But there are steps you can take that may help make the season bright for you once again.
This is a time of year that brings so much joy to so many.
There’s caroling and brightly colored lights, random acts of kindness, and cookies made just because. Then there are the family gatherings punctuated by laughter and togetherness.
It’s that last part that gets some people, though. Because the holidays don’t always mean joy within every family.
For some, a recent loss can be highlighted and made to feel so much more painful as a result of the holidays. And for others dealing with estrangement from their own families, the holidays can serve as a reminder of what they don’t have.
It’s an internal ache that’s sometimes made to feel more intense by the contrast to others’ joy. Which is why for some, the holidays become a time of survival rather than celebration.
‘Tis the season? Not for everyone
“The holidays can be a sad reminder of the family and friends who are no longer with us, or the friends and family we never had and never will have,” said Beatrice Tauber Prior, PsyD, clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and owner of Harborside Wellbeing in Cornelius, North Carolina.
“In fact, my practice becomes even busier during the holidays with people who are coping with loss,” she added.
It’s common for the holidays to be a harder time of year for those who are already working through hardships in their lives, Prior explained.
Janet Zinn, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in grief, loss, and relationships, told Healthline this emotional struggle happens in part because of the shared rituals that commonly take place during the holidays.
These rituals can highlight a loss for those who no longer have their loved ones around to celebrate with.
“The myth of the holidays is that it is a happy, celebratory time,” she explained. “So not feeling happy, going through grief, can feel particularly lonely.”
While losing a loved one is painful, it’s something practically everyone experiences at some point. Which means others may be more quick to at least understand your struggle if a recent loss is behind your inability to get into the holiday spirit this year.
But family estrangement can sometimes be harder to explain to people who haven’t been through it.
Those who don’t understand what you’re going through may quip that blood is thicker than water, or offer platitudes about life being too short and fragile to waste valuable time that could be spent with those you love.
There may or may not be truth to those words. Only you know the reasons for your family’s estrangement. But while you may feel alone in that experience, it’s actually more common than you might realize.
A recent analysis of 800 study participants, jointly embarked upon by the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and Stand Alone, found that 40 percent of people have experienced estrangement from family to some extent.
“Family estrangement needs to be distinguished between family members who have no contact at all (physical estrangement) and those whose contact is infrequent and conflictual when they are in contact (emotional estrangement),” Prior explained.
She added that physical estrangement tends to be less common, while emotional estrangement is something many have experienced.
“As a therapist, I see many estranged family members,” Zinn explained. She said there are a lot of reasons families might become estranged. “Currently, political differences have split family members and the arguments are heated on all ends.”
She further explained, “There are so many reasons, like sexual or gender identities that are not embraced by family members, religious differences, substance abuse that tears families apart, money or financial issues, siding with a parent during separations or divorce.”
Whatever the reasons may be, the results are the same: A family that can’t amicably be together during the holidays.
This leaves those on the outside feeling alone and robbed of the joyful family celebrations that television, movies, and society tell them they should be having.