Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fevered Longing & Fiery Loss: Relearning to Let Go, Laugh & Love

The holiday season magnetically draws memories and images of family or former relations – past and present, joyful and painful – to consciousness.  Not being with my ex for the first time in ten years heightens the poignancy of the moment.  Perhaps a glutton for punishment, I’m presently working on a new book about my experience with “love, longing, and lust” (not necessarily in that order)…and what I understand of emotional death and rebirth.  The title of the new tome:

Fevered Longing & Fiery Loss:  Relearning to Let Go, Laugh & Love
Through Resiliency Poetry and Shrink Raps ™

Based on the title, the book will have three segments:
I.   Fevered Longing
II.  Fiery Loss
III. Relearning to Let Go, Laugh, & Love.

Also, each piece is sandwiched between an introduction of the poem’s origin or contextual background and “Discussion Questions.”

Here’s a Part 1. selection with substantial family context.  Enjoy.  Best holiday wishes and good adventures.  Mark

Kindred Eyes

This poignant lyric captures three types of connections with the significant women in my life:  my grandmother (secure-warm), mother (intimidating-masked), and the ever elusive “soul mate” (fantasy-fevered).  I can’t recall what made me decide to examine these human-emotional links through the metaphoric lens of the eyes.  Perhaps I was seeking that proverbial “window to the soul” – their souls and mine!

As an aside, my grandmother died when I was thirteen; I was at sleepaway camp and my mother decided not to tell me of my grandmother’s death until I got home.  (I wish she had taken me out of camp as I was quite depressed and ashamed from being frequently teased and taunted by several peers.  I was a wounded animal; fellow “Boy Scouts,” especially those who knew me from home, could smell blood.)  Naturally, I didn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral.  I don’t recall anyone helping me talk about my feelings of loss.  In public school assembly, I recall praying regularly to my grandmother, a loving, simple, “saintly woman."  A state hospital psychiatrist called her a "one woman psychiatric ward" for somehow managing to keep my schizophrenic uncle in one piece.  He had his first breakdown shortly after she died.  Grandma never complained about her host of medical problems, including an amputated leg.  Sometime after her death I just stopped talking to “Gram.”

It wasn’t till a couple of decades later that I understood how bereft, angry, and abandoned I felt with my protector no longer living in our household.  Grandma was able to set some limits on my anxious-controlling mother.  My mother had 150 + IQ; she was the dominant figure in the family, the parent with whom I was most symbiotically dependent.  In fairness, my mother was running a MASH Unit with all the injured and wounded, ill or literally lame souls squeezed into a small three-bedroom ward.  I perceived “nurse-mother” as essential to my survival; not pleasing or annoying her made me quite anxious.  I looked up to her intelligence but also neurotically conformed to a fearful and submissive “identification with the aggressor” behavior pattern.  And while I was conscious of feelings of embarrassment towards my “less adequate” father, with his alcohol and sex escapist patterns, it was my mother who could most readily induce feelings of shame.  (Alas, after his breakdown and ongoing shock therapy regimen, a family secret, commencing when I was one-and-a-half years old and lasting till I was nineteen, my father, other than one panic-driven “cry for help” exception, was not able to be a buffer for me in the home or with the outside bullying.  More later on my father and our down-up-down “roller coaster” relationship.)

But getting back to my grandmother, she had been my nonverbal haven (speaking almost exclusively Yiddish) in a family shrouded in secrets, repressed emotions, and denial.  With my biochemical and psychic potential for depressed and panic mood swings, with silent night terrors and later runaway dread around being taunted or bullied, ever submerged in all varieties of escapism and a rigid “good child” mask, much of my childhood and teen years, especially after grandma’s death, was a living hell.  I can’t help but wonder, especially with the influence of recent 12-Step Group attendance, if a scared child, periodically wandering aimlessly in Hades, has an inordinate need as an adult to pursue a fantasy "heaven" (and woman/object) on earth.

