Five Steps to Make the Holidays Better (this time!)

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

So the season of winter holidays is upon us. One can usually tell by the bulk of TV ads showing cars with giant bows on top and men gifting the special woman in their life with impossibly wonderful jewelry.

The net result of this kind of advertising leaves people feeling like an utter failure if they are not giving gifts on this order of magnitude. And this is just one small example of how the commercialization of gift giving can negatively affect the “holiday spirit.”

Imagine—if you will—that you are a creature from another planet. If you were observing Western nations attempting to “do” the winter holidays… what would you see?

I imagine you would see masses of people throwing themselves into a whirl of “time honored” rituals involving food, gift gifting and spending time with family and friends. With all this energy focused on such extravagant gatherings—they are sure to be successful, right?

Instead, I think you would observe huge numbers of people extending themselves past their capacities. And when all is said and done, thankful—not for the opportunity they just had—but rather, that the whole ordeal is over.

When we look at it from this perspective, the holidays appear to be a burden we cannot wait to have lifted from us. More than that, they seem to do damage to the very relationships we claim to cherish. One has to wonder about the number of people who are disinherited, shed tears or even get divorced following the disappointing reality of the holidays, which did not living up to their expectations.

Five Ways to Better the Holidays

Despite the current unrest over the holidays, we believe there are ways to avoid disappointment this December. Thus, Rosenberger’s Five Ways to Better the Holidays. These suggestions may not be a guarantee, but I can promise they will improve your holiday experience from years previous! And if they do not give perfect results, do not call out the lawyers!

1. Adjust Your Expectations. This is perhaps the most important. Most of us will not give (or receive) a car with a bow, a huge diamond, or a proposal of marriage. First, let’s get down to the principles. What are the holidays? They are the commemoration of events past that give essential shape to our religious views of the world. Nothing more, and nothing less. If we focus on the tradition and not on the customs, then perhaps we will have a more realistic view of what to expect from the holidays.

To focus our efforts, it might be a good idea to set aside a slice of time to think about what can we expect from our families? What can we expect in terms of gifts? What can we expect in terms of our own attempts to remake A Christmas Carol? If we go into the holidays knowing, for example, that certain relatives are going to be just as annoying as they always are, then perhaps when he/she is acting predictably, we can find it within ourselves not to get discouraged, and perhaps even find it amusing. They are who they are!

2. Downsize the Demands. There is only so much time. We live busy lives. Sometimes even overwhelmed ones. Then come the holidays with their own set of demands. Perhaps we need to sit ourselves down and ask what we can reasonably expect of ourselves and others in our attempt to clean, cook, buy, wrap, etc., etc., etc.

If we want, we can pile on the requirements of the holidays so that we end up resenting their arrival. Or, if we scale back, perhaps we can actually enjoy what we are reasonably able to do, and find that those efforts are enough.

3. Stick to a Budget. There is only so much money. Some people attempt to make up for what shortcomings exist in relationships or in other areas of their lives by spending excessive amounts of money to make things “extra special.”  What that usually leaves us with is maxed-out credit cards and feelings of frustration that our “above and beyond” efforts did not lead to the results we wanted. In this case, the holidays can be an especially sad time. No amount of money can make up for what we do or do not have. It might actually profit us more to place the holidays on a budget, to own up to what we can and cannot do and to live within those constraints. Not only might it force us to dig into the holidays for what they can actually give us, this path of thinking will minimize any regret we could have in 2013!

4. Know Your Limits. This involves everything. Even people who live greatly disciplined lives, allow that very self-control to disappear during the holidays and then wonder why they feel “off.”  Whatever disciplines you have set up for yourself, be sure to maintain them during the holidays. If you go to the gym, continue going to the gym. If you drink alcohol sparingly, then continue to do so. Also, know your balance between work and trying to please all the people you’re trying to please. If the key to any kind of deep kind of happiness is balance, try to maintain it during December. At the very least, you will serve as an inspiration to others who are looking for an excuse to get off the “let’s make the holidays bigger at any cost” roller coaster.

5. Incorporate the Ideals of the Season into Your Life. Finally—even if you are the most secular of souls—it would not be a bad thing to allow yourself time to reflect on what this season means to you or what you would like it to mean to you and those around you. I am not suggesting you have to suddenly become a practitioner of a faith or religion that does not mean anything to you. This would hardly help anyone.

But, perhaps it would be helpful to spend a bit of time in meditation or contemplation (however rationally based) on what the ideals of this season are, and how we can incorporate those into our lives. Wherever they might have originated might be irrelevant if the ideals are not lived out even by those who claim to believe in the miracle stories literally. What might be most important is taking one ideal of this season and making it somehow more real in your life, just for its own sake and because it will feel good. I will not argue whether this will compete with a car topped with a big red bow. But, it will beat staggering through the holidays, wondering why you’re putting yourself through this.

