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  • Coping with Holiday Grief: A Depth Psychotherapy Perspective

    In recent years a great deal has been written on the subject of coping with holiday grief. Much that has been written is sensitive and insightful. Yet, there are also a number of very important things that emerge if we view this topic from a Jungian depth psychotherapy perspective.

    Photo by Jakob Owens 

    The difficulties that individuals who are dealing with grief face during the Holiday period have been written about often and poignantly. Depending on the particular experience of loss that an individual may have, grief can have many faces.

    Almost needless to say, grief can be a particularly powerful experience during the Holiday season. This season at the end of the year, in our culture is profoundly shaped by connection with those we love and those closest to us. It can often be that some of the most important memories that we have of those whom we love are intimately connected with this season.

    How can those who have lost loved ones best cope with Holiday grief? Is it possible for them to find meaning and value in the Holiday season?

    The Necessity of Grieving 

    There is an arresting quotation from C.G. Jung

    Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.

    In this quote, Jung highlights the need to acknowledge the suffering and pain in our lives, and the need to approach it and experience it in a way that is compassionate to ourselves. This is essential to our mental health. There is nowhere this is more true that in our experience of grief and loss.

    When we experience loss, it’s essential that we acknowledge our grief, especially if the loss is a recent one. A person could choose a stance of denial toward their loss in the holiday season, and carry on in a “business as usual” manner with Holiday plans as they did prior, without acknowledgement of the reality of what has happened. But this lack of acknowledgement may mean that we pay a high price to our mental well-being, perhaps in the form of depression or anxiety.

    Yet the Holidays are a Reality

    One the other hand, as writer Sophia Dembling reminds us, we have to come to terms with the fact that the Holidays are a reality. As she puts it,

    Sure, I can refuse to decorate, to shop, to make any kind of merry. But I would still wake up on… Christmas morning and know that all that stuff is happening in homes all around me while I try to pretend it’s just another day.

    Wouldn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

    Somehow, in some manner, it may well be essential for us to acknowledge the reality of the Holidays, at the same time as we undergo the experience of grief.  Just how each person does this, and the manner in which they do it, may well be unique to them. 

    It may also be that the way in which people experiencing grief keep the Holidays is something that evolves over time, looking different with each Holiday season. Connections with other people in the grieving person’s life, and the nature of Holiday memories that connect us to those whom we’ve lost can be of great importance in this journey of grief and the Holidays.

    Coping with Holiday Grief: Finding Meaning

    A dimension of the experience of grief that Jungian depth psychotherapy particularly emphasizes is the question of finding meaning in our experience, including loss. This may seem like a very difficult thing, especially in the aftermath of the recent loss of a loved one.

    This ties in powerfully to the overall questions of where value or meaning are to be found in our lives. These issues may be deeply bound up with our religious or spiritual views, or our life philosophy. And it may be that, for at least some of us, the Holidays reflect our religious-spiritual-philosophical values and outlook.

    You may be dealing with a loss or with grief in this Holiday season, If so, I hope that this Holiday period will provide the opportunity for you to fully acknowledge your loss, to find a way to keep the Holidays that is appropriate for your needs, and to connect with and ground yourself in the sources of deepest meaning in your life. I hope that genuine engagement with yourself will lead to depth and reality.

    Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2023