There have been a lot of movies, books and articles written about HOW the Grinch stole Christmas, but I haven’t seen a lot of information out there on WHY the Grinch stole Christmas. I think understanding WHY will explain why Christmas is such a miserable time of year for so many people, and it really is.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” is probably Dr. Seuss’s most classic story of all. If you have never read the book or seen the movie, or even if you have, it’s worth rereading or revisiting it. The story is about a green ogre who lives on a mountain, miserable and angry and resentful of the Whos in the village below who are celebrating Christmas. The happier they are, the angrier he gets. This continues until finally he can’t take it anymore and hatches a plan to steal away their joy—by stealing Christmas. You know the ending. The Grinch has an epiphany of awareness, is touched by an act of kindness, returns Christmas to the village and ends up being accepted, loved and embraced by the Whos. Like that’s going to happen right? It’s a fairy tale. Don’t be a Grinch. If you can get one client, or even yourself, through the season with or without a meltdown, you’ve been as successful as the Whos. Things to remember about Grinches in general:
Most Grinches are isolated.
Dr. Seuss’s Grinch lived with his dog outside Whoville. He didn’t have a therapist or social worker with a coffee cup full of candy canes and a token Christmas gift to comfort him. He had no one to reach out to, no one to trust but his dog, and no memories to draw upon to get him through the holidays in a positive state of mind. Isolation creates a lot of issues and problems, but more so during the holidays. If you’re seeing an increase in grouchiness, withdrawing or tempers, try inviting the Grinch to lunch, or tea, or to linger a little longer in the hallway when you stop to chat. Don’t forget to make sure you attend a few functions and parties too—even if you have to host them yourselves. Everyone needs a little more attention during the holidays, even us.
Most Grinches have a painful past.
According to the movie version anyway, the Grinch was bullied, abused, humiliated and socially tortured as a child. He never really learned to bond or form deep relationships with those around him. Sound like any clients, colleagues, neighbors or family you know? Grinches have issues totally unrelated to the holiday season. The media myths showcasing happy families and gifts have the same effect on the Grinches of today as it did on Dr. Seuss’ green ogre in the cave. Hurting people hurt people. Grinches don’t know how else to relieve their pain or tension other than to strike back and inflict the pain they felt. Christmas seems to bring up the pain more than any other time of year. Be extra patient and compassionate towards Grinches this month.
Lonely people have different brain functions, more health problems and fewer ways to cope with the holidays. Don’t take my word for it. Take Dr. John Cacioppo’s research. Cacioppo’s study of loneliness shows that perceived social isolation (i.e., loneliness) in normal samples is a more important predictor of a variety of adverse health outcomes than is objective social isolation.
Perceived isolation and loneliness can be as excruciatingly painful as actual isolation. Rock stars and celebrities are surrounded by adoring, happy fans, but even the greatest of the great feel lonely and isolated in the midst of a feast of fans and love. Your Grinch may perceive life differently.
Once a year everyone around him/her appears to be happy, connected, loving and happy. They wrap gifts, watch fireworks, throw parties, sing, dance, eat and in general, seem to be having a great time with or without him. As social workers you all know those smiles hide misery, overspending, alcoholism, spouse abuse and misery, but the Grinches of the world don’t know that. They never learned to read the subtle clues that tell those in psychology what’s probably going on behind that tight smile, sad eyes and proclamations of “No! Really, I’m FINE!” that suicidal ideations are forming.
Grinches don’t know the truth.
Grinches believe what their television, the media and the ninety-zillion ads during the holiday season tell them to believe—that everyone is happy. They watch as the media churns out the annual feel-good movies, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” plays non-stop on Netflix, Hulu.com and YouTube from the first of December to the moment the ball drops in Time Square on New Years. They listen as co-workers, friends, neighbors and strangers lie to cover up their own problems during the holidays. They go through a social gaslighting, as no one around them is willing to admit that a lot more people feel as depressed, stressed, angry and frustrated as they do, but are unwilling to admit it. Give the gift that keeps on giving. Tell them that most of us dread the holidays, revel in parts of the holidays, and have simply learned to focus on the great moments and forget or ignore the stress, fighting, financial crunch and holiday pressures.
Finally, admit that you too have an inner Grinch—one that wants to be left alone, who doesn’t want to go to another party, or throw another party. Your inner Grinch must be reminded that all is not as it seems, that other people have issues, stress, problems and things to grieve as well as celebrate this season. Embrace the inner Grinch who just wants to get home, out of the cold, away from people, into their pajamas where they can settle down with a book, a game, a pint of ice cream, a loving spouse, a pet, or FaceBook and just relax. It’s just one month. You and your Grinches (inner and outer) CAN and WILL get through it. Dr. Seuss told us so, so it must be true.