Holiday Scorecard

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

This holiday season, instead of thinking about what the holidays might mean to someone on a religious or secular level, I thought it might be more helpful to think about how one handled the holidays.  It’s easy to postulate about what the holidays should mean or what religious sentiments we should be having.  Instead, I thought it might be helpful to do some “Monday morning quarterbacking” and help people ask some questions that might help them think about how they think they handled the holidays on both a human and perhaps an extra-human level.  So think of this as a holiday-autopsy.  It doesn’t matter how you did really;  what really maters is how YOU feel about you did and what changes you might want to make.  Indeed, the way you handled the holidays might indicate the kind of changes you might want to make during the New Year.

So to help you along in your self examination, here are some questions that might help you in your search for self knowledge.  They don’t presuppose any value set except those that YOU think that are important to you:

1.  Did the holidays MEAN anything to you?  Did they bring an extra boost of some sense of purpose to your life or were they just another ordeal to survive?

2.  Did the holidays bring any strong emotions to the surface to you?  Happy?  Sad?  Angry?  Can you figure out why?

3.  Did the holidays help you become closer to anyone you consider close to you, friend or family?

4.  Did the holidays bring you closer to any sense of Mystery that you consider important?  If so how?  If not, why not?

5.  Did the work of the holidays make the things they are supposed to celebrate less or more relevant to you?

6.  Did you attend any kind of religious rituals for the holidays?  Did they help make the holidays more relevant?

7.  Did the holidays make you more psychologically symptomatic, e.g. more depressed, more anxious, more sad about a death, more sad about being single, etc.

8.  Did you find yourself aggravated by the holidays, wishing that they’d “just be over with?”

9.  Are the holidays “tough” for you because of the socializing you have to do?

10.  Do you find yourself wondering why the holidays bring such cheer to everyone else but you?

There is no real scorecard to this.  It’s not like three vs eight “yes’s” are good or bad.  The issue is:  Do any of these questions throw any light onto yourself?  If even one question causes you to engage in some real self reflection, then perhaps something good can from the Holidays after all!

Employment for the 20-somethings

Monday, October 31st, 2011

In a new series of blog posts, I would like to discuss the nature and the problems with employment–you know, that thing that some of us are lucky enough to have to do things that we might or might not like, and most importantly to get paid for these efforts.  Since I am not an economist (Heck, my own checkbook proves that one to be true!), I would like to discuss the issue of work from the perspective of the people that sit with me in analytic psychotherapy.

First up are the 20-somethings!

Gotta love the 20-somethings.  Born at least in 1991, their first political memories are of Bill Clinton, an economy that would not stop.  Jobs were available even if you showed-up to the interview stoned….and the good old days when people discussed the possibility of moving toward a 30 hour work week.  The 20-somethings went to college and expected the world to be even more of their oyster.  And then some things known as derivatives and sub-prime loans became headline news and the next thing you know, people are talking about Hoover-villes and class war.  What does this have to do with the young people in analysis or might need analysis?  EVERYTHING!

See, in a way that many older people find difficult to understand, my 20-somethings feel personally betrayed by history, economy, government, schools, parents, and maybe just anyone else they can get their hands on.  The real questions are why, and how to get them to move past it.

I don’t know for sure, but I have a hunch that my 20-somethings had components of a dream of what their adult lives would be like.  It might have been very nailed down for some, and others just a feeling of how things were going to turn out.  Their inner narrative, which they might not have shared even with themselves, goes like this, “I work some now, get a job out of college that starts at $75,000.00 a year, and then I work a bit harder so the real money starts rolling in.”  Sounds like a good plan right?

That is until the plan falls apart because the world changed, and history has happened all around us everyday, leaving these young adults the capacity to survive in times like this.  How have our 20-somethings responded?  For the most part, I have to say they have not responded all that well.


Now I know these are generalizations, but if you’re a 20-something yourself reading this or know and love one, see how much of this applies:

1.  Many 20-somethings have not kept up with the rate of how the world is changing both economically and politically.  For example, many of my 20-somethings have not registered to vote in the upcoming election.  They sometimes even wear their ignorance of what is going on the in the world as a badge of ideological purity.  Thus, they do not know what they need to know.

2.  Even if they know some of what would be helpful, many young adults find these events so overwhelming and so paradigm crushing, that they reinsert their heads back into the sand.  (Other images come to mind but this is a family friendly blog.)

