Singing The Holiday Blues

scrooge

 

It’s the most hateful time of the year.
With commercialism flowing
And family wars still agoing.
Few are of good cheer.
It’s the most miserable time of the year

Grim, isn’t it?  For many people it is sadly accurate. This can be seen as a very negative post. But, it points out how Christmas often isn’t a happy time for people.

Many people are kicked out of their families for a variety of reasons. I see this often with families of individuals who are LGBT. Their “lifestyle choice” is viewed as unacceptable.  At times, it’s religion.  People join a church or practice a spirituality that isn’t “correct.” They may have left a church or they are atheists Those on the “right path” disown the family members who aren’t who they are “supposed” to be. Those who are “unsaved” or “sinners.” There are other reasons why someone can not be welcome among family. Or  the families that are so dysfunctional that it’s nothing but fights or inebriation or both.

Then there are other situations that might result in people being separated. For example, there’s been a divorce.  Usually the parents take turns having the kids for Christmas.   Perhaps the parents have another partner.  But there is still the possibility of being alone.  The death of family, friends, or for the military members- fellow service members.  There is grief and the knowledge that you will not see this person again in this lifetime.  There’s a huge hole.  The holiday seems empty. There might be significant injury or illnesses where the holidays are spent in a hospital; either as a patient or waiting.

There are careers that separate families.  We all know about military members being deployed.  They’re also in an area of danger.  This adds anxiety to the mix.  Other service members may not be able to get home, even if they are not deployed.  I spent a Christmas alone in the barracks one year.  The special meals are a good try but they don’t fill a hole.  Other jobs also spread families over distances.

Let’s talk plain old commercialism. The commercialism starts before Halloween. This year I looked for Veterans Day decorations in late October/ early November. There were none. But, there were tons of Christmas stuff. Starting before Halloween. I bought Thanksgiving things. The week before Thanksgiving everything was gone. And the Christmas section expanded. Let’s not even start on Black Friday. It’s now more about spending money to buy decorations or gifts.  Often, there’s a “gift war” to come up with the best gifts for family members.  Sometimes people really can’t afford to buy gifts.  All of this adds to a false build up of expectations that will never be fully met.

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It’s also he time for the yearly “War on Christmas” to start. (Come on: Starbucks coffee cups upset them??) Christians are upset in part due to the secularism of Christmas as well as sharing with other religions.  It “belongs” to Christianity. However,  other religions also have holidays in December.  On the shortest night of the year Winter Solstice ( Yule) is celebrated by most Wiccans and some of the other pagan religions.  Judaism celebrated Hanukah.  Kawanzaa is celebrated.  Other holidays are observed.  And the atheists might celebrate the holidays in their own way.   Not all Christians are like this, of course.  Sadly, we are bombarded by the “War on Christmas” by media.  This stirs up contention.  Nothing like a good fight to celebrate a time of peace and understanding.  I have to admit that I was drawn into this battle this year.

The real war shouldn’t be about Christians who “owns” Christmas or having to say “Merry Christmas” rather than Happy Holidays.  Perhaps for Christians and non-Christians alike the battle should be over poverty, suffering, ending homelessness, feeding the hungry.  You know.  Acts of peace and charity to recognize the meaning, them being religious or otherwise. I don’t care how you celebrate the holiday but don’t claim it for your religion whatever it is.  Let’s just share.

With all the stressors of shopping, cooking, family visiting, and those other problems mentioned above, no wonder this can be a miserable time for many people.  Keep it simple and uncomplicated.  If you can’t be with family for whatever reason, celebrate with friends or chosen family.

Can anyone really say there was no let down during this time?  No feeling of just missing something?  A bit of emptiness?

I wish everyone a happy holiday season. May it be better than what I mentioned. Be well.  Find way to enjoy, even is it’s something small.

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On Guilt Continued

For some reason, WordPress “ate” the last half of my post yesterday.  The first half is located here: On Guilt.   Tonight continues my thoughts on guilt.

When discussing guilt, the concept of forgiveness of self and others is vital.  When seeking forgiveness for a wrong, it is not about the person who is apologizing.  Forgiveness is about the person who was harmed.  No one has the “right” to be forgiven.   It can be difficult to forgive if the violation was serious.  Righteous anger is hard to release.  When anger is held, even if it is for a good reason, it only harms the one carrying the anger.  It chains the individual to the past and to the hurt.   Forgiveness is allowing the Deity, or the universes, to handle the consequences faced by the offender.  This allows you to let go of the need to punish or worry about justice.  It frees you from the chains.   For years, I held onto rage and the need for revenge regarding someone who seriously harmed me.  I lost energy and joy in holding anger.  The offender probably never thought of me.  Yet, I thought of him every day.  When I finally realized that I had to let go, I decided to forgive him.  It was a process and I had to choose to forgive him many times. After forgiving him, I rarely think about him or what happened.  My life has room for more joy and I have more energy to spend doing other things.  I am no longer chained to him.  Forgiveness does not mean that what happened was “ok” and it does not require the relationship to continue.

