Overcoming Holiday Shame

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Hannah was asked to guest post on I Am That Lady. The following is the article that recently appeared.

It’s that time of year again.

Time for the onslaught of perfect holiday decorations, perfect family portraits and perfectly wrapped gifts under the tree. And we can’t forget those Christmas newsletters – is it even possible for people’s lives to be that perfect?!

And you’re stuck with your failed Pinterest projects and tight budget; the knot in your stomach growing as Christmas nears.

It’s holiday shame: the feeling of inadequacy that haunts us in the midst of the season’s celebrations.

Yet, we try to do it all anyway. Despite financial strains, we host our traditional holiday party for the neighborhood, buy extravagant gifts we can’t afford for the kids, and splurge on decorations in hopes of looking as festive as the best of those carefully staged homes on Instagram.

Famed researcher on shame, Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”

Holidays are all about family, love and belonging, yet we try to appear to be what we think others want us to be to attain that love and belonging. We try to meet all those unspoken expectations of everyone around us, hiding the reality of our situations from those we want to impress, and even those we love.

We end up filled with holiday shame and find ourselves telling stories that make our situation seem acceptable to those we love, putting presents on credit cards because our kids shouldn’t be punished for our shortcomings and avoiding connecting with people, sometimes even in our own home. We hide our pain and struggles and tell ourselves it doesn’t hurt.

Why do we do this? Why all the smoke and mirrors?

Exposing our situation and ourselves is risky business. There is fear of rejection, fear that we will forever be labeled as that person. We’re afraid to be a disappointment to our friends and family and the last thing we want is their pity.

But with every risk, there’s the possibility of reward. What could possibly be worth that risk?

There is nothing greater at times like this than the joy and freedom of being loved exactly as you are. Honesty about our situations allows us to give what we can give. It lifts the weight of perfectionism and replaces it with freedom, a freedom that allows us to love ourselves, love others, and live life to the fullest. This in turn strengthens relationships and builds community.

In order overcome shame and allow ourselves to be loved, no matter what financial situation we’re in, it helps to be proactive. Here are some practical steps to help ease holiday shame.

Communicate Expectations

Oftentimes, what we are able to do this year is different than what we were able to do last year. Communicating directly with your family or children about what you are and are not able to do takes away the awkwardness of unexpected surprises during holiday celebrations.

Practically, this could be sending an email to your family saying that this year, instead of a traditional store-bought gift for the family exchange, you are giving homemade gifts. Or it could mean telling your children that instead of buying things, you will be sharing an experience.

This allows you to create boundaries from the onset, creating an environment that allows you to not spend through guilt or shame.

Share Your Story

Shame flourishes in secrecy and silence. As you begin to tell your story, shame begins to lose its potency. Your story is powerful and your story matters!

Regardless of how much money my clients have, the most common sentiment I hear is “am I normal?” So many people go through life thinking no one could ever understand their lives. You are not alone. Give people you are close to the opportunity to hear your story and give them the gift of listening to their stories. It truly is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Telling your story does not mean full disclosure to absolutely everyone. Use discretion and have healthy boundaries with who you are willing to share what with. However, I encourage you to push the boundaries with those you know who love you. I think you’ll find it’s worth it.

Have a Touchstone

A touchstone is something you have that reminds you why you are doing what you are doing. It’s a physical manifestation of something that’s important to you.

One of my touchstones is an envelope opener that sits on my desk. I was given this letter opener by a woman who believed that money and possessions are not the purpose of life. She exuded those values, and every time I use it, I think of her and who I aspire to be.

There will be times when giving in to the expectations of others would be so much easier than taking the hard route. Having something to physically touch will center you and remind you that you are trying to live intentionally, bringing you back to the purpose of it all.

Be Kind to Yourself

Lastly, be kind to yourself. We’re often our harshest critics. If we are to allow ourselves the freedom to be loved, we have to first be kind and love ourselves first.

Think of your closest friend. If they were to share a struggle or something that was close to their heart, how would you respond? Let that be the response you give yourself.

Letting yourself be seen and fully accepted by others is the greatest gift you can give yourself this Christmas. It is my deepest hope that you accept that gift this year.

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