Your Christmas Carol
During this time of year, I often use the classic tale, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens as a therapeutic approach to help my clients self-reflect on their past, present, and future. My goal of this activity is to help my clients identify their unresolved issues in their past, how they can improve their life presently, and to motivate them to follow through with doing so by seeing how their current choices impact their future.
If you were visited by the three spirits as in the “A Christmas Carol” tale, what would they say to you?
· Ghost of Christmas Past: what are the events in your past that have shaped who you are and your current life? Do you have unresolved past issues that led to your present day struggle? Do you have regrets, guilt? Do you need to make amends?
· Ghost of Christmas Present: what are your present day choices? Your thoughts, emotions, behaviors? Are your present day choices and actions in-line with your goals? Are you happy, healthy, and living the life you imagined for yourself? If not, why not?
· Ghost of Christmas Future: If you continue with your present day actions, or inactions, what will your future look like? Even further, as depicted in this classic tale, what will your funeral look like? What will people say about you and your life after you’ve passed?
The three ghosts in “A Christmas Carol” represent CHOICES. Your past, present, and future are defined by your choices. This is often hard for people to accept because most get caught in the web of blaming others for their feelings and problems. The truth is you are in control of your life. No decision is permanent—except death. You may not have control over situations that occur, but you have control to how to respond to them and how you choose to feel about them. (Yes, how you CHOOSE to feel.)
A Fun Fact: A chemical reaction in the brain for an emotion lasts about 90 seconds. This means that if you’re experiencing the emotion after the 90 seconds then you are actively doing something that is causing you to continue to experience the emotion. For example, something happens and you feel angry. What do you do with that anger? Do you call someone and “vent” to them about it? Do you obsessively think about the situation and get more upset that you “coulda, shoulda, woulda” responded differently? You are reliving the situation and therefore re-experiencing the emotion. Change your thought = change your emotion. (This is the basis of Cognitive Behavior Therapy!)
Okay, so you’ve self-reflected. What now?
· Resolving the Past: You can learn how to accept your past choices. Define your past as a learning process. Allow yourself to learn from your past to avoid making the same mistakes in the present and future. Allow you to heal from any past unresolved issues and leave it there. If you’re struggling with feelings of shame, guilt, or regret then you are living in the past. The past is over and cannot be changed. All you can do now is learn from it (which is the healthy function of guilt by the way! To problem-solve!).
· Understanding your Present: Let’s learn how your current thoughts, emotions, and behaviors impact your overall health and success in life. Once you recognize your choices that don’t serve you, you can change those choices, and you will improve your overall wellness and happiness.
· Reshaping your Future: Let’s find a healthy balance between not worrying about the future and setting healthy goals. Let’s understand how your present day behaviors and choices will impact those future goals. Remember, a goal is not a future event. It is a daily action. Doing something small each day eventually gets to your end goal. What’s one thing you can do today to get the ball rolling?
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this therapeutic exercise is insightful.