Life lessons I’ve learned (and re-learned) from a difficult, frustrating holiday season full of triggers, pain, and discomfort.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the holidays have historically been difficult. Foolishly, I thought it would be different this year. After all, I had just come back from a meditation retreat. I didn’t stress myself out getting material gifts. I decided to do the 12 Days of ReKINDling Challenge. I had been building deeper connections to my family over the past year. Why wouldn’t it be easier?

And still, it was a trigger-fest.

And so, with (metaphorical) dirt on my face and some new notches on my belt, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned from having a frustrating, difficult holiday season. Even as I’m writing this, there’s still much pain and discomfort. As I’ve promised before, I am not going to wait until I’m all better and “perfect” before I share what I’ve learned. And yet, sharing has been a challenge.

As a writer, there’s always a fine balance between my own vulnerability and the deserved privacy of the people who never asked to have their feelings or actions made public. So, I’m going to try to share what I’ve learned over this season, but know—this is not the whole story. I can only tell as much as being respectful will allow me.

So here, in no particular order, is what I’ve learned in this past month. I say “learned,” but I don’t mean that I had an epiphany. You can find pieces of my writing when I had these epiphanies long ago. No, I am not just having intellectual revelations. I am getting practice with life’s most important teachings. This is not the end. I will never be done learning.

1. I am no one’s saviour

I am not the only possible reason that people are upset or happy. I am not the only difference between a person’s healing and not healing. I am not responsible for fixing others’ suffering.

This seems really obvious, and I thought I knew it. And yet, I’ve discovered some part of myself that doesn’t understand this at all—a part that takes responsibility for everyone’s emotions, healing, and happiness, and then goes crazy when I can’t make it work.

About a year and a half ago, I had this epiphany about my clients. I realized that my compassion for their suffering had somehow turned into my feeling solely responsible for “fixing” that suffering. I wanted so badly to ease their pain that I developed this saviour complex. Needless to say, this didn’t work out very well.

It took me much pain and self-awareness to realize that I wasn’t the architect of the universe. I couldn’t make change happen for anyone. I could help people allow change. I could love people and give them a safe space. I could be their support system and best friend, but not their saviour. Everyone must save themselves.

Well, isn’t it amazing, then, that I’ve been trying to “fix” my loved ones? Over the past few years, it seems I developed a new version of the saviour complex towards people I’d forgiven. I forgave them and developed compassion towards what they did in times of suffering. Then, I started feeling responsible for fixing that suffering.

I wanted so badly to break the vicious cycles of pain in my family that I thought my love and compassion would change the behaviours of anyone except myself. Big mistake. Taking responsibility for changing others is a recipe for frustration.

I’ve realized, again, that I am no one’s saviour. I’ve also realized that this tendency to take responsibility for other people’s lives and to fall into mistrusting the natural processes of change is going to come up again. I’ve learned to watch for it. For that, I am grateful.

2. I cannot escape judgment by being better

In my relationship with myself, it has taken years to see that self-judgment and my worth are unrelated. Self-judgment is a pattern of thought, and no amount of self-improvement can fix it.

I started learning this slowly in my work as well. Some people will hate what I have to say, and other people will love it. That has nothing to do with my worth or the worth of my words.

And yet, this past holiday season, I discovered this little girl inside of me who still thinks that she can earn love and approval. When I found her, I cried. I cried because she deserved that love, and because she’d never get it from where she needed it. I cried because there was no one to blame.

Visiting with my family this time around has been more of a minefield than ever because I feel that I am closer than ever to living authentically. To have my mask criticized is one thing. To have my self-aware choices bring shame and disappointment to people I so deeply wanted to be proud of me—that is something else.

For example, to Jamie and I, selling all our things to travel was a dream come true. To my family, it’s not respectable. I should settle down and have children. I’m irresponsible. I should grow up. And in the meantime, no one cares about what I’m doing to help people or help the world. No one asks.

But what has been the real cause of the suffering? Is it their judgment? Is it their poking and prodding? Or, is it my expectation that, maybe this time, I’ll visit and something different will happen? Is it maybe my hope that they will suddenly change, or my even more unreasonable hope that I’ll do something so pride-worthy that they’ll be proud of me?

