For the first time in my life this Thanksgiving will be spent at home with only my husband, our children, and me. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Nearly every year we have a house full of people. The cooking and preparation lasts for days, the morning of is filled with delicious smells, joyful anticipation, and the Macy's Day Parade on television is the soundtrack for the waiting until people arrive. Once they've arrived, the television sounds are replaced with laughter, loud talking, children and dogs playing, dishes and glasses clanging, stories of times long past, and the groans of delight when the meal is served, followed by groans of discomfort once all have eaten more than they should.
I feel immense gratitude for the decades of memories and traditions I have had the privilege of experiencing with my family, not only on Thanksgiving, but this holiday holds particular meaning for me. This year we will not be celebrating together with parents, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings. This year COVID has joined the world and we cannot safely be together. I will be grateful to spend the day with my husband and our children and catch-up with loved ones via technology, but it will not be the same. Yet, I know that many people will be celebrating Thanksgiving in various forms and I wanted to share a little love and insight.
Last week I hosted a Facebook live dedicated to Self-Compassion Theory, which was developed by psychologist Kristin Neff. In particular, I talked about the "Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion" and I feel as if the elements of this concept may be helpful in addressing certain situations that arise in the coming week. As you may know, I have been addressing Self-compassion in my work for years now and I know that when we are able to establish a more compassionate relationship with ourselves we become gentler and more patient with others. This is a positive thing for our general well-being and inner peace. I'm going to break down the aforementioned Yin/Yang elements specifically for situations you may find yourself in during this holiday week.
Self-compassion theory is comprised of three basic elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness of suffering. These elements encourage us to provide comfort and soothing when we are struggling (self-kindness); to recognize that pain is a part of life and that all humans share this experience (common humanity); and that we can practice mindful awareness of our difficult emotions, allowing ourselves to feel them without judgement (mindfulness of suffering) (Neff, 2016).
Yin self-compassion, refers to the more traditional forms of what we have come to call "self-care." Yin is also considered the "feminine" energy and is comprised of acts of comfort, soothing, and validation. During Thanksgiving you may feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, lonely, or short-tempered. These are moments when you may need to practice being with yourself. During these times ask yourself these questions:
Comforting: "What can I do to take care of my emotional needs?"
Ex. Journal your feelings and say everything there that you'd like to say out loud (unless you have an awesome partner, sibling, cousin, or friend to vent with and find humor. Set a timer for the bitch session and try not to get stuck in a hole of resentment and anger).
Soothing: "What can I do to make myself physically calmer?"
Ex. Take a bath, a walk, sit outside for a few minutes, or practice aromatherapy.
Validating: "What can I say to myself to validate my own feelings?
Ex. Dear Self, You are allowed to feel however you feel no matter what day of the year it is. This emotion has value. Allow it without responding to it or judging it. Take a deep breath. Like all other feelings it will pass. (More about this in the next section).
Holidays can be wonderful and it is always positive to try and find gratitude in each day or experience no matter how stressful or challenging. There are times when we face people, relationships, or circumstances that require making change of some kind in order for us to best care for ourselves. This action-focused approach is considered the Yang Self-Compassion, the "male" energy associated with doing. So once you've validated your feelings and calmed yourself using the above techniques, it may then be time to reflect further on the feelings, their causes, and what level of pain you are experiencing. This may be where you have to choose to address ongoing problems and demand a change. In response to the emotions or realizations that may arise this week consider these aspects, ask yourself the questions, then consider answers that fit your situation:
Protecting: "What can I do to stop others that are hurting me or stop the harm I inflict on myself?"
Exs. 1. Spending the holidays without certain people. 2. Agreeing in advance what topics are safe for discussion among guests. 3. Making different choices around food, alcohol, shopping, or other things that cause you to harm yourself.
Providing: "What can I do to give myself what I need?"
Exs. 1. Ask for help if you're hosting and it feels like more than you can manage, even if it scares you. 2. Set boundaries and limits for yourself around what you need to enjoy the holiday (e.g. How long to stay. How far to travel. Who you will interact with. What you will talk about.). 3. Spend as much time as possible (either virtually or in-person) with the people who make you feel joy.
Motivating: "How can I motivate myself with kindness, support, and understanding, rather than criticism?"
Exs. Tell yourself "When I set healthy boundaries, I am happier, stronger, and able to give out of love, rather than fear or obligation. Anyone that wants me to act out of fear or obligation against my best interest is not the best person for me to spend my time with."
This has been a painful and confusing year. We have been through a lot. We have learned a lot too. You deserve to have a joyful, relaxing, and gratitude filled Thanksgiving. Be kind to yourself this week. Also, remember that everyone else is experiencing the fear and hurt of 2020 and not everyone knows how to center themselves or practice loving kindness. Be safe, have patience, and remember that it's not your job to stay quiet to make other people comfortable. Happy Thanksgiving.
Neff, K. (2016). Self-compassion. Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing, 37, 1-8.
Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. New York: Guilford Publications.