Why is my Sense of Self Disrupted by Holiday Stressors?

The development of your sense of self does not occur in a vacuum and, rather, is situationally-sensitive and embedded in all of your life experiences.  You may deny or minimize the huge influence of others and of society in general upon your sense of self, particularly during the holiday season.  Across the lifespan, the importance of others may have differing levels of impact upon your sense of self, but, during the holiday season, your family members, peers, and other significant people in your life are especially influential in shaping your sense of self.  During this time, you, both consciously and subconsciously, create your overall self-concept through significant experiences.  You should ideally shape your personal narrative through your internal evaluation of your personality strengths, your work, academic, and interpersonal capabilities, and your core values and life goals.  However, you may incorporate negative messages and treatment from others into this personal narrative, and this can be very damaging to your emotional and mental stability.  You may have engaged in the creation and perpetuation of self-defeating myths about who you are or who you will become, and these myths can become demons during the holidays.  You may develop a fragmented sense of self which feels even more fragmented when coping with the pressures of family and societal expectations about who or how you “should” be, which are an inherent aspect of the holiday season.

What is my looking glass self and how can it be affected by the holiday season?

Your Looking Glass Self is your self-image which is created by how you appear to others, whether it is your physical appearance, the experiences which you post on social media, or how others describe  you.  Your self-concept is greatly influenced by interpersonal interactions and societal expectations.  As early as 1902, Charles Horton Cooley proposed the concept of the Looking Glass Self as any idea, or system of ideas, about who you are, which are derived from others’ expressed evaluations.  Cooley also viewed a person’s sense of self as shaped by others’ reactions, particularly those in one’s primary groups and who have frequent intimate, face-to-face interactions. He could not have predicted the immense impact which social media would have upon one’s Looking Glass Self!   

     Your Looking Glass Self can become very skewed when you perceive yourself as “less than” others or as a “depressed” or “anxious” or otherwise “flawed” individual.  Being bullied, experiencing career or academic setbacks or confusion, and being involved in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship can all contribute to a negative Looking Glass Self.  This sense of self is extremely susceptible to depression and anxiety during the holiday season.  When you view yourself through the mirror which others project onto you, you are giving power to external forces.  If these forces are supportive and empowering, then you can create and maintain a solid and optimistic sense of self.  However, if you have experienced or are experiencing negative life events, your sense of self can suffer.  You may then predict or even believe that you deserve ongoing rejection or mistreatment from others. 

     As I often tell myself, my friends, and my clients, “perception is reality.”  This means that your behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are largely determined by your perceptions about how others view you as a person.  An insecure and negative Looking Glass Self can be a direct route to many types of psychological problems, especially during the holiday season.  For instance, when you feel the pressure of holiday gatherings and ceremonies, it is common to reevaluate your life, in terms of goals achievement, happiness, career and/or academic stability, and relationship satisfaction.

holiday stressors sense of self

How can I revise my looking glass self narrative during the upcoming holiday season?

     Your Looking Glass Self can be a breeding ground for many cognitive distortions, such as living in “should” future-oriented thoughts and “should have” past-oriented thoughts or clinging to “all-or-nothing” self-perceptions.  Instead, you can let go of harsh treatment from others, accept that you cannot control the content of your emotions but can control your relationship to all emotions which flow into your present moments.  Your painful experiences are a path to your higher self and the development of resilient personal traits which can get you through any life event.  

     You can use three strategies for revising your personal narrative.  The first strategy is externalization, which can be understood as putting together the story of your life in terms of observations and not reactions.  This can create an emotional distance between your present moment and your painful memories in your past or your anxiety about your future.  This distance can allow a better mental focus which is key for changing unwanted behaviors.  The ability to use externalization creates a sense of personal control and power over past, present, and future life circumstances. The second strategy is deconstruction, which is used to help gain clarity in the different twists of your personal narrative.  When a problematic narrative feels like it has been around for a long time, you are likely to harbor over-generalized self-statements and, as a result, feel confused and helpless about your present and future narrative.  You can learn to deconstruct your complicated personal narrative into smaller and more manageable parts, thus clarifying seemingly insurmountable problems and perceiving them in a more approachable and solution-oriented manner.  The third strategy is to rid your personal narrative of perceived concrete outcomes which are incapable of change and have no conceivable alternative narratives.  You may already know that you can become very stuck in a painful, helpless, and hopeless narrative and can allow it to influence several important aspects of your daily life, such as decision-making skills, time management skills, goal-setting and goal-achievement skills, and behavioral patterns in your significant relationships.

     Through the revising process of your personal narrative, you can choose self-reflections which represent your perseverance, accomplishments, kindness, and strength.  You can allow ruminating thoughts which fuel anxiety, depression, and self-doubt, or you can actively decide to extract positive, assertive, and hope-building personality traits as enduring dispositions.  You can choose to NOT view negative life experiences as global states of existence and to rationally accept them as situational factors which were inflicted upon you.  You can rewrite your personal narrative to diminish self-evaluations and judgments from others and to incorporate trust in yourself which has come from facing so many challenges.


Cooley, C.H. (1902). Human nature and the social order. New York: Scribner’s Press.

   Written by New Age Psychiatry’s Compassionate Therapist: Rebecca Wang-Harris PhD 

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