Having grown up In New York, I can remember how the City would magically transform during the Holiday Season into a visual delight. Her harsh edginess would soften under a white blanket of snow, and the loud honking horns of the taxis would be subdued by the Salvation Army’s bell ringing Santas on every corner. For a short time, my rough, tough city opened herself up and revealed a brilliance that took my breath away. It seemed like everyone was bustling about in a good mood. As a child, you have built in radar for magical moments, and the Holiday Season was certainly bleeping out of control on my radar screen. This was the time of year for receiving gifts, lots and lots of them!
Memories can get swirled about during holidays, rekindling old feelings attached to the receiving and giving of gifts. In fact how we feel about gifts today can be rooted in what we experienced in our childhood. For instance, when Amy came in to see me last month, she was already feeling overwhelmed by thoughts of purchasing gifts for the holidays. In the past, she had always bought extravagant gifts for her family and friends, but this year, her income was cut in half due to the recession and she was on a strict budget. She felt anxious about disappointing the people she cared about. It was clear that these extravagant gifts were costing her a lot more than money. They were costing her the feeling of not knowing that she would be loved no matter what she gave. Amy rested her head back on the sofa and looked up at the ceiling, recalling a Christmas party at her dancing school when she was eight years old. Amy was raised by a single mom who struggled financially to take care of her three children. After her parents divorced, they had to leave their home and move into an apartment in a different neighborhood. Although Amy’s mom worked hard trying to maintain a lifestyle the family was accustomed to, it was impossible; certain sacrifices had to be made. Amy said her mom knew how much she loved dancing so upon her insistence, she was allowed to keep up her dancing lessons. But, she remembered feeling different from the other girls now that her parents were divorced and she no longer lived in the old neighborhood. One Saturday morning, her mom dropped her off at dancing school, and as she started to climb the steps up to the dance studio, she heard two girls in her class giggling about what a “junky,” gift they got from Amy at the Christmas party. Tears fell from Amy’s eyes as she relived the pain and humiliation she felt that day. She just wanted to run home, lock herself in her room and never come back to dancing school again. Amy didn’t tell her mom of the incident at dancing school because she was afraid to burden her anymore than she already was. She went back to dancing school the following week and pretended that she never heard the hurtful remark, but as she started to climb the steps up to the studio, her heart would remind her of the shame she felt that day.
Through the years, in order to avoid the shame of not belonging and not feeling good enough, Amy would try and impress people by spending an exorbitant amount of money on gifts, especially during the holiday season. But now, she did not have this remedy available to soothe her childhood wounds, and she was forced to confront this old wound that she has been carrying around for so many years. Avoiding the pain through giving the extravagant gifts never allowed her the opportunity to heal her deep feelings of inadequacy. Amy was surprised by the powerful feelings she still felt around this issue. She hadn’t realized that many decisions she made in her life were informed by this very deep wound. Her tendency towards perfectionism, self-criticism, self-doubt and envy had their roots during this difficult transition in her young life.
Understandably, most people tend to not want to think about difficult childhood memories. In fact, we are told throughout our lives to move on, don’t cry over spilt milk, keep the past in the past, and let bygones be bygones. However, if you keep bumping up against negative patterns that get in the way of your happiness, maybe it’s time to invite them in for a cup of tea and get to know them. Let your past help you to understand your present. Through the journey of reacquainting oneself with difficult past experiences, you can reconnect to these parts of yourself that you have been cut off from. It is through the process of becoming aware of them, giving them the attention, tenderness and understanding that was absent in the first place that will enable the wound to heal and recede. The transformation is possible through the pain itself and the pain is transformed into your gift, the gift of healing.
Amy struggled with her sadness and pain, but this year, she was able to give herself the best gift possible, the gift of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Her struggle to have compassion for that hurt little girl she had been carrying around inside her all these years also gave her compassion for others who have been shamed and humiliated. Her compassion has helped her to feel more connected to people in a genuine, authentic way.
I see my articles as approaches to understanding ourselves as human beings and very much linked to creating performance artist of the highest calibre. Have you ever noticed how some actors are so much better than others, have the ability to go to great depths with their performances? This is a process of having actors learn to love the art within themselves through learning about themselves and their psychological landscapes. The real substance of the actor’s tools are his mind, body, heart and soul. “Our aim is to create the life of a human spirit and then to express it in a beautiful artistic form.” – Stanislavski
Through my training and experience as a psychotherapist and actress, I am able to shed some light on psychological places that actors may be cut off from, within themselves, that are vitally unique to their acting. My articles are a way of helping actors to understand themselves on a deeper level, so that with self-awareness and intelligence, they can master this self-knowledge and engage it at willin the creative process of acting.
Are there wounds from your past that keep reemerging in the present and stop you from enjoying your life? This holiday season, rather than getting caught up in consuming substitutes for deeper longings, can you think of gifts that would truly make a long lasting difference in your life? Are there places inside of you that could benefit from the gifts of healing? Take a peek at my free gift list for more ideas.
Wishing you a happy and joyous holiday,
P.S. If you have trouble setting goals and having direction for the New Year, join me for a Vision Board Workshop. In an atmosphere of warmth and fun, realize your deepest dreams and learn to set your sails in the direction you wish to take.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.