3.  Since their emotions freeze their emotional advancement, they loose the nimbleness necessary to compete and thus to thrive.  For example, they might read in the New York Times that schools in India are so competitive that those young people are applying to Yale.  When they learn of this, I can see them melting in front of me in complete despair, which robs them of the energy they need to compete.


So, what’s the solution?  I don’t have a magic pill.  I’m sorry.  But I do have some suggestions that might help this age group.

1.  20-somethings need from somewhere a supportive, but challenging, relationship that will help keep them moving forward… but will not be too much of a Drill Instructor.  All the work that is ahead of them will be too much for them on their own.  Thus, if their butts are not on some shrink’s couch, they need to be and SPARK is here to help.

2.  These young people need to examine their assumptions about what life was going to be like with a ruthless honesty.  Here again, we get nowhere if they cannot embrace the painful truths.  This might require digging inside of themselves in order to see what DID they think was going to happen.

3.  Then based on full embrace of the facts about the world today, 20-somethings need to go through a mourning process about the world they expected to join and cannot because it no longer exists.  This arc of mourning will include many feelings, often contradictory but all very real.

4.  Simultaneously to working through their emotions, this age group needs to begin to develop an action plan.  This is essential for several reasons.  First, we might not have the luxury even in full bore analytic work 3 – 4 days a week to take that kind of break.  Second, this can degenerate into feeling so discouraging that despair can set in.  As Soren Kierkegaard would assert, depression can be worked through, especially with the new meds and a skillful analyst.  But despair can be a sickness of the soul and thus is even more dangerous.  We can make up for lost things from depression.  Getting one’s soul back is a very painful process.

5.  Once my people have emerged from the bunkers of their minds to look at the world as it truly is, not what they want it to be, they again, need to be ruthless in their honesty about what they are doing.  Some of my more honest people will admit that they are waiting for the family to step in and deus ex machina style, somehow save the day.  This is where parents might have to change script and think about how they are helping their children.

6.  In order to do all this very intensive work on themselves, they need to bring their A game to everyday life.  Or for my gamers, everyday is day they are picking up the remote and becoming their character in this game called “Life.”  As a result of the intensity of what they need to do , they need to be open to trying to be aware of and jump on whatever little chances the world might be offering them.


What am I suggesting that these young people do in order to change the trajectory of their lives? 

1.  Young people should place themselves in the care of a good therapist that will understand how issues of employment can have deep psychological ramifications.  Therapists that don’t incorporate this insight into their practice not only give their patients incomplete help, but dangerously inadequate care.  Patients trust their therapists to be able to devise a plan to help them reach their goals.

2.  Young people need to identify their own goals and dreams that have gotten delayed and possibly even aborted.  Many of these hopes and dreams are often best identified in their day dreams of fantasies about what they want their lives to look like when they are 30 years old.

3.  They need to identify what gifts, talents and assets they do have… and then capitalize on them immediately.  Even very pedestrian habits like procrastination and avoidance can be goal killer in this situation.  They have to bring an intensity to the goal with a focus and desire they might not have thought they had.  As one of my high school coaches told us, “Success is a child of desire.”

4.  Marshaling all their gifts and talents they need to develop a game plan- exactly how are they going to go about the task of acquiring a employment.  Again, this is where a therapist that can deal with the outside as well as the inside is indispensable.  This is not easy work, even for therapists who might be willing to wear more than one hat.  We might have to serve as analyst, proofreader for resumes, motivation maintainer and sometimes the right kick in the tuches!

5.  Taking all this information, the therapist and his/her patient have to form a plan that will enhance the chances of success for every endeavor the patient attempts.  Even things like socializing and exercise can be very important.  The plan needs to take on all kinds of issues:  time management, how they are looking for a job, the resumes and cover letters, even how the patient spends his/her free time is key.   Have it be organized and organic to the young person’s identity. And it must specific bite sized do-able goals that the young person can engage without feeling overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness.

6.  Finally, the young person needs to get know more people, professional network like he/she means it.  Who knows, they might meet someone who might want to spend time with them on romantic level.  But there will be time for that later! Right now there is a job to be won!

7.  A great mental exercise for my people is for them to pretend that they are the demon charged with the mission of messing this their life in the most destructive and long lasting ways as possible.  In this exercise, I have found people to be amazingly honest.  They will admit things like, “I would mess up my sleep schedule and wake up too late;” “I would make sure I feel so busy doing 1,000 things but none of them actually mean anything.”  I’ve even heard, “I’d make sure I don’t lose this belly because I know it makes me self-conscious and want to avoid having to interact with people.  Then when I get home, I’d make sure that I’d eat that large pizza with a few beers because it will make me feel less in control of my life.”

