Even though the Holidays are supposed to be . . . well . . . the Holidays, many of us struggle to get through them with our mental health intact. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are supposed to be joyous, need-fulfilling occasions, right? So what’s with the pain and dysfunction?
The Holidays can be joyous and warm and need-fulfilling, however they can also accentuate things that are emotionally or physically painful for us. For instance –
+ the loss of loved ones is more keenly felt;
+ family estrangements show up in stark relief;
+ dysfunctional behavior often comes out during family reunions;
+ we sense our own aloneness more;
+ illnesses and physical disabilities tempt us toward deeper discouragement; and
+ we experience financial stress from pressure to buy presents or travel.
Like a superhero, choice theory can help us stay in the driver’s seat when it comes to our thinking and our emotions. Consider some of the superpower elements of choice theory –
+ We can directly control our thinking.
Amazing, really! Choice theorists learn to recognize when negative or destructive thoughts intrude on their consciousness and choose to reject them and to think about something that is happier and more productive.
It is Christmas eve morning and Jill feels weighed down emotionally. After waking up she lies in bed and just gets sadder and sadder over the passing of her mother nine months earlier. She started having thoughts of staying in bed, and maybe even not going to the party that evening that she had been looking forward to. The thought flitted across her mind that she was starting her own pity party right then for some reason and she decided to nip it in the bud. “I do miss my mother terribly, but staying in bed and feeling bad about it isn’t going to help. I’ve got stuff to do today and I want to go the party tonight.” She swings her legs out from under the covers and puts her feet on the floor, ready to take one step at a time. “Hmm . . . should I get in the shower or start the coffee?”
+ We set the thermostat for our personal lives.
We place very specific pictures in the quality world photo albums in our heads and then we try to make those pictures come to life. One of the premier superpowers of choice theory is recognizing the importance of these pictures and then being able to manage them well. The photo album is very much like a thermostat in that in both cases we intentionally and strategically set the course of our lives.
Geoff really doesn’t want to put up Christmas lights on the house. He usually does it by himself, it’s cold, and it takes a lot of time. As a result he comes up with a lot of reasons not to put up the lights – “I don’t even know where the lights are stored” or “I am really jammed for time this year” or “I don’t want to put lights up when so many people are hurting in the world.” Monica, his wife, really likes it when the house has Christmas lights and she comes up with reasons to make that happen – “the lights are in the garage” and “we’ll be the only house without lights” and “it means so much to the kids.” They remained entrenched in their QW pictures until Geoff pointed out that he felt overwhelmed adding Christmas lights to his To Do List and Monica responded that she understood and offered to help him with the project. They actually had fun together getting it done.
+ Our feelings do not need to control us.
Feelings, be they helpful or not, are a part of our total behavior. They are aligned with our thinking and our actions, both of which are under our direct control. We may not have direct control over our feelings, but we have a great deal of control over our behavior. Our feelings can’t hijack our happiness unless we give them that power.
Carl does not want to go to his family reunion. As far as he is concerned his sisters are jerks who manipulate their parents into all kinds of bad decisions. He gets angry whenever he thinks about it. Choice theory could help Carl learn the difference between the Caring and the Deadly Habits. Instead of his feelings automatically taking him to blaming, complaining, and punishing, he could learn to accept his loved ones, flaws and all, truly listen to them, and try to negotiate with them without disconnecting.
Other choice theory superpowers include –
+ Recognizing that our personal view of reality is just that, our personal view, our interpretation of the facts as we see them.
+ Understanding that, to a very great degree, we create our reality.
+ Breaking the chains of victimhood and taking responsibility for our thinking and our behavior.
The Holidays are a special time of year that tends to intensify our emotions and our thinking. If ever there is a time of year in which choice theory is needed to help us navigate our circumstances, the Holidays are the time.
Here’s to our mental health for 2015!
The Glasser biography is easy (and cheaper, too, at just $10) to get for your iPad or Kindle by going to the following link –