ice skating outside the Natural History Museum in LondonWinter has finally arrived. The temperature has dropped below freezing, and although there’s no sign of snow yet, there’s frost on the ground most mornings.

I feel quite ambivolent about the end of year festivities. I love the bright lights, and the excitement when friends drop in unexpectedly to wish us well, and at the same time it saddens me that so many people find this a stressful time of year.

For example, a friend said the other day that her husband’s family are good at “emotional blackmail”, putting pressure on her and making her feel guilty if she and her husband didn’t spend the end of year holidays with them.

With families spread from one side of the country – or the globe – to the other, some people feel an obligation to spend equal amounts of time and money with everyone, getting themselves into debt and tiring themselves out as they drive up and down motorways in foul weather on the annual round of compulsory visits.

As it’s meant to be a season of joy and goodwill, I thought this dilemma was worth investigating…

During the end of year holidays, many people say they feel pressured into spending time with relatives and friends they don’t see the rest of the year. However, it’s a fallacy that someone else can make you feel guilty or put pressure on you to do something you don’t want to do – only you can do that.

Regardless of what other people do or say, how you spend your time is always your choice. If you’re feeling “pressured” or “guilty”, it means you’re choosing to do something you would rather not do, because you’re worried the consequences of not doing what the other person wants might be worse than just going along with their plans.

Instead of worrying, how about finding out exactly what the consequences would be? If you have an open and honest relationship with your family and friends, you may discover that the consequences of wanting to do your own thing are insignificant – so what is there for you to feel guilty or pressured about?

Simply tell them that you love them, and explain that you would like to spend your holidays pursuing other interests. If you’re honest with them, you may find that they feel relieved because they, too, were feeling under pressure to spend the holidays together when they would rather do something else!

If you know the other person looks forward to the family celebration, then you also know they’re probably going to feel unhappy if you choose not to spend the holidays with them. Can you live with that? What’s more important to you? Pleasing the other person, or spending time doing your own thing?

If it’s important to you that the other person is happy, then doing your own thing may conflict with your own values.

If you choose to accept another person’s demands on your time – at any time of year – it’s important to do so with grace. If you acquiesce grudgingly to someone’s request to spend time with you, you are doing both them and yourself an injustice. Instead, join in the festivities, and show them that you love them by being fully present, rather than spending your time wishing you were not there.

If you would still prefer to be somewhere else, even though it will upset them, find a kind way to explain how you feel, and then do your own thing with a clear conscience.

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