Christmas carols on the radio, department store Santas, holiday window displays, ads for the latest gift ideas—these are among the many festive signs of the holiday season. While many of us welcome the pageantry, others feel a powerful loneliness that undercuts any possible feelings of comfort and joy.
According to a 2006 survey conducted by the research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the American Psychological Association, one in four Americans report experiencing loneliness during the holiday season. Perhaps you’re among them. If so, you might dread the feeling and wonder what you can do to avoid it.
Reasons for Holiday Loneliness
Why, during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, can a person feel lonely? After all, they are times of social gatherings, shared rituals and reminiscences. And if a person is lonely at other times, why do holidays seem to make the feeling even worse?
“Loneliness is or seems more intense during the holidays because of all the media coverage that describes holidays as a time for gatherings, friends and family,” says Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in State College, Pennsylvania. She asserts that this Norman Rockwell–like characterization of the holidays can seem unreal to people whose families don’t fit the traditional-nuclear-family mold due to circumstances within or beyond their control. Deaths, divorce, misunderstandings, financial problems, geographical separation—these and other factors can affect a person’s sense of isolation during the holidays.
Holidays also have a way of bringing up the past, causing us to compare current holidays to previous ones. According to Susan Anderson, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of The Journey from Abandonment to Healing and Taming Your Outer Child, “The sights, smells and sounds of holidays hearken back to childhood when you were nestled in your family and create a painful contrast to your current aloneness.”
Of course, that’s if your past holidays were happy ones. But what if your memories of those times are sad or even traumatic? In that case, you might still feel lonely if your emotional wounds haven’t been addressed and healed.
Up next: How to cope with holiday loneliness.