Individual Psychotherapy & Holiday Stress: Gifts
This is the season of holiday gifts, and, as individual case studies well knows, gift-giving is often a major source of holiday stress.
Does gift-giving create holiday stress for you? Well if so, you’re in good company. Anthropology tells us that gift-giving is a near-universal practice through the history of human cultures.
Gifts are Intensely Personal
Gift-giving — and especially gift exchanges — are immensely significant. In cultures like the ancient Polynesian or the Haida First Nation, with its potlatch ceremonies, gift giving is tied up with maintaining and strengthening social bonds, maintaining social status — and it even has huge spiritual implications.
So this year, when you’re trying to decide what to get Uncle Fred, don’t be surprised to feel emotional complications and perhaps holiday stress surrounding the giving of gifts. The anthropologist Marcel Mauss defines a gift as
As individual case studies shows, gift-giving is both personal and archetypal. Among the Polynesians, or Haida, or even when considering the origin of Christmas gifts, the objects being exchanged don’t just have a monetary or physical value, but embody
a spiritual reality. As Mauss says of Maori gift giving,”one clearly and logically realizes that one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept a gift from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul“.
Gifts are Archetypal
Gifts may seem like pretty mundane things, but they actually carry a significance so deep that it can properly be called archetypal. Often in human culture, there is a higher spiritual agenda in gift-giving, and a deep feeling that the gift must be appropriate to the essence of the receiver, to who they really are. The gift is an honouring and acknowledgement of who the receiver of the gift is, in their individual reality.
Our Gift Compulsion
The experience of individual case studies shows that our culture is confused and conflicted about the meaning of gifts, in no small part because we are conflicted about the meaning of individual human existence. In a culture in spiritual crisis, the meaning of human life is the acquisition of ever more expensive and splendid “stuff”, and not surprisingly, the meaning of gift-giving degenerates into ever-increasing pressure towards continually “bigger and better” gifts.
Our Need for Gift
The gifts that we and others need are not the most expensive or most luxurious, but the gifts that honour our true nature and substance. To give such gifts, the giver must see who we really are. Such a gift would bring us back to our souls, to self acceptance, and would connect us in profound ways with the giver.
What is the gift that you need, at this holiday season? And, just as importantly, what gift do you need to give? In its own way, individual case studies at its best is profoundly concerned with these questions.