Christmas. Season of cheer and goodwill. The time when we are all supposed to love one another, to cherish one another, and to make each other feel special. That message comes at us from all directions – movies, TV commercials, adverts, songs. Happy families, loving couples, smiling people … happiness and joy are the order of the day.

Of course Christmas is a delightful time for many of us. Where I live, for instance, it’s pretty hard not to get into the spirit of things when there are colourful lights shining out of the midwinter darkness, chasing away the gloom. And as it happens, I’ve learned to enjoy Christmas. But there was definitely a time when I didn’t. I dreaded this time of year and couldn’t wait for it to be over. It was something to be endured, and I just kept my eyes firmly fixed on the calendar, waiting for January 1 to roll around.

I know that this is the way many people feel. For many this is such a tough time of year, and those picture-perfect Yule images just make it worse. Far too often, that fantasy Christmas just makes our lives seem so desperately WRONG in comparison.

We all know that dysfunction exists, and we know there is hardly a family that does not have its share. The variations are endless: families with addictions, families with financial difficulties, debt, mental problems, emotional or physical abuse, broken homes … all those things that can be so devastating and so hurtful.

And somehow Christmas has a way of bringing out our hurts and vulnerabilities like no other time of the year. Maybe it’s because of the contrast with all those images of perfection, or maybe it’s because we are often confronted with the very people who hurt us in the first place, or with whose behavior we have such trouble coping. Or maybe it’s something else – I don’t know. I just know that Christmas amplifies all those desperate feelings. The hurt grows bigger, the loneliness harder, the abandonment and rejection so much more painful.

And because society expects us to act a certain way, we try to hide or suppress those feelings, putting on a brave face or a stiff upper lip, which often makes us feel more isolated than before.

It’s not easy. And in my experience it’s so important to have people around who are genuine, and who see you and support you as you are.

I still get the occasional twinges of Christmas blues, but it’s nothing like it was. Mostly because I’ve worked hard to create a life that works, and I now have wonderful, loving people who surround me and support me. Still, the change came quite unexpectedly – a few years ago, when it was all over, I suddenly realized that I’d just experienced the best Christmas of my adult life. Being the analytical type I had to sit down and figure out why – and discovered that the single most important factor was that I’d gone into the season with no expectations. It wasn’t intentional, it had just worked itself out that way. I was delighted and happy with everything simply because they were add-ons to the zero I had started out with.

Anyway. Wherever you are this Christmas season, I hope you’re having a good one. And if you’re not – hang in there, January 1 is just a couple of weeks away.