Practicing Self-Kindness During the Holidays

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I know it’s cliche, but I’m going to say it anyway. Can you believe Christmas is only a week and a half away?! When did that happen? 

It’s funny how time works with big events. They can feel so far off - until suddenly they’re looming up in front of you. The busy-ness of the holiday can certainly contribute to that. With parties, family events, and seasonal activities filling your calendar, the big day can sneak up on you. In all the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to lose track of the day to day matters - like how you’re actually doing during this season.

Behind the scenes

I had an interesting experience this week. December 13 marked one year since my father passed away. I’ve known this day was coming and thought about it for quite some time. I took time off work to give myself time to be with any and all feelings that arose that day. All day, I did daily life and waited to see how I would feel.

Well, interestingly I felt pretty normal - right up until I noticed myself grabbing a pan of hot cookies straight out of the oven bare-handed! (I’m ok, no burns!) What on earth is going on with me? I wondered - until I realized, this was my grief parts showing up behind the scenes. The same parts made me need a nap in the middle of the day, although that is also partly due to being 8 months pregnant. And then they showed up again in the evening, as the exact hour from one year ago that I received the news of my dad’s passing approached.

Sometimes our unhealed or still-healing parts kind of sneak up on us from behind the scenes. Even knowing that that day would bring lots of feelings, I was caught by surprise at several points by emotions that surged up over seemingly minor triggers. And it’s literally my job to understand how these things work!

So today I’m going to focus on something beyond the usual “self-care during the holidays” tip lists that pop up all over this time of year. Self-care is an extremely important and valuable skill to practice, but today I want to talk about two slightly different terms: self-presence, and self-kindness.

What is Self-presence?

Have you ever had the experience of feeling disconnected to your present reality? Feeling like you’re floating through your day, or the things happening around you aren’t really touching you? Like you should be having a response to something, but you just aren’t?

We all space out sometimes. The clinical term for spacing out and losing connection to your presence is dissociation. At the milder end, it looks like checking out for a moment, or highway hypnosis - reaching your destination without any real memory of the stops, turns, and driving process to get there. On the very severe end, it can include a person fractured into multiple personalities, which is called Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder).

Dissociation is a very normal experience, for the most part. Highway hypnosis does not mean you have DID, and realizing you just missed part of a conversation because you drifted off doesn’t mean you are seriously mentally ill. Dissociation can, however, give you some good information about how your present is affecting you behind the scenes.

If you find yourself spacing out every time your coworker brings up family holidays, that might be an indicator that you’ve got some parts that are struggling to face the upcoming holidays with (or without) your family. If you attend a Christmas party and find yourself just smiling and nodding with no idea what the conversation is actually about, you might have parts that can’t allow you to be fully present. This is a good opportunity to be curious about what might be happening behind the scenes in your inner world.

See if you can hold space for any parts of you that are having a hard time. You can do this by carving out time to sit in a quiet, private space and inviting your overwhelmed, stressed, and struggling parts to be present with you and let you know what they need. And that leads to the next piece of this: self-kindness.

Isn't that just self-compassion, or self-care?

Self-kindness is inherently caring, and care comes from having compassion. I use this phrase to differentiate from the usual expectation of self-care, which is often along the lines of taking a bubble bath or going for a run to relieve stress. Those things are valuable and worthwhile, but I want to focus on a different dimension of caring for oneself today. Today we are talking about a mindset of kindness toward yourself.

Take some time to check in with yourself and get a sense of what parts are struggling with the present. Give yourself the gift of time in your own presence (haha, see what I did there?). When you sit down with your anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, or spaced out parts, I want you to look inside for kindness toward them. Kindness brings an attitude of welcome for these parts, which may get pushed to the backburner more often than not. Kindness says “I welcome and embrace these parts of me.” Kindness is an offer.

In order to practice self-kindness, you must have some self-compassion. Notice how you feel toward the parts of you that check out of a painful present, or that make you feel numb. Do you feel love and appreciation? Annoyance and irritation? Do you want them to stay forever and protect you from a cruel world? Do you wish they’d go away and never come back?

See if you can find some appreciation for your numbing or dissociating parts. They are trying to help you face a hard world. And see if you can also find some compassion and gentleness for your tender, raw, and vulnerable parts. All parts of you have value. And all parts of you do best when they can feel your care for them.

Ok, so how do you do that?

What does self-kindness actually look like, if not bubble baths or running stress away? This is the fun part - you get to experiment and find out! Perhaps part of you resents having family expectations at this time of year, and just wants to enjoy the pretty lights and festive decorations. Can you take that part of you on a tour of a beautifully decorated neighborhood? Or go visit a Christmas display?

Maybe part of you wants to just go ice skating and pretend there are no holidays. Can you take that part of you to a rink, get some hot chocolate, and glide (or flop, if you’re like me) your way across the ice without scolding yourself for wanting this? 

Maybe part of you wants to Grinch out and bah-humbug every Christmas caroler who passes by. Can you wrap that part in a cozy blanket, turn on Die Hard, and find your own Christmas tradition to enjoy?

Self-kindness is a practice. You build it by learning to listen to your own wants and needs, and giving yourself permission to follow them. So if you want to decorate, sing carols, and bake all the cookies - do it. If you want to stay home in your own quiet space and contemplate the year just past - do that. If you want to celebrate your childlike parts that love the snow, the lights, and bright wrapping paper, embrace it.

But make sure you wear oven mitts, because that’s just a good idea in general.

Happy holidays to those who celebrate, and warm thoughts to those who do not.