Tag Archives: guilt

Bah Humbug Deux

Most of us here at misterio are running around like crazy, doing last minute tasks required to launch new books before Christmas. So I thought this would be a good time to re-run a post from last year. It’s about how to cope with the holidays if you are a bah humbug person who really doesn’t like Christmas.

I hate to say it since I love the holiday myself, but Christmas is not for everyone. Some people just barely tolerate it, some flat out hate it and some find it incredibly depressing. And the fact that everybody else is so gleefully looking forward to it just makes their lack of pleasure in it that much more pronounced.

Is blue your favorite color for Christmas lights?

If you dislike Christmas, or know someone who does, here are some tips for handling the Christmas Blues.

#1: Stop feeling bad about not liking Christmas. And especially stop feeling bad about yourself for feeling that way. First of all, you can’t control how you feel, only how you act (I know I do harp on this idea, but it’s true!)

Secondly, I am quite sure you came by your negative feelings about Christmas quite honestly. Perhaps you’re not as fond of Christmas as you once were because the people you once shared it with are gone. Even though I still love Christmas, I don’t get nearly as excited about it as I once did. It’s never been quite the same since my mother died. I didn’t realize how much her enthusiasm was the driving force behind everyone else’s pleasure, not until after she was gone. I’ve had to adjust to the new normal for the holidays, that I am now the matriarch of the family. *shudder*

Or perhaps there are unpleasant associations to it because of experiences from your past. You are not alone. There’s a reason why “A Dysfunctional Family Christmas” is one of Saturday Night Live’s all-time favorite skits.

#2: Establish new holiday traditions that feel right for you and your family.

This really helped a friend of mine overcome his bah humbug reaction to Christmas. He grew up with an alcoholic and abusive father. The holidays were just an opportunity and excuse for his father to get more drunk, more often which totally tainted all the Christmas traditions for my firend.

When his children were young, my friend and his wife started a new tradition. The family would go together to a nearby cut-your-own tree farm to pick out a tree. It became quite a ritual. The kids would spend an hour or more running around, trying to decide on just the right tree. Once it was cut down and paid for, while the tree farm staff tied it to the roof of their car, they would huddle around drinking hot cider and trying to decide if this year’s tree was better than last year’s.

Now the decorated tree didn’t remind him of his parents fighting anymore. It reminded him of the fun his own family had picking this tree out.

If you don’t have a family and/or it’s impractical to be with family who live far away, this may very well be why you aren’t all that into the holiday. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you are being bombarded with images of happy families celebrating, while you’re looking forward to a lonely day.

#3: One approach can be to think of the Christmas holiday as just another day or two off from work, like Memorial Day weekend or Veterans’ Day. Breathe a sigh of relief that you have the time off and do what you would with any other day off. Lay around the house in your jammies and read a good book, or even catch up on household chores or gardening.

#4: Travel. If you’re part of a couple but neither of you feel strongly about Christmas with your extended families, give each other a nice vacation, like a four-day cruise (or longer if you can afford it) to the Bahamas. If you’re single, find a friend or acquaintance in the same boat (no pun intended) and take that cruise, or go skiing in Colorado for a long weekend.

#5: An old standby is to volunteer at a senior center or soup kitchen serving Christmas dinner to those less fortunate. This can provide a sense of camaraderie and belonging with your fellow volunteers as well as a sense of satisfaction in the altruistic task.

#6: If dealing with extended family is what makes Christmas so hard, you can do one of several things. One option, if you’re not up for a family scene because you just didn’t show up, is to officially declare either Christmas Eve, or maybe the weekend before or after Christmas as your Christmas. Then Christmas Day itself becomes just another obligatory visit with the annoying relatives. (You may notice that nowhere in the Bible is the date of Christ’s birth mentioned. Biblical scholars don’t believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th; this date was chosen by the early Church of Rome because it was a pagan holiday they were trying to supplant.)

If you’re single, perhaps you have a circle of friends with whom you are closer than you are with your family? Then make them your ‘family of choice’ to celebrate the holiday with. Again, you may want to do this on a different day, so everybody can appease their biological families by showing up for turkey. But in your mind, make the day you gather with friends your “real” Christmas.

