Balance purpose, relationships, and self-care

Empathy works. It always does.

Welcoming my loneliness at the Christmas table

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Loneliness is a tough feeling. At least for me. It has something to do with thinking that I am not lovable enough to belong. That there is something wrong with me, that I am not funny, cheerful, smart, pretty enough to be invited to the Christmas table. For me the toughest part about loneliness, is the shame I feel around it. I don’t want people to know that I am not invited, that I am not worthy enough to be welcomed. I am not taking the risk that people will find out the truth of my unlovability and confirm it. The shame keeps me from sharing my loneliness. So there I am, feeling lonely in my loneliness.

christmas-1047321_960_720We all want a family where we belong and are accepted for who we are, with all our quirkiness, idiosyncratic weirdness, sensitivities. We all want a family that is willing to deal with their triggers around us, in a compassionate, empathic way. Without blame, criticism or demand that we have to change.

Not all of us have that kind of family (fortunately, I do, they are just an ocean away). For some, maybe many, our family didn’t have a sense of unconditional warmth and welcome. Our families didn’t have that unconditional commitment to turn toward each other, no matter the challenge and the pain. Many of us had families where triggers were met with turning against or turning away.

Christmas is one of these times where this pang of loneliness is most palpable. Because Christmas offers the assumption of warmth and welcome. We see people gather in family circles around the Christmas tree, and here we are, by ourselves. The pain is the result of seeing others have what we so desperately want: warmth, belonging, acceptance.

If that is true for you, I invite you to be your own family. I invite you to find the inner resources to have compassion and care for your own happiness. Maybe you can invite the parts within yourself at the Christmas table, whether you like them or not. Pull out a chair for your loneliness, your sadness, your grief, your anger, your fear, your joy. And if you’re up for it, offer a talking stick to each of them. And then listen. Just listen. What are they about? What do they want to be known for? Do they have a request of you, so they can relax and trust that you will take good care of them? And once in a while, breath into your resistance to their message. Welcome your resistance with the same love and open-hearted curiosity.

If you notice a deeper compassion and understanding for yourself, you could extend that compassion and care to everyone else who is in the same boat. If you don’t notice the softening of the heart, you can reach out for me. This Christmas, I am only a phone call away.


You want 6-minutes emergency empathy during the Holidays? Contact me, 512-589-0482.

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping professionals schedule time for relationships and self-care. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

4 thoughts on “Welcoming my loneliness at the Christmas table

  1. dearest elly, hilbrand and i were very moved by your words. this is the most beautifull prayer that we have heard these holidays. there is a lot of recognition for hilbrand in it and for me a lot of understandig how shame really works and how devastating it can be. you would be a great pastor in a dutch church! we are looking forward to seeing you at Skype one of these days. lots of love, hanneke

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    • Dear Hanneke,

      Thank you for your appreciation. I had tears in my eyes as I read you got more understanding about shame and when you suggested that churches would be happy with my sharing. Christmas eventually turned out lovely, I organized a Christmas eve gathering for my Nonviolent Communication Group as support for everyone else who feels lonely. The last left at 23.00 pm. Love, Elly.

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  2. I really enjoyed this piece. I have the thought: “Well written!” I find it clear, interesting and compassionate.

    Now three improvement thoughts, one personal: (1) I believe I am family and I am here, not across the ocean, do you feel fortunate to have my support? (2) you can also suggest seeking or building a compassionate community; that you also find yours in your NVC circles and your Sangha. I think there is a learner Buddhist mistake of thinking all work is inner work that excludes others (3) this is the biggie for me that I think is important and missing from your piece – the direct suggestion of learning TO ASK FOR HELP. If you have a shame cycle going, you may be stuck because you think you are unworthy of asking for support. I believe this is an unhelpful belief inherited by learning from overwhelmed or inexperienced teachers and turned into a self-worth introjection! All of us are worthy of asking for help! When stuck, you can support yourself as you have suggested – OR you can reach out. You do say to reach out for you at the end, I am suggesting something broader.

    Your Christmas editing elf David

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    • Dear David,

      Thank you for your elaborate response. I appreciate the connection and support I read in that.
      Yes, you are my family and community, as is NVC and my Sangha. I was writing about the pain I (and I think many) carry around our family of origin, the pain we carry from the past (even though it might be healed, and we have choice which communities we want to belong to). And yes, I feel grateful to have your support.
      It is very hard to ask for support for your loneliness, when you feel shame around it. Shame tends to hide and be unspeakable. We need others and an experience of acceptance to move through our shame. That is why I wanted to invite my NVC community, to create a space for helping me and others move through that shame.
      Love you!

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