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The Holiday Season

As I reminisce about medical school and residency, I remember my mentors repeatedly professing to me that the full moon and the Christmas holidays both brought out the psychologically disturbed patients.

Countless scientists have performed hundreds of studies in an effort to identify the effects of the full moon on human behavior. Much to their surprise, they’ve found that the full moon seemingly has no real scientifically significant effect on human psychological behavior -- even though almost every practicing physician insists that the full moon has a big effect on the psychological well-being of their patients. I believe that the full moon affects people, but the exact nature of its impact remains a mystery to me and all of modern science. One thing's for sure, the moon affects the oceans and almost every aquatic creature living in it.

The Winter Holiday Season is an emotionally powerful time of the year. Humans are probably the only animal on Earth that gathers a personal history, which is kept in the conscious mind. Every one of us has a story. Interestingly, we assign feelings to each of our life experiences, and the significantly disturbing or exhilarating episodes are flagged with particularly large bookmarks. They help to define who we are.

This time of year seems to evoke a number of past memories, as well as a diverse array of ritualistic behaviors. One example of our society's accepted and encouraged customs is to decorate evergreen trees in our homes, offices, public places and shopping centers. Most people who practice seasonal tree decoration recognize the time loss and toil associated with the tree's adornment, especially in a season that consumes our free time more than any other. Also, putting the tree up is only half the battle, one must eventually take the tree down and put the decorations away. Each person trims their tree with their personal creative tastes in mind: Big multicolored light bulbs versus small twinkling white lights, multicolored and irregularly shaped ornaments versus ornaments of matching size and color, theme or no theme, ornaments with sentimental value or not, on and on and on. Plus the most important issue facing the decorators: whether to have a live or an artificial tree. It's as polarizing a decision as whether to wear a coat made out of a true animal fur or an artificial one. Should man kill something of beauty for mere personal adornment? A tree and a mink are both living organisms.

What's most interesting is that the redundancy of the holiday doesn't make it fade from the consciousness of many people. Instead they seem to remember their past celebrations and attempt to make the present season more spectacular than the others. In most human experiences, constant stimulation tends to reduce the significance of stimuli. In medicine, physicians refer to this phenomenon as habituation. Habituation occurs in one's social standing, personal relationships, routine features of our daily lives - these fade away from consciousness – and we take them for granted.

It appears that the Winter Holidays are resistant to redundancy to most people who celebrate the season. There are other times when people do not lose consciousness of an event in their life -- a painful trauma or a pleasantly intense orgasm are two examples that come to mind. It seems that extreme emotional events are much more informative. I believe feelings signal the most important biological purposes in our lives. Feelings move us. Feelings bring unresolved questions to consciousness, again and again. Feelings can literally shift our stance in life, by doing so, we experience living in a new dimension and in a more adaptive way.

I think most people see the Holiday Season as a beautiful time, perhaps that's why they decorate trees and gardens, homes and offices, lampposts and city centers. At the very least, most see it as a time of loveliness. Unfortunately, with all human experiences of beauty and love there are equally compelling episodes of feeling shame by real or fancied defects. Shame should not be confused with guilt. Shame is a self-destroying emotion that results from a perceived poor performance amongst family, friends or peers. Guilt is associated with the letting down of a higher power or authority figure. Shame is a noble emotion, guilt is not. Many people feel unlovable during the Holidays; their inner critic is much more savage and uncompromising than their family or loved ones. The shame we all feel is real, even if others can not feel it with us.

I contend that the greatest, most important aspect of the Holiday Season is that we all have the opportunity to show kindness, acceptance, tolerance and love, which will help others to overcome their shame. Self-deprecation is an essential human emotion that each of us must overcome in order for us to grow into our true healthy authentic selves. Giving is always better than receiving, especially if the recipient of your gift feels unworthy.

Yes, the Holiday Season is a time when shame and desperation overwhelm many of us. All of us have the power to diminish someone's impulse to intensify their self - abrogation. Perhaps the love, beauty and kindness you give someone will engender a sense of joy, and that special someone will learn how to proudly live with their self perceived oddly shaped imperfections, just like the rest of us have.

Live authentically, and help others to do the same in this Holiday Season.


Posted by Katie Reed at 4:45 PM
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