#7: Keep in mind that it’s one lousy day out of the year and this too shall pass! Again, it’s okay to not like Christmas.

#8: Adding a new item this year. If you hate to shop and that is bumming you out this time of year, here are some ideas to make life easier. Focus on online shopping; it’s still shopping but without the crowds and you can do it in your jammies. 🙂 Also consider taking a friend or family member out to lunch or to a fun event as a present. Gift cards may seem impersonal but if it’s to the person’s favorite day spa, or for books for an avid reader, that can make it special.

Think about gift ideas that are easy for you and yet the person will indeed enjoy the gift. I have a friend who hates to shop but she’s a fabulous cook. I asked her to bake me something yummy this year since I’m not much of a cook. A win-win!

If you happen to have mystery or pet lovers on your list, we can make life easier for you. Check out these two posts: Shannon Esposito’s Five Holiday Gift Ideas for Pet Lovers and K.B. Owen’s Cyber Monday for Mystery Lovers (and check out our boxed set below; it’s on sale this week!)

Women of Mystery boxed set cover

 

Three great mysteries, just 99 CENTS for a limited time.

Available at AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, and KOBO

Volume 2 will be out NEXT WEEK!

 

 

Are you a bah humbugger or do you love Christmas? Do you know someone who struggles with depression or loneliness over the holidays?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington Mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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“BOSTON STRONG”–YES!!

I had intended to finish my stress management series today, but in light of the events in Boston last week, I’m going to do a variation on that intended post.

(image by LADreamzinc — CC-SA-3.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

The post I had planned would have talked about how our cognitive and emotional interpretation of an event makes a huge difference in how stressful that event is for us. I will talk more about that topic soon.

One of the biggest factors in that cognitive/emotional interpretation is how much control we feel we have over a particular stressor and its impacts. We human beings hate to not be in control. I would venture to say that feeling out of control is the worst feeling we can experience. It scares the bejeezus out of us!

We will even sometimes blame ourselves for a negative event that wasn’t our fault, just so we can have some feeble sense that we could have controlled the outcome if we’d just realized what was coming. (If I’d gone a different route that day, the car accident wouldn’t have happened.) For even a horrible feeling such as guilt is preferable to facing the reality that the event was truly beyond our control.

Another pitfall when we are running from that reality is to blame others, especially those in authority. Right now the country is united in its grief and sorrow for the victims of the Boston Marathon explosions and their families. But I know the reports will start on the TV news soon… the investigations, the demands that “they” do something to keep this from happening again.

Do what? Stop having marathons? Or football games, or golf tournaments? Cordon off the entire area and not let anyone be nearby, so there is no one on the sidelines cheering the participants on? But what’s to stop some nutcase (and make no mistake about it, these men were nutcases who were using their religion for their own sick purpose) from planting a bomb the night before, or the week before?

Of course, “they” should do what they can–increase security, bring in the bomb-sniffing dogs, etc. But the reality is that some nutcase could, at any moment, disrupt your life or mine and bring tragedy into it because of their own twisted agenda.

So what should we do about that? Exactly what the citizens of Boston are doing! Going about their business, refusing to give in to fear.

We cannot always control what happens to us. We can control how we lead our lives. If we lead with fears about what might happen, then the terrorists and nutcases have already won! If we refuse to give in to that fear and live our lives to their fullest every moment, than we are having the best life we can have in an uncertain world where not everything is controllable.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing that we humans want to be in control. That may be the single most driving force behind our progress as a species. And we have a lot more control over our environments and our destinies than we once did.

The winner of the 13th Boston Marathon in 1910, during a time when people routinely died of pneumonia because antibiotics had not yet been discovered.

But I do wonder sometimes… Has the control that science and technology’s given us over so many once uncontrollable things led us to a false belief that we should somehow be able to control everything?

I doubt that will happen, at least in our lifetimes, and probably never. We really need to come to grips with the reality that we cannot control everything, such as hurricanes and lunatics. But we can control how we respond to the natural disasters and the fanatics who intentionally create unnatural disasters. We can band together as the people of Boston have so heroically exemplified.

And we can yell, “Boston Strong!” from the rooftops. And never let fear win!