I realized that, even though I know logically that I shouldn’t, some part inside of me wants to be accepted so badly that I hope and wish, every single time, that maybe this time, I’ll be good enough. Just like when I used to feel fat and ugly all the time, and I’d step in front of the mirror, feel shame, and think, “Maybe next time. Not this time, but maybe next time, you’ll be beautiful.”

And I’m done. I can’t do it anymore.

My job isn’t to change how they do things or how they perceive me. I can’t change their values or make them stop trying to impose their values onto me. I can, however, expect that these conversations will come up and handle them more gracefully. And I can let go of the expectation that my grace will make the slightest difference to anyone except me.

3. Difficult people will either leach you or teach you

I’ve done my best to face the trigger-fest of these past few weeks with patience, a calm resolve to get through the storm instead of fighting against it. In that space, I realized that I had a choice: to resist or to learn.

If I allowed myself to resist, I would get run dry, and then I would become exactly what I was fighting against. If I allowed myself to learn, I would feel pain and surrender, and then I would become wiser. So, I started looking at which parts of my own behaviour I see in the behaviour of those who have triggered me.

I’ve realized that it’s much harder to learn from people with whom I have a history of pain.  My mind has come up with a million justifications as to why I shouldn’t use them as mirrors for my own behaviours.

“I’m not like that. I wouldn’t do it to that extent. I only get like that when I’m really stressed. I don’t take it that far. I don’t hurt people this much when I do it. I would have apologized even if I did do that.”

And yet, as I’ve reminded myself constantly: every mirror is worthwhile. I’ve also reminded myself of the fact that, in my darkest hours, I have allowed myself to become the same monster that I spent my life fighting. I am not some saint who has no darkness within me. I am just a person trying to choose the light.

And so, to experience the pain that a person can inflict upon me when they choose darkness—this is an incredible teaching. And it hurts. It hurts so much. But I’m choosing to learn from it.

I can’t do this forever, and I don’t know if I’m going to subject myself to this for as long next time, but choosing to learn from this pain has been constructive. Brutally painful, but useful. By choosing to learn from it, I am getting something valuable out of it. If I didn’t make that choice, I would just get drained more and more until I reached my own darkness and then started to do things that hurt others.

I have realized that when it comes to people whom I find difficult, they will either leach me or teach me. It’s going to be nothing in-between. I will either allow the darkness to spread to me, or I will allow the darkness to teach me the importance of light.

The amount of pain, in the moment, is the same. But in the long run? Choosing to learn will give me more than turning into the worst version of myself.


So those are my lessons from this difficult time, which will come to an end within a few weeks when I set off to Southeast Asia. Some part of me just wants to keep this post for my records and not publish it because the dust is still settling down and I don’t have a giant smile on my face yet.

And that hesitation—that urge to conceal this perfectly normal, painful, and yet real, human experience—is exactly why I am sharing.

If you relate to this, know that you’re not alone. And you’re also not doomed.

The holidays can be hard and facing the past can be hard. We can’t escape that pain. But we can choose to learn from it and we can choose to share what we’re learning. We can choose to do it together and to be honest about it.

I want to thank you so much for reading this. Thank you for allowing my feelings to be important to you and for walking with me on this confusing, beautiful path.

I hope that my sharing will inspire you to leave me a comment below and share your experiences with holiday triggers and frustration as well. Your story matters too.

(Photo by Gabriel Kronisch)


18 thoughts on “3 Things Learned From Holiday Frustration

  1. Boy, does all that sound familiar! Thanks, Vironika, for always being a leader in self-love, for sharing your vulnerability and sharing the struggle, even when things aren’t looking so ‘pretty.’ My family life is pretty un-pretty, too, and there ain’t nothing I can do about it but take the lessons and trust that a) it’s for a reason and b) I am strong enough to accept this challenge and heal myself, just as you are doing. Like a sister from another mother, much love, xox, Reba

    1. Thank you so much for your understanding and your honesty, Reba. I trust those things too. We have to, don’t we? Thank you for your unwavering support, sister. 🙂

  2. Vironika, I feel inspired to be kinder to myself and even more authentically myself when I read your article. I feel so proud of the woman you are and the brave choices you are making! Wishing you and Jamie an amazingly joyful journey to Southeast Asia!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and your support, Lynnet. And to know that you are inspired is an incredible gift. I can’t imagine you being more authentic! You are already so incredibly open. I am grateful to know you.

