A friend and I recently shared our experiences of decorating the Christmas tree this year. She shared how stressful it was. It was an ordeal to put the lights on the right way, yelling and blaming were involved. I know that scene all to well from my past experiences. The result: disappointed kids, a family who is not feeling the Christmas spirit and a lost chance for connection and creating happy memories.
For what? Why? Some will say- well we want the tree to look great and the house to look really good. OK, most people want that, it’s understandable. But I ask again, why all the fuss and anger and stress to put lights on a tree? When it’s done do you notice each and every last little light? Or do you notice the effect of light, brightness and joy coming from the corner of your living room where there used to be none?
To answer my question of why it matters, ask yourself: what does this mean or what does this mean about you? Is the Christmas tree (or gifts or clean house or cookies, etc.) a reflection of your worth? How can that be, it’s a tree? Does it have to be perfect for you to be happy, satisfied or OK- at your core? Many of us believe such things deep down, without even realizing it. What we realize is that our stomach gets in knots when things are not ‘right’ or we get really upset when the lights will not go on the tree the way we want them to!
OK, so it’s nice to have things look good or to make delicious cookies. But, it’s when the striving for perfection causes problems: sets you up for disappointment, creates tension or fights, or leaves you just always feeling like it’s not enough, that you are not enough, that it becomes a problem. How does it affect your relationships, or your ability to be present and enjoy the celebrations?
Chances are you have some assumption such as: If I do it all perfectly, then I will be happy or ok, but if not, then I cannot be satisfied. We all have such assumptions about ourselves. To help you see whether this thinking is helpful, ask yourself the advantages and disadvantages of this thinking. Is there another more balanced thought? How about: I like to do my best but if things are not perfect I am still ok and can enjoy my life. What would be the advantages of this thinking?
Another helpful exercise is to look at your values and what is most important to you. Is quality time with your family more important than the perfectly lit tree? How do you want to remember this holiday season? How do you want to feel? What do you want to teach your children about what you value?
I am happy to say I have broken the old family tradition of getting upset about Christmas lights. This year my kids put the lights on the tree all by themselves. Granted, they are in middle school, so they are quite capable. I value teaching them to work together, to problem solve and to try new things so that they develop a sense of self worth that is based on the confidence that they can do those things and not just on how perfect their finished product looks.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you figure out what your maladaptive assumptions are that really are driving your behavior and keeping you stuck in unhelpful patterns. My wish for you this holiday season is that you have moments of peace in which you know you are ok- deep down to your core.