Celebration in Boston after the capture of the 2nd suspect (photo by Grk1011 — CC-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

 

On a lighter note, if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much for the last week, it’s because I was in Maryland painting our summer place up there (with the help of my wonderful brother). I promised pictures so if you hop over to my website, you can see the transformation of my shabby shack into a cute cottage (it looks like mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate syrup on top 🙂 )

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

The Shame of It All

Today I’m talking about shame–what it is and how to handle it–and I’m also talking about Stacy Green’s new mystery, Tin God, which she just officially launched yesterday with a great Facebook party!.

Now it might seem strange to you that I’m talking about a rather heavy subject as we celebrate Stacy’s new release, especially since we just spent the weekend roasting virtual marshmallows around the campfire and telling ghost stories to honor Catie Rhodes’ new book.

Hardly seems fair, does it?  But bear with me, I have my reasons.

Cover of Tin GodIn Stacy’s book, Jaymee is a young woman struggling to make ends meet in her small hometown. Her life is made more complicated and uncomfortable by her verbally abusive father, who is quick to remind her of her past shameful transgressions whenever she has the misfortune of crossing paths with him.

Indeed, her childhood in a highly dysfunctional family, coupled with a teen pregnancy, has left her pretty beat up emotionally. But she has a mission–to get her daughter back, the child she was coerced into giving up for adoption.

This gives her the motivation to push past the shame and keep going. This is a very good thing, because the crux of the problem with shame is that it is immobilizing!

But more on that in a moment. First, let’s define shame. It is feeling bad about ourselves. It is the first cousin of guilt, which is feeling bad about our behavior, something we’ve done. Shame cuts deeper because it is about our being–not just what we’ve done but who we are.

Guilt, even though it is an unpleasant emotion, has its purposes. We’ve talked about guilt here before, along with a concrete process for dealing with it. Let me give you a brief summary of that previous post. Guilt tells us our behavior is breaking a rule about how we’re supposed to behave. If we can identify (1) the behavior and (2) the rule, then (3) decide if the rule is valid or needs modifying and (4) modify the rule and/or the behavior to bring them into sync, then we can let go of the guilt. It has done its job!

Shame, on the other hand, has much less socially redeeming value. Here are some feelings in the shame spectrum: humble, self-conscious, embarrassed, ashamed, inadequate, humiliated, mortified.

The only one of those that seems valuable to me is humility–a word best defined as the awareness that we are human just like everybody else. The opposite of humble is arrogant. My mother used to say: “Remember that everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time, including yourself.” It’s not healthy to believe we are somehow intrinsically better than others, but neither is it healthy to believe we are less than others.

Jaymee struggles against those feelings of being “less than” that were instilled in her by her arrogant father. This unhealthy form of shame often comes from others judging us.

Where guilt can spur us to change our behavior, shame tends to bring on emotional paralysis. If we are shameful beings, worthless in the eyes of ourselves and others, why go on? What’s the point?

Shame and depression are second cousins, along with hopelessness.

So what can we do to overcome shame?

1.  Separate being from behavior, shame from guilt. If you’re saying to yourself, “I’m ashamed of myself because I did ______,” rephrase that to “I feel guilty because I did ______.” Then you can examine the behavior, the rule it is breaking, determine what needs modification, and move past the guilt.

2.  Ask yourself if you’ve really done anything wrong, or are you being judged for something superficial or beyond your control.

I was a ‘late bloomer.’ That’s euphemism-speak for flat-chested until you’re fifteen. I was the last of the girls in my school to get a ‘training’ bra (I always wondered what we were in training for. When we graduated from bra boot camp, would we move on to, say, straight jackets?)

The kindest thing I was called by the boys (and some of the girls) was “ironing board.” As an excruciatingly self-conscious fourteen-year-old, I was mortified. My mother kept saying, “Late roses bloom longer.” I had no clue what she was talking about… until I attended my five-year high school reunion.

The girls who had been voluptuous at fourteen were now fat, and I was sleek and svelte (ah, those were the days!). And those poor gals were excruciatingly embarrassed by their weight gain. Not only did it hit me then that this was what my mother had meant, but I also got it that these women were doing the same thing I had done in high school. They were taking to heart the judgements of others, and harshly judging themselves, for something that they did not have total control over and it was something that should not be a defining factor in their worth.