Will these stalled young people have a million reasons for not doing the very things that will bring them the success they need?  You can count on it.  Perhaps this is why Sun Tzu’s The Art of War might be the most important book they could read right now.  Not to make actual military soldiers out of them, but to prepare them for the economic war they need to fight right now, a fight for jobs, salary, and future happiness.


I invite any/all comments to this post….just don’t curse at me too much!

Service Available: Ensemble Therapist

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

It has been my good fortune to work with no small number of actors and directors from the Chicagoland area theater community.  They come into analytic treatment for pretty much the same reasons that everyone else does, really.  But one thing that does stand out is that frequently, either a director or an actor will come into the treatment room, script in hand, complaining, “I don’t get this!  What does the author really mean?”  Or more often, “My director tells me I’m blocked, but I don’t see how.”

To my great surprise and delight, I have found that psychoanalysis lends itself perfectly to the process of artists trying to dig into themselves, find out what is there, both good and bad, and mine deeper into what they find there for their craft.

One time I was engaged with such an actor, and this person’s off hand remark at first didn’t mean that much, “Wouldn’t it be great for you to be available to the whole theater company for when we get stuck like this.”  At first, I thought that this person was simply saying a kind remark out of generosity.  But then it hit me:  What if an analytically trained person was available to an acting company while they are finding their way to a script’s meaning?  This is not to say that the analyst would or could ever take the place of the director…God forbid!  But even if the analyst was there part of the time, available on call, available for actors and company members to explore themselves and their work, the actual product that the company produces might improve just a little, might improve immeasurably.  Either way, might it be worth a try?

So as a first go around, Spark of Creation Therapy is willing to accept the challenge to be the “ensemble therapist” as an “in kind” donation to whatever theater company might think it might be a good idea.  (Given logistics, travel times, and all the other real life issues that occur.)  But it might be fun.  Most importantly, could it be possible that it could help create even better theater than the high level of theater that people in Chicagoland are somewhat spoiled with?  There’s no way to know but to try.  So be in touch actors all around.  SPARK thinks more highly of you than Max Bialystock.

Football and Life

Monday, August 15th, 2011

As I sit and watch the first pre-season game, I am reminded of some of the important lessons football, like all sports can teach us.  Having said that, I know some people will not agree with any, much less all of what I say.  They will protest football’s violence and tolerance of behaviors we might describe as less than gentlemanly.  That said, acknowledging that I do not have the power to change the game, I think participating in this sport or honestly any team sport, either as a fan or a player on whatever level, can teach us some very necessary lessons about life:

1.  You have to prepare for the game.
The lockout did not demand that all the players train as much as they should before the season.  It will become very obvious who is ready and who is not.  Injuries and sub-par performance will point an accusing finger at those players who did not train as hard as they should.  The same is true in life.  If you don’t study, you probably won’t do that well on the exam.  If you don’t work on yourself, you don’t bring your best self to your work or your relationships.  We have to train as if the Superbowl is on the line.

2.  For the things that matter, you really get one chance.
Once the ball is snapped, the quarterback has to make a decision.  There is no reset button.  This is how sports can be superior to video games.  Like in life, you don’t get a second chance.  My patients that have driven under the influence of chemicals often learn at an agonizing price, that there are no “do-overs.”

3.  You have to play as a team.
Yes, each athlete on the field is responsible for his performance.  But those teams where the players work well together, always outperform the ones with one star and everyone else giving it only 50%.  Families are the same way.  A family cannot function with a taking care of number one attitude.  The same is true of marriages.  Life becomes richer and more rewarding when we look out for each other.  Being social creatures, we NEED each other.  Relationships are not optional.  We need each other to survive.

4.  Football has refs for a reason.
More importantly, the players have to submit to their authority.  The same is true of life.  We all need some kind of authority to which we submit our own wills.  This discipline by itself brings great rewards.  It is the basis of physical fitness, academic achievement and happiness in our marriages.  I’m not saying that we should be “people pleasers”.  But perhaps it is necessary that we acknowledge that we don’t know everything.  Indeed, we can be wrong.

5.  We don’t always get what we want.
Internalizing this small fact can make us wise.  The myth that we can always get the latest or perceived best of anything brings chaos to an individual’s life or that of a nation.  Sometimes we lose.  This truth must be accepted if we are to become people worth knowing and not just large, obnoxious babies.  Even if we manage to get much of what we want in life, none of us live on this earth forever.  This does not mean that death makes life meaningless.  Rather, death gives life its urgency to be lived well, fully, and intentionally.

These are just a few of the necessary lessons about life than one can learn from football.  I could write many more.  But perhaps the most important thing is to become more conscious of Truth that is trying to present itself to us where ever we are, whatever we are doing.  Seeing the light begins with opening our eyes.