Will you have a happy Christmas with your family this year?

Will you be playing happy families this Christmas? What could it teach you about yourself, asks our resident cartooning psychologist Dr Nina Burrowes


Will you have a happy Christmas with your family this year?

Christmas is about many things. Mince pies, turkeys, Christmas trees, toys… But most of all it’s about spending time with the people you are closest to: your family. Which means that Christmas is an ideal time to learn about yourself.

Spending time with my immediate family is my personal gladiatorial ring for self-change and growth. As I go through life exploring and developing the different parts of who I am and how I want to interact with my world I often find it easy to be a flexible version of myself with strangers. With new people I can reinvent myself. The situation is a blank page for me to write on. I can choose to be fun, playful, compassionate, serious… anything that I want.

Often I can do this with friends too. I feel able to be the better versions of me, changed, new, and grown in their company.

But can I show the better side of myself to the people I care about the most? Does the compassion or playfulness I can show strangers easily translate to my parents or brothers?

Often my answer is ‘no’.

Spending time with my family is the ultimate testing ground for self-change because it is so hard to be different when the people surrounding you reinforce and reflect your old ways of being. My interactions with my family have shaped me. They are me. This is why spending time with them can be so grounding. They offer a type of stability that no other relationship could ever show me.

But stability can also mean rigidity. Not rigidity in them, but rigidity in me.

Change necessarily means letting go of old ways and adopting new ones. My family provide me with the ultimate test for self-change because to choose to be different with them requires so much more effort. It’s a test of my new chosen self over the older versions of me. And it takes place in an arena that is full of people who love me so much they are quite willing to accept and accommodate the old bits, which means that the drive and energy for change has to come from me. I have to actively choose to be different.

This Christmas I’ll have the opportunity to test ‘me’ once more. I’ll have the chance to actively choose to be the person I want to be with the people I care about the most. And if I can do that… I really will have grown.

Dr Nina Burrowes is a psychologist and the author of The Little Book on Authenticity. You can follow Nina on twitter here.

Image: Nina Burrowes