3.  Focus on those people who believe in you, not those who tear you down. Jaymee, in Stacy’s book, does this. She tries to focus on the people who love and support her, like her best friend, whom she still mourns four years after her senseless murder. And her employer, a well-to-do socialite who has promised to help her find her daughter. Even when this woman is found dead in her historic mansion, Jaymee does not give up on the search, nor on herself.

And as the story progresses, she discovers that some townspeople whom she thought were judging her are really pulling for her, while others she thought were on her side are not!

How about you? Any thoughts on how to fight shame and keep it from stopping us in our tracks?

Stacy Green

 

While you’re pondering that,check out Stacy’s synopsis of her book!

 

Getting pregnant as a teenager and being coerced into giving her baby up for adoption left a festering scar on Jaymee Ballard’s life. Trapped by poverty and without many allies, Jaymee nearly gives up hope of getting her daughter back after her best friend is murdered. Now, four years later, a wealthy woman with legal connections hires her as a housekeeper, and Jaymee gathers the courage to seek her help. But Jaymee’s last chance ends up in a puddle of blood in one of the historic antebellum mansions in Roselea, Mississippi.

I just murdered your wife…again.

An unsigned letter consisting of six horrifying words turns Nick Samuels stagnant life upside down. Stuck in emotional purgatory since his wife’s unsolved murder four years ago, Nick is about to self-destruct. The arrival of the letter claiming credit for his wife’s murder and boasting of a new kill sends Nick to Roselea, where he and Jaymee’s worlds collide.

Jaymee and Nick realize exposing the truth about her daughter’s adoption is the only way to solve the murders. Up against years of deception, they rush to identify the killer before the evidence–and Jaymee’s daughter–are lost.

But the truth doesn’t always set the guilt-ridden free. Sometimes, it destroys them.

I have read this book and it is great! It is available now of Amazon!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Did Your Mom Give You ‘The Look’?

As we head into the season of overspending, overindulging, and dealing with relatives we don’t always like, I figured it might be helpful to pass on some advice I learned years ago about guilt.

My mom had this look. From across the room, she could make me want to crawl under the nearest piece of furniture. She didn’t have to say or do anything else. The Look was enough to tell me I’d screwed up big time!

Nobody but nobody can make us feel guilty quite like our mothers can. And that’s a good thing, because moms and dads are responsible for teaching us right from wrong. It’s their job to instill guilt in us!

I'm 5, Mother just gave me The Look

Me, age 5, looking quite subdued, after my mother (the one with the crossed arms) just gave me The Look! (This was an in-laws’ Christmas night party my father endured for many years.)

As kids, guilt may stop us from doing stuff we know our parents wouldn’t like, even if we’re not too sure why that stuff is wrong. We just know our folks will be mad, and disappointed in us, if we do it. Guilt starts out as a variation on fear. Fear of rejection by someone we care about, i.e., our parents. So at first we feel guilty mainly if we think we’re going to get caught, or if we’ve already been caught doing something wrong.

But once we’ve got a fairly good conscience established, the guilt isn’t necessarily linked anymore to whether we’re likely to get caught. Indeed, children will sometimes confess to their parents that they did something wrong, just to make the guilt go away.

Now guilt has become a motivating emotion in its own right. It keeps us on the straight and narrow.

The Big Guy in the Sky knew exactly what He was doing when He invented guilt. He was the first parent to give The Look, as He tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for disobeying Him.

Adam and Eve beingin banished from the garden

(from free clipart by christiansunite.com)

The purpose of guilt is to remind us of the rules we internalized as kids. It’s supposed to stop us when we are about to do something that breaks those rules. It keeps us from stealing or from hitting people when we’re pissed at them. If we feel the desire to do those things, the guilt kicks in. If we don’t do the behavior, the guilt goes away.

The problem comes in when we’re not quite sure what we’re feeling guilty about, or when we feel conflicting emotions about something. Then what do we do with those guilty feelings? When I was still a novice psychotherapist, more years ago than I am willing to admit, I learned a simple five-step approach for dealing with guilt.

  • First, you determine exactly what behavior you are feeling guilty about. It may be a behavior you’ve already done, or one you want to do, or something you feel you should’ve done but haven’t, and/or don’t particularly want to. Sometimes it helps to say it out loud: I feel guilty because I want to/don’t want to/did/did not __________ (fill in an action).