  3. Thank you, Vironika, for giving of yourself and the truth you’ve learned. These are definitely your gifts from this difficult holiday season. Our paths are quite similar although mine took place many years ago. My parents passed over leaving the voids intact. My brother is the only player remaining and I’ve come to realize that he and I remain without expectations about this relationship. “Let go, let God.” Meanwhile, I hope to be the best ‘soul’ I can be, always moving toward peace and light – whatever that means at the moment.
    Peace and love,
    PS I’ve been listening to a Louise Hay tape. After 5 days, I feel the change! ‘Louise Hay heal your body youtube’ (yahoo search)

    1. Thank you for sharing, Carrie. It’s fascinating that you called what was left behind from your parents “voids”. That’s just what I felt over the season – this realization that there was an empty void where love should have been. And while I take so much time and care to fill that void with love from myself, I realized that the void is still there. It’s real. And there are kids right now whose voids are growing bigger. I’ve really been inspired to help make a difference in our culture’s trends of child abuse and neglect coming out of this. I think that is the root of so much suffering in the world.

  4. Thank you, Vironika. Life is such a journey. I can so relate to learning something and then learning it more. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your inner work.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Heather! I think learning and re-learning is a pattern of life – one that the Western world has had a hard time accepting. Thank you for walking on that journey of truth-seeking with me 🙂

  5. Hi Vironika,

    Loving your posts & have just found your videos thanks to this blog, I will hang in my yoga swing & absorb them.
    As I type this, I’m in the middle of some deep darkness which hits me most mornings but today it has lasted until now. It makes me want to push everybody away & to upset them so they don’t want to be near me, a real saboteur. When in this darkness I try to stay off Facebook as I can get passive aggressive & my favourite targets are scientists attacking spirituality.

    I don’t know what I want from you, I guess I’m just sharing & I know I have to do the work of self love myself but it’s so hard when in this darkness. Loneliness is my biggest issue right now & I’m trying to use the time to hibernate, do the work & just nourish myself. I do that a lot & I don’t really see things improving in my life.

    I had an affair with a married woman 2 years ago, she was the love of my life & she said her marriage was sham & she wanted to marry me but 8 months into it she remembered she had a lovely house & family & finished with me by text & has refused any contact at all since, oh she told her husband & I was subjected to a humiliating ordeal in a men’s group facing him, I deserved it I guess.

    I spend much time ruminating over this & typing angry emails that never get sent, it is a source of my darkness every morning, the hardest thing I have ever had to let go of. I understand you were suicidal & I go to that place often but always manage to talk myself out of it, however, the pain is horrible, like being torn open every day.

    Anyway, thanks for listening, I will immerse myself in your work, to join the hallowed ranks of Tara Brach & Matt Kahn who regularly talk me out of doing stupid things.


    John x

    1. Thank you so much for your courage and honesty, John. It really is a journey, and being torn open every day, although it is excruciating, is the only way to heal those wounds. I admire you for not only healing yourself, but for having the courage to share about that healing. I hope you’ll come join a Love Tribe, if you haven’t already. We can really use your energy in there.

  6. Oh I forgot to share my holiday experience. My Dad died last year & my Mum is in a v dark place. I have never really got on with my Mum, she v spikey & spiteful & triggers me massively, attacking my lifestyle, my friends, everything I hold dear actually.

    Anyway, I spent a quiet Christmas with my brother, his wife & my Mum, it got off to bad start with her complaining alot & I went straight into my familiar blocking & ignoring but I was aware of a deep vulnerability in her & suddenly everything shifted & I made it my mission over the Christmas days that I would make sure she had everything she needed, was warm enough, had a drink, was included in the conversations, I complemented her on her clothes & hair.

    In short it made my Christmas to make her Christmas & I think it has opened up a new relationship between me & my Mum, got tears in my eyes as I write this. Maybe my block to loving my Mum is a source of some of the darkness & loneliness in me, we will see.

    Bless ya.
    John x

    1. That’s a beautiful story, John. I had a very similar experience too. It’s amazing when we shift from focusing on how other people don’t love or understand us and move that focus to trying to love and understand others. It still hurts, but at least it’s an active hurt… we can do something about it… we are making the world a better place. We are filling the empty void where loving actions should have been, instead of waiting for our parents to fill it (because, really, if they haven’t filled it by now… who will?) I admire your courage and compassion. Thank you for sharing your journey with me.