Kindred Eyes

Grandma's eyes age old crystal wisdom
Starry eyes to bathe in heaven's light
Teary eyes mirrored soulful freedom
Cold marble eyes...farewell sweet dreamy nights.

Grandma's eyes, grandma's eyes
Warmed your heart like a sunrise
Grandma's eyes, grandma's eyes
Rays of hope in a sea of lies!

Momma's eyes their brilliance masked the danger
Magnetic eyes compel an iron will
Towering eyes watched her huddled strangers
Such lonesome springs would never get their fill.

Momma's eyes, momma's eyes
Her gold stars were the prize
Momma's eyes, momma's eyes
Why were they so idolized?

Are there laser beams dancing with moon vision
Two fire balls blazing their own path
Buddha blues in the face of confusion
Kindred cat's eyes when, oh when, you coming back?

My cat's eyes, my cat's eyes
From afar romanticize
My cat's eyes, my cat's eyes
Are you real or in disguise?
Are you real or in disguise?

©  Mark Gorkin   1992
Shrink Rap ™ Productions


Discussion Questions

1.  Did you ever have a protector or significant other who provided a safe haven?  What about the person and your interaction made you and the relationship feel secure?

2.  As a child or teen, were you ever involved in a relationship with an intimidating significant other?  What about the relationship made it feel scary, demeaning, and unsafe?

3.  Was your safety, security, or sense of survival ever dependent on an intimidating figure?  If so, how does this impact the way you see this individual, how you view yourself?

4.  In what ways do secure and threatening early relations impact our need to seek out “real” or “disguised” relationships?

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a former psychotherapist and Stress & Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service.  The Doc is a Trauma Debriefing and Critical Incident Consultant for variety of organizations, including the national post-earthquake, Nepali Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative. He has led numerous transformative -- silo-breaking and communications bridge-building -- Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for US Army Senior Officers and Sergeants.  He also provides international Stress Resilience and Burnout Recovery Phone-Skype Coaching.

The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Hostility and Rage into Assertion and Passion, and Resiliency Rap:  The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc.  His award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  Email for more info.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Using Nonverbal Mirth and Madness to Bridge the Language-Culture Divide

Becoming a Marxist (i.e., the Groucho Variety):  Part I

Years ago, I perused an article in an airline magazine about those comic geniuses, the Marx Brothers.  This comedic clan, of course, was known for their zany antics and outlandish appearance – think Groucho in his oversized tux or Harpo’s trench coat, more warehouse than outer garment – as well as all manner of nonverbal gestures, exaggerated movements, and pratfalls.  Groucho’s predatory animal-like pacing and ogling as well as Harpo’s horn blowing and whistling come to mind.  In addition, of course, there was Groucho’s celebrated quips and skewering wit along with the absurdly psycho-logical, side splitting, dialogic routines between Groucho and Chico.  The humor substance and style of the Marx Brothers was an outrageous marriage of the visual and the verbal.  Anyway, enough of my reverie…

Specifically, I recall reading that a prime fan base for their 1930s and ‘40s movie popularity was the new immigrant and the working classes.  The article helped me see the obvious:  the brothers, especially Groucho, Harpo, and Chico, invariably generated laughs by outmaneuvering, frustrating, or skewering rich, establishment if not aristocratic types, men and women alike.  If their movies did not close some of the existing class-cultural status gaps, at least for a time in the mind of a filmgoer this “band of brothers” helped bring the high and mighty down to earth.  Of course, we now know, and not simply by movie ticket sales, that laughter and emotional catharsis are very good head and heart medicine!

A Method to Mirth and Madness

But the essay’s purpose is not simply a “laughter as best medicine” message; actually, my goal is to show that using humor and generating laughter, especially through playful, nonverbal and exaggerated communication can open heads and hearts.  (Okay, call me a Marxist).  And that this slightly larger than life, emotion-laden interchange helps build channels of meaning, connecting, and sharing, even in the face of decided language and cultural barriers.  As I once penned, People are less defensive and more open to a serious message gift-wrapped with humor!  And you don’t necessarily have to be lampooning those of different statuses and cultures.  Healing humor can come to life by poking good-natured fun at our own universal, all-too-human flaws and foibles.

