like this are largely a myth and often generate a great deal of unhappiness during this time of the year.
Experts warn against the notion that without an idyllic holiday, there is something terribly wrong. In fact, millions of people are alone during the holidays, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.
It’s Just a Day
For many people who won’t be surrounded by family or loved ones during this time of year for a variety of reasons — recent separation or divorce, death, travel or simply because they live in different parts of the country — media portrayals can add to a sense of isolation.
“There’s so much hype for this wonderful time of togetherness,” said Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif., “that it accentuates the feeling of being alone and disconnected.”
“Many people try to make the holidays be more than what they are,” said Craig Ellison, Ph.D., author of “Saying Goodbye to Loneliness and Finding Intimacy.” “They invest in them heavily, thinking they’ll make up for the other 364 days of the year,” he said.
Some degree of loneliness is normal during the holidays or any time, says Ellison, director of the Alliance Graduate School of Counseling in Nyack, N.Y. Rodino adds that there’s nothing abnormal about having the “holiday blues,” which are more like a mood than any sort of lasting condition. Both agree, though, that indulging in self-pity only makes a person feel worse.
Many people don’t care for their relationships throughout the year, and then suddenly feel at a loss when the holidays roll around, according to Ellison. He suggests that relationships are not cemented during the holidays, nor is it realistic to expect that the season will result in spontaneous healing.
So, again, both experts urge their patients — and everyone — to have realistic expectations about the holidays. Rodino tells her patients “to put together a holiday experience that feels right to them.”
Ellison suggested, “Have a holiday where loneliness doesn’t dominate.”