  Example: I feel guilty because I don’t want to go to my in-laws’ for Christmas dinner.

  • Second, you identify the internalized rule that the behavior is breaking. You may notice that the rules often have the words always or never in them. This is because children are all-or-nothing thinkers by nature. So the rules get recorded in our conscience in this child-like absolute language.

In our example, the rule might be ‘One is always supposed to be nice to one’s in-laws.’ Or perhaps, ‘One should never make people feel rejected and unloved.’

  • Third, you analyze the rule to decide whether or not you still believe it is valid as it stands, or does it need to be modified, or perhaps ejected completely from the rule book.

Let’s say in our example that the in-laws are not very nice people and they don’t treat you or your spouse (their own grown child) very well. Every holiday spent with them is totally miserable.

Do you really have to keep being nice to people who aren’t nice to you?

(A word of caution here. This exercise is not meant to be used to justify whatever you want to do by changing the rule. Ask yourself if you honestly still believe in the rule!)

Or perhaps your in-laws are nice enough people but you just really hate the long drive and the boring conversation.

Is it okay to make them feel rejected and unloved just because they’re boring?

  • Fourth, depending on how you now feel about the rule, you either modify the rule and/or the behavior so that they are in sync with each other again.

First Scenario (nasty in-laws): You might decide to change the rule to ‘One should be nice to one’s in-laws unless they are nasty people who mistreat you and/or your family members.’

There are several alternatives for changing your behavior. If you really hate going to your in-laws, is it time to take a stand and insist they treat you all better? (This, of course, must be discussed with your spouse and it’s their call ultimately, since it’s their family.)

If your spouse isn’t ready to deal with it, then you might decide to suck it up and go anyway. But now you are doing it to support your spouse, not out of guilt because you’re supposed to be nice, even to people who aren’t nice to you.

Second Scenario (nice but boring in-laws): You may very well decide that the rule should stand as is. Wait, let’s take that word never out of there. Absolutes like that are rarely a good idea.

 How about: ‘One should try very hard not to make people feel unloved or rejected.’

So you probably want to suck it up and go spend one evening with the boring but harmless in-laws. You don’t need to feel guilty, however, about not liking it!

Which brings us to step 5…

  • Fifth, once the behavior and the rule are in sync, thank the guilt for doing it’s job and then send it on it’s way!

But wait, you might be thinking, I still feel guilty for not liking my in-laws!

Why? No, no, not why don’t you like your in-laws; we’ve already determined that they are either nasty or boring. Why are you feeling guilty about your feelings. Guilt isn’t about feelings; it’s about behavior. We can’t control how we feel; we can only control how we act. (See The History of Emotion for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of how our society came to the erroneous conclusion that we should control our feelings, not just how we express them.)

If you’re doing the right thing, it’s okay to let go of the guilt–pat yourself on the back even–and move on.

This really hangs some people up though. I had a client say to me one time. “Well, I know it really is okay to do that, even though I was taught not to. So if I feel guilty about it, then I can go ahead and do it.”

Is your head spinning maybe just a little? Mine did at the time. I finally figured out what she meant. Her guilt was the sacrifice to the Parent Gods so that she could then go ahead with the behavior; i.e. it’s okay to break the rules Mom and Dad taught you, as long as you feel guilty about it.

No, no, if you don’t believe in the rule anymore, then change the dang rule! You’re a grown-up now. You get to think for yourself.

If you really have trouble letting go of the guilt, sometimes a ritual is helpful.

For example, I’ve had clients write out the whole thing on a piece of paper. “I feel guilty about… The rule is… I have changed the rule/behavior to… The guilt has done its job. Thank you, guilt. You can go now.” Then I’d give them a book of matches and have them burn the piece of paper (over an empty trash can) as a symbol of letting go of the guilt.

I love this 5-step exercise. It has helped me sort out my guilty feelings more than once and pointed me in the right direction to act appropriately.

What about you? What do you tend to feel guilty about? Can you let guilt go once you’ve figured out what to do?

By the way, the contest celebrating the release of Celebrity Status, A Kate Huntington Mystery, is still going on through next Sunday. Clcik HERE to enter.

 (Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)

 

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address toward the top of the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!