All of which brings me to a very recent experience:  my leading a 40-minute Stress Resilience and Mental Health Focus Group co-sponsored by the national Be Well Initiative (BWI) and ASIAN Community Services of Cleveland, OH.  There were seven community members and three staff, including an interpreter.  The community members were relatively new Nepali and Bhutanese Nepali immigrants and refugees dealing with all manner of relocation, transition, and everyday stress, including the challenge of English fluency.  Some of the attendees are also grappling with fairly recent “ethnic cleansing”-type post-traumatic stress.  Parenthetically, based on numerous discussions with people from Nepal over the past six months, Nepali Culture, in general, does not encourage open discussion of issues or emotions related to stress and mental health.  Such behavior is often see as jeopardizing traditional values of family harmony and honor.  Actually, I believe a number of cultures have a similar refrain:  Don’t air your dirty laundry!  (I have previously shared my involvement with the post-earthquake evolution and mission of Be Well Initiative.)

Improvising Strategy

I had arrived a bit early and witnessed an English-speaking staff person itemize the health education and social-acculturation programs that the ASIAN Center would be sponsoring in the upcoming weeks and months.  The speaker’s words were duly translated as group members, sitting upright, listened respectfully, alas with little facial expression.  I quickly realized that this kind of formal, one-way information delivery process was just what I wanting to avoid, or at least minimize.

The ASIAN staff thought my segment was going to start with people taking the BWI health survey.  Fortunately, I didn’t bring any.  After expressing my relief, I said my goal is to have us, and especially the Nepali group members, talking with each other.  Conscious of the translation process, I began to speak in shortened sentences, yet sending messages very much from the heart.  (I recall when traveling in Europe many moons ago, when speaking far from polished French, I would talk louder in the hopes of being better understood.  Now I seemed to be loading brief messages with feeling in the hopes of better capturing and connecting.)
I asked if people knew the word “stress.”  Initially there was no connection but, as the translator elaborated, people recognized the concept as being part of their lives.  We still hadn’t reached the level of spontaneous sharing I was seeking.  It was time for my “Three ‘B’ Stress Barometer Exercise”:  How does your “Brain, Body, and Behavior” tell you when you are under STRESS!  (I was now beginning to employ some exaggerated verbal and nonverbal communication.)  I tried breaking the group in two smaller groups, but the idea of having a recorder in each group to capture their individual stress items was an impediment to group flow.

Breaking Out of the Translation Box

I don’t know if it was a touch of ADD, impatience, or just trusting my gut that some dramatic flair was needed but, with the translator in action, I suddenly jumped up and began to illustrate the “B”s:  a) pointing to my temple for “Brain,” b) sliding my hands along my “Body,” from head to toes, and finally c) miming being behind the wheel of a car, driving furiously, blasting my horn, with an intense, angry, stressed out expression on my face, for “Behavior.”  People laughed; they got it.

The translator and I agreed to forego immediate translation and just let the group respond to the question.  And participation increased steadily.  Once or twice the translator addressed a quiet participant, which usually facilitated some sharing.  My curiosity got the best of me as laughter periodically broke out from the increasingly animated group discussion.  Responses noted were common to my typical Stress Resilience programs – headaches, body aches, trouble sleeping, sadness, loneliness, etc.  I even pointed to my mostly bald pate and said, “See…stress!”  One more time producing smiles and giggles.  Once again there was confirmation of the laboratory research discovery that misery doesn’t just like company…it especially likes miserable company!  ;-)

After acknowledging the seriousness of stress on our physical and mental health, I’m not sure the exact sequence, but I mentioned the importance of having a “stress buddy.”  I then explained the concept of a military spouse pairing up with another stateside spouse to better manage personal and family stress when their husband (or wife) leaves for overseas combat.

