Give the Gift of Validation This Holiday Season

The holidays come wrapped in a lot of “shoulds.”

It’s the holidays, you should feel happy.

It’s the holidays, you should want to spend them with your family.

It’s the holidays, you should show people you care with the gift of (insert product name here).

For some people, especially those struggling with a mental health disorder, they may not feel like celebrating and all those “shoulds” can be stressful. Our cultural expectation to be “jolly” during the holidays may be invalidating to people who are not feeling happy or grateful.

Here are some tips on how to show people in your life who are struggling that it’s ok to not feel good about the holidays. It’s ok that things are not ok. You are here for them despite their holiday blues.

The Gift of Validation

Sometimes the best way to be supportive of someone who is struggling is to simply listen and validate their experience. Instead of, “It’s the holidays, you should feel festive!” Try, “Yeah. Things are difficult for you right now. Is there something I can do to help?” Better yet, offer something specific. “Yeah. Things are difficult for you right now. Would you like to chill and watch a movie this weekend?”

Time Together

When making holiday plans, be aware of your own motivation. If you’re making plans based on, “This is what I want for the holiday,” those plans may not feel comfortable for your friend or loved one who is in a different space. Try to accept your friend or loved one where they are emotionally and allow them to participate in the holidays – or not participate – in a way that feels comfortable and authentic to them. Try not to interpret their decision to participate or abstain as a measure of how they value your relationship. Be flexible with family holiday traditions and consider providing alternatives that may be a better fit for everyone this year.

The Best Gifts

If someone is struggling, the expectation to buy gifts for everyone may feel daunting emotionally and financially. Consider asking for a specific gift that you know would not be a burden on your friend or loved one. “For my Christmas gift, I would really like to make dinner together.” Or, “Let’s exchange handmade cards or cookies this year.”

Be the Host with the Most

If you are hosting your friend or loved one in your home over the holidays, give them some space. It’s great to have some structured activities, but allow your guest to have downtime when they can rest and reset as well. Ask what activities help them feel restored and build those into the schedule too, like time for exercise, meditation, a phone check-in with a professional or peer, or an opportunity to attend an AA meeting or peer support group.

Replace the “Shoulds

In practicing Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, we try to eliminate the word “should” from our vocabulary—or at least replace it when we can. If you or someone you love is struggling this holiday season, try using this time of year to listen to one another and validate each individual’s current experience.

Instead of, “You should come to the family holiday party.” Try, “I know this is a difficult time for you. We would love to see you at the family holiday party. Or we could have a smaller dinner at your place on Saturday if that would feel better for you.”

Show your love and compassion in ways that feel comfortable for both of you. In so doing, you may feel the warmth of the season in a new and meaningful way.