I love this time of year. The nights are drawing in and the trees are looking beautiful. We can look forward to log fires, hot soup and cosy evenings in. Then, in the not too distant future – Christmas – a time for peace, celebration, joy and goodwill to all men. A time to enjoy fun with friends and family – a time to sing songs around the piano and listen to carol singers as they brave the icy cold. Or is it?

Christmas is such an interesting time. As the evenings draw in we tend not to look after ourselves so well – we eat too much, drink too much and don’t get enough exercise. We have unrealistic expectations – putting pressure on ourselves to get things done before the break, in order for us to have that ‘perfect’ Christmas – sold to us by the media and advertising campaigns. We spend far too much money buying that ‘ideal’ present for the person who has everything, and we force ourselves to spend time with the family member that we avoid for the rest of the year. And then, surprisingly, we wonder why we don’t enjoy it!

Tips for a stress free Christmas

It is a perfect recipe for Psychological Games. The theory of Games was developed by Eric Berne the founder of Transactional Analysis. We all play Games. They are unconscious and repetitive. We learn to play Games in our family of origin, as a way of getting our needs met when we are young. Once these games may have been useful to us, but as adults, they’re generally unhelpful and destructive. We are much more likely to play them when we are tired, run down or stressed, and with those who will play them with us! At Christmas, we often put ourselves back into our family of origin where we first learned to play the Games.

Steve Karpman developed the Drama Triangle (see image) to help us to understand the concept of Games. When we are in a Game, we are on this triangle and as the Game progresses, we move to a different position.

When we are in the Rescuer position we are taking care of, looking after, doing more than, the other person. Often doing more then we want to! Have you ever experienced this at Christmas? Doing things you don’t want to do? Spending time with people you would rather not spend time on? Spending money on things you don’t want to buy? When we are in the Rescue position we often build up resentment. When in the Persecutor position, we are generally angry or resentful. We ‘have a go’ at the other participant in the Game, put them down, belittle and undermine them. We feel that we are right and they are wrong and blame others. We offload our frustrations onto others. Have you experienced times when you have offloaded frustration onto another person, possibly even when the frustration had nothing to do with them? When we are in the Victim position – we are in a victim role. (This is different from actual victims, who do not invite what happens to them.) We are undermining ourselves, believing we can’t do things – we are powerless and unable. We might say things like, ‘I can’t find the right present,’ or ‘it’s all too much for me.’

When we are in a Game we unconsciously seek others who will play the opposite roles. Once found, we will then play out our Games. An example might be adult children who come home for Christmas. It always amazes me how my own grown-up children, who are very capable adults in the world, can regress back to being children as they walk through my door. It might be that you haven’t seen them for a while and want to make it a great Christmas for them. You shop, cook, clean and spend time thinking about what they would like. You plan and bake and wrap. You buy the biggest tree, decorate it, and put a pile of presents underneath. You wear yourself into the ground and are tired. Which position do you think you are in? Your children then come in from having fun with their friends and say, ‘It’s so boring here, there is nothing to do’ If you were thinking, rather than just reacting, you would realise they are in a Victim position. It’s not up you to provide their entertainment. They are adults. What do you think you might feel? It could be anger – and you move into the Persecutor position. If you play this Game out, you might start to have a go at them. You might tell them they are ungrateful, after everything you’ve done for them etc. etc. etc. We would all go away feeling bad.

There is a whole range of different Games we can play. It depends which ones we have learnt as a child. Look out for the Games you might play – at the end of them, we always feel bad in some way. You can avoid these Games, by really taking care of yourself – both physically and psychologically – by not doing more then you want, by expressing frustrations before they build-up, and by realising that you can do things for yourself, enjoying a stress free Christmas.

The Link Centre offers various courses in counselling and psychotherapy, counselling skills and various workshops in Kent and Sussex. Please visit www.thelinkcentre.co.uk for more details