  7. Dear Vironika…Thank you for sharing again so honestly and with such vulnerability. You are such a real person…no pretence. Just openness and no guile. I had a relatively okay Christmas Day. I went to church in the morning for service, and then to my Mom’s afterwards. We went for a brief walk around her retirement residence and she shared some memories she had of her father and childhood with me. Then we went to have dinner with my younger sister. The rest of the day (evening actually) was not so good. I was not being very mindful and according to my sister, I was ruminating a lot and not being present at all, which really annoyed her. Coz she said she was trying so hard to be “up” and positive and trying to make conversation and wanted me to reciprocate, but I was off, selfishly according to my sister, in my own world. Sooo my main problem remains that I am ruminating about mainly negative, memories still. I was talking to my new Mindfulness Meditation facilitator, and we both came to the conclusion, I ruminate about memories where I am making “connections”…emotional, physical, and intellectual…with people. This is coz I am “lonely” in the present, so I am essentially filling this lonely void with people that I “connected” with in the past. An example, is THE GALA (remember I told you about that traumatic night that happened decades ago, where I was on a stage and was basically humiliated deeply). Today I even ruminated a lot about that Gala, remembering jokes I was telling on stage, songs I was singing and how I was also humiliated and heckled…A real ROLLERCOASTER of an experience. The meditation facilitator “Billee” told me that I should practice my meditation, to learn to be more mindfully present in the NOW (what else is new, but very true) and that I should also work on my self esteem issues. Be with more positive people in the present and engage in more positive activities in the present. Thus, to positively ground me in today. She also taught me a tapping exercise, where I tap the energy (chi) meridian points in my body to activate the “chi” and unblock blockages where stress is located in my body. Such as my lips and right arm. It worked. At least I felt a bit of a sense of relief from pressure in my lips and my right arm, even after a couple of sessions. I also get relief from my emotional pain from spiritual healing through practising Buddha’s and Christ’s teachings (google them if you want). Also, I am seeing 2 psychotherapists who are helping me with techniques such as CBT and Art Therapy. This is all to assist me in overcoming my issues of ruminating about the past, and mainly negative hurtful experiences and people. Lastly, I am watching YouTube videos of ECKHART TOLLE and PEMA CHODRON to aid with understanding Mindfulness and Buddha’s teachings more clearly. Perhaps my recipe for dealing with RUMINATING ABOUT THE PAST will aid you and others. I hope so. Thanks for continuing to think of me, and sending your posts to me. Have a wonderful time in Southeast Asia. Are you travelling there perhaps to learn more about Buddhism? Do let me know. Keep well & keep in touch, dear Vironika…Love Kathy

    1. Thank you for your vulnerable and honest post, Kathy. I appreciate your sharing here with me and this community about what you’re going through. I’m glad that you’re seeking for self-love and self-awareness, even though it can be so difficult for you. I can definitely relate to that. I am sure that, in your healing journey, you will inspire many people, especially with your determination.

      I do love learning about all cultures and religions on my travels, though I am not here specifically for that purpose. Thank you again for taking the time to write back!

  8. You nailed it: we choose the interaction, and when we accept why we choose it, we can learn. Is it guilt or duty or to learn and heal? I too have a strained relationship with a close family member who hurts me. I realize that I may be able to scale the time we spend to a manageable chunk, but sometimes even during a few hours they can find a way to put a dagger in my heart. I know I choose to go back, and I also get to choose to learn or be leached. I am certain that if you were to paint the “Perfect Vironika” as per this relative, you wouldn’t like what you saw. I would guess that if you became that version, you would be in deep pain and self loathing. However, I don’t think you are capable of turning your back on authenticity, so no worries there!

    Well, I was having a sad moment so u came to visit you. Thanks for letting me take a break from me and my pain to think about you for a bit.

    Please don’t join a prestigious law firm, work 60 hours a week, have 3 kids, attend church regularly and get a nanny.

    You have a beautiful life with your name written all over it: Vironika.

    I know how hurts when the people we love don’t REALLY know us or want what’s TRULY best for us; that may take a lifetime to digest.


    1. You nailed it right back, Sofia. And, you know, it makes it so much better to know that we are both here, hand in hand, doing this together. I am eternally grateful for the internet and the courage in my heart to share, because when I do, I get messages like yours that help me (and help you) see – we’re never alone. That is the biggest gift of all. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *