I am endeavouring to stay away from the computer a bit over the holidays. To be honest, I am a bit of a workaholic and have to set limits for myself. Don’t misunderstand – I don’t think working so much is a problem, really. I love what I do! I have counselling books all over the place. I have multiple books on the go at any one time. I don’t think of counselling or other therapeutic efforts as work, and therein is the problem. So, I attempt to get away, from time to time.
One thing that has been on my mind is those of you suffering with loneliness. I have been there! Why is loneliness at Christmas and New Year more of an issue for many people than loneliness the rest of the year? It is more than just being alone. What is it? While the answer will vary to some degree from person to person, possibilities might include:
Christmas can remind us of those we have lost. Family members, whānau and friends who are no longer with us can be acutely felt during the holidays. Because the holidays are promoted as time with loved ones, our losses can be strongly felt, especially as the coming year is often a time for personal reflection. Those who are surrounded by current whānau can share the loss together. Those who are alone at Christmas have this grief to bear on their own.
We have all disappointed ourselves and those we love, at some time or another. Having holidays that focus on family naturally make us think of those we love, especially when they are not near. Our minds can begin to race with “what ifs” and “what might have been”. This can add feelings of guilt to the loss and loneliness.
Western societies promote a specific sort of family – largely a nuclear family. Those of us who have decided on a different sort of family (or have had this decision thrust upon us) can feel shame and depression that our reality doesn’t match some ideal. This is a cause of much suffering. In Buddhism, this mismatch between what we imagine life to be and what actually exists is viewed as a large cause of suffering and my experience working with others (and in my own life) supports this view. People often suffer more over the loss of the ideal, than from those things that change in their lives when a partner willingly leaves (for example).
What can be done? Being around others might help with the loneliness itself. When I have had feelings of loneliness and loss over the holidays, I have found volunteering to help my moods (and it helps others). For those other feelings, options can include bibliotherapy (reading about the causes and possible ways to deal with them), discussing these feelings with others who have experienced the same, or perhaps seeking therapeutic help.
Loneliness compounded with other pain can make things seem unbearable. You are not alone!