The Holiday Season, Belonging & Family Stress
The holiday season activates a great deal of family stress for many individuals, especially around the issue of belonging.
Humans are a social species, and we have a fundamental need to not be isolated, to be “part of” important social groups. But holidays can emphasize peoples’ experience of isolation, family stress and of not belonging.
The Holiday Season Spotlight
The holidays emphasize and re-emphasize the issue of belonging. We anticipate that the holidays will be a time of special connection with family and friends. Yet for many, finding that sense of belonging, especially relative to family, can be a difficult, sensitive matter.
The holidays flood us with images of family togetherness — families frolicking in the snow, gathered around a turkey dinner, opening gifts under the Christmas tree. These images clearly resonate with something deep within us, as advertisers well know.
But, for very many people, these images bring up the question, “Where do I really belong?”
The Roots of Family
There are deep instinctual foundations that all these images of holiday togetherness touch upon. It is deeply and widely enough shared that Jungians speak of the existence of certain family archetypes.
Jung makes some very clear pronouncements about the psychological importance of the archetypes associated with family:
How is it then, you may ask, with the most ordinary everyday events, with immediate realities like husband, wife , father, mother, child? These ordinary everyday facts, which are eternally repeated, create the mightiest archetypes of all. The deposit of mankind’s whole ancestral experience–so rich in emotional imagery… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles… in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic powers.
There is a part of us deep within the psyche that knows what it is that we want from family members, and how it is that we want to be valued and loved. We also know, in a very deep way, when that love is not received in the way that we need it.
Family Stress and the Need to Belong
For many at the holidays, there is an awareness that family and others are not giving us the sense of belonging that we need, and this is a painful contributor to family stress.
Perhaps the individual has had a life long awareness that he or she cannot receive what is needed from father or mother or family. Perhaps this awareness has only grown as a part of adult experience. It may also be that distance, or other factors such as physical or mental illness or family conflict have brought such awareness to the fore.
As the prominent evolutionary psychiatrists Anthony Stevens and John Price remind us, “loss of an attachment figure is associated with grief, despair, depression, and ultimately detachment.”
For many, an open acknowledgement and working through of the grief process around the loss of real or perceived family attachment and belonging can be essential to allow movement into the rest of an individual’s life. A person may well need to free him- of herself from the ghost of family Christmases past and related family stress to a new sense of belonging with friends and other loved ones who accept and value them on a soul level.
Authenticity and Real Belonging
Individual case studies may relieve family stress by assisting in the full realization of where one does belong, and with whom. Above all, it rests on the understanding that the individual most fundamentally belongs to him- or herself, and has the fundamental right to live out his or her own destiny.