The process of self-awareness — uncovering and correcting the limiting beliefs and self-judgements that trip us up — has been compared to “peeling an onion.” We uncover scars and false perceptions layer by layer, and as we pull back each layer, we discover yet another layer to be examined, understood, healed, and peeled back.
Sometimes I wonder how I created so many layers of self-judgement and whether I will ever arrive at my “inner onion,” divested of all the layers that hold me back. Last weekend was a holiday weekend in Canada — Thanksgiving — a time for families to gather together and to appreciate one another and all the blessings in their lives. When I lived the classic portrayal of the happy, loving family, I anticipated family holidays with relish and spent a great deal of time planning and preparing for them. It was a time to bask in the image of the “happy family.” I didn’t give much thought to any challenges that other families might face during these holidays. In my eyes, my little family was “perfect,” and I was totally wrapped up in living the dream.
When my “perfect little family” self-portrait shattered and I began picking up the pieces of what had become my “broken family,” my experience of family holidays changed. Although I learned to stand on my own two feet as the single parent of two beautiful children and to take pride in my independence and blossoming inner strength and courage, all those positive feelings seemed to evaporate when it was time for a family holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was at these times that I felt fractured. In spite of the joy and love I shared with my children, I struggled with feeling like I no longer measured up to the media images of happy, whole families celebrating the holidays that I held dear to my heart. Oh, I know that there are many ways to be a family, and I spent a great deal of energy creating a new sense of family with my children. It was important to me that I did everything I could to make these holidays as special as I could for them. I went above and beyond to try to make them feel special. I continued the traditions that had been meaningful to us, and I did everything I could to create new traditions that would reflect our changed version of “family.” In spite of all this effort and activity, I always felt broken inside. It was a time when I couldn’t be everything to my children; I couldn’t give them back their two-parent family.
This past weekend, I was anticipating treasured time with my now-adult children over the holiday weekend. Thanksgiving provided us with the opportunity to be together… to spend real time together. I planned and prepared as I always have so that I could make the weekend special for them. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive… and when it did, I hit that familiar “wall” and fell into my “feeling fractured” mode. Instead of relishing every single moment of having my children home, I struggled with the old pain of feeling like I wasn’t enough.
Why? Why does this always come up for me? As I struggled to understand what lay beneath this recurring feeling, a realization emerged from within me… a realization so simple and profound that I knew its truth. I am creating these feelings of failure and brokenness. It is me who is judging myself against unreal standards… the perfect family, the perfect home, wonderful family celebrations. It is me who is holding myself up against my own projections of what I perceive a family should be. It is me who is judging and finding me lacking.
Another layer of self-judgement exposed… what can I do about it? Now that I realize that I have created my own pain… and continued to create it again and again… I am the only one who can create a new experience. I need to truly hear what I have professed to my children — we ARE family. Life isn’t about creating a fairy tale existence. It is about living love, being love, choosing love… and we have that in abundance. Family is about being there for each other, through thick and thin… and we are that. Family is real… it is what we experience together, what we define and create together … it is not airbrushed, posed images or choreographed, scripted commercials. I have a beautiful family. There is nothing it has to be or live up to. And family celebrations and holidays don’t have to be anything other than what we create when we are together in the same space.
I realize and know all of this now, and as I share with you, I believe it to the core of my being. There is another thing I know. Another family holiday looms on the horizon, and the old tapes will want to play in my head. It will be easy to slip back into old habits of trying to be everything to everyone and still feel that I am coming up short. What will be different this time? I am aware that feeling like I don’t measure up is my self-judgement, and I know that I have the power and strength to let it go and change the experience. All it takes is awareness, will, and practice. I have the awareness and the will. Now, I need to practise.
What is your experience of family holidays and celebrations? Do you struggle as I have? How have you healed any self-judgements? I invite you to share your experiences and realizations below in the Comments section.