I was sitting down to write today’s blog on what I thought was going to be about how to best support yourself during the holidays—especially if you have experienced trauma or significant loss—when I realized that I kept wanting to say that the main thing that you would need to do is oversupport yourself—and I realized that this whole idea of oversupporting needed to be a blog in and of itself. The blog before the blog so to speak.
As we head toward that most puritanical of holidays (with its emphasis on gluttony not withstanding) the idea of oversupporting oneself needs some clarification. I have used the term with myself and my clients for a long time and it always takes a long time to explain because here in America with its constant push for excess there is a cultural rule that you shouldn’t actually need anything—especially support and extra care, and if you do, you should only take the bare minimum. It’s like some weird anorexia of self-caretaking that is secretly lauded.
This whole problem is partly fueled by the habit of comparing our insides to other people’s outsides and coming up short. This has only been exacerbated by Facebook with photos of smiling families and Pinterest with a thousand ways to decorate a house or a cupcake.
What does oversupporting yourself mean? It means doing what you need to do to take care of yourself: getting enough sleep, getting enough food, doing what recharges your batteries –and then doing even more. It means on the week that you have volunteered at church and both your kids have away games and the boss is coming in to town—that you do not decide to make every meal from scratch unless that is exactly what recharges your battery. It means letting yourself off the hook and buying cupcakes for the event instead of feeling like you must bake the cupcakes and turn them into Disney characters even though it means staying up until midnight to do it.
Oversupporting yourself means doing what you need to do to keep that internal cellphone battery of yours all the way charged. This is the main difference between surviving a week and really living a week. For some reason we believe that keeping our internal batteries just out of the red zone is enough—rather than being fully charged. If you can lean into oversupporting yourself, even if the week is stressful for whatever reason, you will have enough resources to really live it. It means letting other people help. Letting them fold the laundry even though it won’t be folded perfectly. Letting someone bring the pies or the mashed potatoes even though they won’t be exactly how you would have made them. Letting someone else write the report. It means being able to distinguish the difference between perfection and good-enough and then know that for 80% of life good enough is exactly what is needed. It means recognizing that your kids would really rather have a happy parent than a perfect cupcake.
Oversupporting yourself is actually not easy. I have witnessed many clients struggle with it. This is because most people believe that they shouldn’t need any support so they often feel badly when they try this for the first time. They have to fight back all of the voices in their heads that shout things like, “No one else needs this much help.” But if they can bravely accept and work toward support they all notice that they have way more ability to enjoy the people in their lives and they have more ability to roll with the ups and downs that always come with busy times. If you oversupport yourself—then when the car gets a flat tire, or your kid gets sick, or the oven breaks or the client requires an emergency meeting—you have something left in your tank to manage—and you aren’t on your last raw nerve.
For people who have experienced trauma and loss oversupporting yourself not only allows you to get through the holidays without fear of coming apart—with enough support holidays can actually be times of healing. You will have enough space inside you to both mourn the losses and take in the present—and by holding both you can feel more whole. The losses mend.
So as you head into the holiday season. Be brave! Be radical! Do more than you need to do to feel solid and cared for. Buy the pie! Don’t rake the leaves! Leave the dishes! Experiment with what it feels like to take care of yourself and do just a little more. And help others in your life do the same.
© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2017