Holiday Strategies for the Socially Nervous

Oh lordy, another holiday party. Some of us get tickled at the groaning board, or getting tricked out in new, or next-to-new, threads, or even engaging in some of the inane conversations that buzz and guffaw around us. Not you? Nor a surprising number of others. News flash: social anxiety and parties do NOT go together!

First, if you’re one of those people who need permission from a person in (questionable) authority to do what you’d really like to do, I’m fine being the person that says you don’t have to go. Even if it’s a company party, and one of the few bright spots in the recession is that fewer company parties are happening nowadays, you still don’t have to go. That being said, are you really happy being socially anxious? Doesn’t have to be. And these parties and holiday dinners are the perfect place to exercise and build those prosocial muscles!

I know social anxiety. Long before I made my living treating it, I was the kid that hid behind the door at recess, the silent adolescent with a book in my hand and long hair hiding my face. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Then I discovered theater, playing a madwoman no less, who talks to her dead dog as if it were still alive. After my monologue, the audience laughed heartily for a good three minutes, and I got high. No drugs required. First idea then, you don’t have to go as you. At these gatherings (big secret), few do. Or do you really think that the mind-body-spirit complexity of which each human is capable is entirely missing in that room? Among these inane, superficially cheery people is more than one heartbreak, one terror past or present. And in each of us there is a part that can bring on the holiday spirit…you too.

Close your eyes. When you envision the quality of joy, of power, or of safety and protection, what is the color that comes to mind immediately?  A good role starts with a good costume. Wear this color. On your panties or boxers if you need to, but wear it. One of my clients was gearing up for a family party and, big surprise, dreading it. But yellow was her color of personal power to counteract the dismissiveness she generally received at the dinner table, and so she wore it. And for her, at least, it completely shifted the experience.

I know that therapists love to encourage the “inner child,” but either at the Thanksgiving table or at the holiday fete, that’s no place to take yours. Love that child, then put that child to bed unless you’re looking forward to an enjoyable evening. What part of you, now properly dressed, and however small and underdeveloped, could show up? Sit down, become very quiet, and invite that part of you to arise, and for a brief hour of socializing, take over.


Sound strange? We are never the same person at work, quite, that we are at home; never the same with the bagger at the grocery store, quite, that we are with our most intimate other. We all have parts. Maybe this is one worth building a little.

Don’t worry, this is not the end game. The end game involves an initial review of the room, a selection of the available people for the ones who look most appealing to your tastes, followed by a leisurely approach that then bypasses the initial chit-chat for something of depth, and possibly, a budding friendship. Pleasure at noticing what in both you, and this new person, are being elicited, and what the combination of your personalities produces. An exchange of light and energy in a season that celebrates light in the darkness.

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