FOCUS ON FAMILY: Christmas is that time of year when we rediscover how well our extended family relationships are doing.
FOCUS ON FAMILY: Christmas is that time of year when we rediscover how well our extended family relationships are doing. Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Christmas accentuates family relationships

JINGLE bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way... Christmas! What happens for you when you hear that Christmas carol? Joy, excitement, connection, belonging? Are you salivating at the thought of rum balls? Or do you feel a sense of dread, loneliness, disconnection, anxiety, an emptiness that leaves you with no appetite for the festive season at all?

Christmas is that time of year when we rediscover how well our extended family relationships are doing. Throughout the year a workable distance can be created without too much attention raised, either through kilometres or by the busyness in our own lives.

However, as Christmas approaches and families need to discuss, organise and come together in celebration, unhealthy ways of relating that are hurtful and difficult can again be highlighted throughout the family. These family patterns or unfinished business can leave some families annually caught up in the same old unresolved patterns and attitudes. Christmas becomes stuck in the past.

These past emerging family patterns can often leave us feeling anxious, misunderstood and confused around Christmas time. Most of us push through in silence on Christmas day with the comforting thought that it is only for one day, whilst others use the time to air misgivings and hurt. Some unfortunately feel so hurt and stressed by family relationships they opt out of a family Christmas altogether, leaving a glaring hole in the festive season and inadvertently cause pain to themselves through isolation.

Christmas reveals itself to be essentially dependent on how healthy our family relationships are. Boundaries, tolerance and effective communication is key to healthy relationships. Celebrating together in the Christmas spirit of giving, receiving and sharing may be all we need to bridge the gap with our families and come away with a sense of belonging and connection.

For those who no longer attend Christmas day (even if it is for the best) or where conflict is the norm, Christmas day can reveal with overwhelming clarity a sense of loneliness and disconnection that is hard to ignore. This lack of belonging that may be hidden throughout the year is excruciatingly exposed on Christmas day. This day can evoke feelings of disconnection and loneliness,and may even produce feelings of shame such as, 'what is wrong with me?'

When I was younger, Christmas day was marked by disconnection due to my parents being divorced. Disconnection often gives rise to feelings of loneliness and not belonging.

Now, I am married with four children of my own and I endeavour to make Christmas day all about giving, receiving, sharing, belonging and connection. Not just on the day, but throughout the year.

My extended family still carry the scars of disconnection and loneliness and while in our midst there is an air of dysfunction, we do our best to function without hurting each other.

In the past I have often wanted my extended family to be closer, however as I mature I have learnt to make the best of what we have and accept our shortcomings.

Relationships, especially family relationships, are evolving and forever changing.

They are complex and require effective communication, boundaries and understanding to be healthy and happy. They take work. We all can feel vulnerable in our family relationships and an element of forgiveness and courage is required as we grow together, to stay together.

For some, Christmas is a time to rejoice.

For others, Christmas is a time to heal.

If you need support this Christmas due to family breakdown, disconnection or loneliness, please seek support. It is okay to ask for help.

Sarah Bergman can be contacted at sarah@counsellingonthe or visit www.counsellingonthecoast.

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