I was going through my client's papers in her office with her when we came upon a stuffed grocery bag crammed underneath her desk. We opened it up and discovered a big bag of Christmas cards. She immediately seemed tense and upset.
I asked my client what was going on for her. She said that sending out holiday cards was a very stressful time for her. There were so many people on her card list that it felt like an obligation. She felt she had to send cards to many of the people because they sent them to her, and this was hard for her because she wasn't close to most of the recipients. She told me that it made her feel like a phony. She didn't know what to do.
I said that trying to make everyone happy by sending them the Christmas holiday cards was clutter for her because of the hard emotional strain it put on her. Doing anything just to keep people satisfied and happy is going to take its toll. We end up feeling like we're not okay unless we take care of others first. Since we end up putting ourselves last, we can never feel satisfied.
She wasn't my only client that felt this way. I've worked with a number of clients that had previously exhausted themselves trying to take care of others during the holidays. They often felt the same obligation and it also caused them grief. I told her that I've seen a lot of people drop that way of living and simplify their holidays by putting their attention on just the people they feel most close to.
My client talked about coming across an out-of-print book that her brother's wife had wanted and sending it to her last Christmas. Her sister-in-law was so touched that she wrote her a heartfelt thank you letter. My client said she liked this experience because it made her feel closer to her sister-in-law. Telling me this story made her come back to life. She was smiling and happy.
I suggested that she stop her mass mailing of the Christmas cards since it made her unhappy, and instead focus on small spur of the moment gifts that allowed her to connect with the people that mattered most to her. That way of living served her. It was a way of giving that allowed her to also give to herself.