Alcoholics anonymous focuses on recognizing  the harm addiction, and the behavior of the alcoholic, brought into relationships, work, etc.  The 12 Steps encourages the person in recovery to take a sincere inventory of himself/ herself and their behavior while using.  This is a vital part of recovery for several reasons.  It addresses guilt and it works to bring healing into what was damaged.  The individual also has to take accountability for his/her choices and actions.  The ninth step requires the individual to make amends for harmful actions, unless doing so would bring more harm to the situation.  A friend of mine was working his 9th step and ran into a problem.  He was not able to find everyone he needed to make amends to.  He wrote letters to these individuals, taking responsibility for what happened and asking forgiveness.  He then designed a ritual where he sought forgiveness of the Deity and asked for blessings and healing for those he harmed.  He completed his ninth step successfully.  In this example, self forgiveness was also important.

We often hold unto guilt from wrongs we committed in the past.  This is also counterproductive, as it slows, and can even prevent future growth.   Once the wrong was recognized and amends made if possible, guilt has no further purpose.   We are imperfect people and make mistakes and poor choices at times.  When we recognize this, we can learn and grow as a person.  However, if we hold onto guilt, we remain stuck.  Hopefully, one’s conscience will prevent the same choices in the future.

 

 

On Guilt

A few days ago, I discussed the emotion guilt with a friend.  In society, guilt is frequently seen as a “negative” emotion, including among mental health professionals.  This is a sad state of affairs, as guilt can have a life changing and growing effect on people.   The negative spin on guilt may be a result of not understanding its purpose or confusing it with shame.    Shame and guilt are often confused.

the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability.  2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

Shame, on the other hand is more visceral.  1. the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another;           2. susceptibility to this feeling; 3. disgrace; ignominy.; 4. a fact or circumstance bringing disgrace or regret.

Shame is much more powerful.  Perhaps shame grows from guilt.  At times, it may be an appropriate response if the action that causes it is particularly heinous, such as rape, murder, or theft of large sums of money.  However, other times, shame is a cancerous outgrowth of guilt and only serves to hold a person in place, judged and broken.

Guilt, on the other hand, deals with actions as well as emotions.  An individual either took action, or failed to take action, causing harm to another.  The harm can be emotional, physical, spiritual, or mental in nature.  The second definition holds the key to healthy, honest guilt, the words responsibility and regret.  In order to feel guilt, the person admits responsibility and regrets his/her actions.  This is a healthy sign of possessing a conscience and a connection to society.  How it becomes harmful, or unhealthy, is how an individual responds to guilt.

Guilt is healthy when the person is truly sorry for the harmful decision and is motivated to take accountability.  This decision should result in the desire to change future choices and not to repeat the same harmful behavior in the future.   What does it mean to be truly sorry?  It is regret for the harm caused by the action to another individual, society, etc.  It is not a self-directed concept, “I’m sorry I got caught and might be punished,” or even “I’m sorry I sinned.”  The latter is not a bad place to be, if your spirituality teaches the concept of sin and repentance.  But, feeling sorry for sin alone is not enough.  It is still only about that individual, not the harm that was caused to another.

Repentance is the action of turning away from sin and toward God, as defined by Christian teaching.  To me, it is more.  It is a turning away from harming self and/or others through actions, thoughts, and behaviors.  It is turning toward one’s higher self, and that connection to Deity,  in whatever form(s) the individual believes.  There is also a component of “balancing the scales” or “righting the wrong.”  The Wiccan Rede introduces the Three Fold Law, “Ever mind the Rule of Three.  What ye sends out comes back to thee.”   This is a serious concept.  It not only includes actions, but also emotions, thoughts, and energies.  In Wicca, actions have consequences.  At times, an individual may not recognize the Rule in action, but it still exists.  Guilt, for a spiritual person, is a call back to the higher concepts of spiritual living.  Balancing the scales can be done actively or passively.  Every action has a response.  Waiting for others, or the Universe, to respond to an action is being passive.  Most likely, the individual will continue to feel guilt, as he/she has not taken action to correct the situation.  Taking action allows the person to fully accept responsibility and bring some healing to the harm done.  For example, “Joe” steals $50 from a friend.  He later feels guilty.  Joe decides to return the money and apologize to his friend.  His friend is angry at Joe and tells him to leave.  In this example, Joe’s friendship was damaged by the theft.  However, the friend’s reaction is less important than Joe’s choice to return the money and apologize.  Although sorry, there is still a consequence to his prior action.  Hopefully, Joe learns that theft is not a healthy choice and makes a different decision in the future.  What makes accountability so hard in some situations is that piece of having to face consequences.  If the wrong was severe, they can be quite high.  But, one will not be free from guilt until admitting the wrong and taking responsibility.  It also leads to continued spiritual and personal growth, as one learns from mistakes and changes behavior.