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Christmas dinners and the empty chair syndrome

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Christmas dates, especially New Year's Eve, are in principle moments of joy, expression of affection and reconciliation. For decades this has been the idea of ​​Christmas that we have been creating together in a large part of Western countries whose roots are linked to Christianity, and the truth is that, believers or not, there are many people who appreciate these dates precisely because of the values ​​they represent.

However, there are some people who find it difficult to experience these days while maintaining a good frame of mind. Many of these cases are due to empty chair syndrome.

What is empty chair syndrome?

He empty chair syndrome is the feeling of loss generated by what is perceived as a significant absence, something that also takes on a special intensity in an environment that is supposed to be cheerful and festive, such as a dinner. That is why this concept is linked to the idea of psychological duel.

A conspicuous absence at the table can trigger a process of psychological mourning even when the missing person has not died. This is so because, in the empty chair syndrome, the key word is not "death" but "solitude."

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the empty chair it is a silent testimony that there is a vacuum at the table that makes us a little more isolated from the rest of the people than before. To the feelings of sadness, discomfort (and, occasionally, guilt) that this causes, we can add those caused by the death of the person who do not sit down to eat with us, but this factor may not always occur and therefore does not condition the appearance or not of the chair syndrome empty.

That is why, when we talk about this type of mourning, it should be taken into account that the most frequent feelings are those associated with isolation and loneliness.

What role does Christmas have in this?

Christmas can become an important factor in the appearance of the empty chair syndrome, since Informal bonds of attachment are very important on these dates between people with a strong relationship with each other (even between those who are not in regular contact). On New Year's Eve, specifically, the appreciation of the moments shared by people who love or care for each other is emphasized.

This, which in principle is something positive, may have the counterpart of accentuating absences during this period. In addition, the contrast that can be seen between the absence of significant people and the typical Christmas scene in which all the families come together in full can generate a sensation of "abnormality" and misfortune whose triggers cannot be fully explained, or they locate the origin of the absence in facts of which we feel guilty.

Recommendations to combat empty seat syndrome

The truth is that there is no definitive and universal recipe for dealing with empty seat syndrome, since each person's grieving processes are unique.

However, Yes, there are some general recommendations to combat mood states that generate strong discomfort and that tend to work in a large number of cases. Here are some of these essential indications to manage this type of mourning.

  • Do not isolate yourself or remain silent all the time: interact with the other people who share a table and make contributions to the conversation, even if this does not feel like it.
  • Reinterpret the way of perceiving physical space previously occupied at the table by absent people, so that an empty chair is not synonymous with loss and sadness. This is one of the best ways to build resilience.
  • The empty chair syndrome has a strong symbolic component, the most common being the empty chair itself. That is why it is possible to turn the situation around by using alternative symbolic forms to remembering the absent loved one in a way that does not create pain and sadness that is difficult to bear manage.
  • Avoiding the use of substances to abstract from memories that generate sadness and discomfort, and use drugs only to the extent prescribed by a doctor. This point is extremely important so that the duel becomes chronic and that it does not become serious problems in many aspects of life.
  • If necessary, go to start psychological therapy to identify specific needs and facilitate the completion of the steps described above.

a final thought

It is also important to keep in mind that although Christmas is a time linked to affection, love and camaraderie, this does not have to be limited to the family. Many of the absences on New Year's Eve are irremediable, but It is also practically impossible that throughout our lives we do not come across people with whom it is possible to feel a strong attachment and a brotherly friendship.. The empty chair syndrome can be very difficult to overcome if we understand that the only presences valid are those of a group that can lose members over time, but not win them.

That is why it is worth rethinking the traditional New Year's Eve dinner scheme as something in which only blood ties matter, a model in which the Absences weigh much more if there is no generational change and in which, therefore, whether there are more or fewer people at the table depends on the number of couples and births.

Managing mourning and loss at Christmas is also reflecting on the type of attachment that we have to appreciate on these dates. And the one that is created spontaneously, even well into adulthood, is very valid. Both to enjoy it and to rethink our concept of loneliness.

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