Physically, Provocatively, and Passionately Engaging the Audience

Now a somewhat older woman mentioned having a friend with whom she converses to help with her stress, to talk out her problems.  I immediately jumped out of my chair and gave her a gentle yet big hug!  Another round of smiles and energy flowed throughout the room.  (One of the Program Coordinators, an Asian fellow, later admitted he was surprised by the amount of laughter from a group typically more reserved if not stoic.)

Finally, I singled out the lone middle-aged male in the room, asking why there weren’t other Nepali men present.  After attempting to rationalize that they might be busy with work or families, this individual explained that he was here because he loved to learn new things that would help him adapt to his new surroundings.  Naturally, I shook his hand, then I made a somewhat skeptical face and wondered if many men don’t like talking about stress or their feelings.  Upon declaring they want to appear “tough,” I then crossed my arms in front of my chest, put on a scowl…and the knowing laughter ensued.

With time running out, I concisely shared BWI’s goals of running more Focus Groups and having community members, like the present gentleman, (who also acknowledged that neighbors seek him out for talk and counsel) be trained as informal, peer-to-peer Be Well Facilitators in the community.  Not only does such an individual provide a caring ear and shoulder, countering some of that previously mentioned isolation and angst, but this facilitator can help direct others to the community center for more formal or professional assistance, resource information, etc.

I closed by asking if people found our group session useful and enjoyable.  The smiles and nodding head responses were resounding!  All I can say is, Amen and women to that!

Take Home Communication Lessons:  Mining and Miming the Marx Brothers

Not speaking Nepali and pretty frustrated by the slow-moving and stilted nature of the group translation process, I took matters into my own hands, body, voice, and nonverbal mannerisms.  At the same time, the folks in the room were a key part of the “show.”  Let me identify the structured and spontaneous, verbal and especially nonverbal, expressive forms of communication-engagement employed and their trust- and bridge-building impact.  I will also include a “group art therapy-type” exercise that, in the past, successfully facilitated open sharing around stress and conflict issues with international travel agents.   Many of these individuals, too, were not especially comfortable publicly talking about emotions, especially when speaking English.

So stay tuned for Part II:

Key Expressive Nonverbal-Visual Forms of Communication

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a former psychotherapist and Stress & Violence Prevention Consultant for the U.S. Postal Service.  The Doc is a Trauma Debriefing and Critical Incident Consultant for variety of organizations, including the national post-earthquake, Nepali Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative. He has led numerous transformative -- silo-breaking and communications bridge-building -- Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for US Army Senior Officers and Sergeants.  He also provides international Stress Resilience and Burnout Recovery Phone-Skype Coaching.
The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Hostility and Rage into Assertion and Passion, and Resiliency Rap:  The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc.  His award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  Email for more info.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Renewed Search for Peace

Once again my obsessive nature kicked in as I saw opportunities to upgrade my recent poem, “The Search for Peace.”  Two recent experiences motivated the rethinking and rewriting:

a) I’ve been attending various 12-Step meetings, e.g., Emotions Anonymous and Codependents Anonymous, to help continue my grief work; that “sadder yet wiser” path of hard-earned wisdom.  Specifically, I find sharing with others and getting feedback from individuals after the formal meeting, as well as a hug or two with my tears flowing, is helping me emotionally let go.  I am gradually moving on from the loss of a partner and, especially, the loss of her young granddaughter.  Btw, my ex is a woman I’ve known with varying degrees of intimacy since 1970; the last ten years have been most intimate, involving part-time live-in relating, and

b) Reading Love Sense, by Dr. Sue Johnson, a 2013 book that compiles recent neurobiological data through the lens of MRI brain scans along with various animal studies and psychosocial experiments.  Love Sense illuminates the phenomenon of “love” and its emotional envelope, dynamics and impact across the age spectrum. The critical diagnostic differences among “secure, anxious, and avoidant” parenting, relationship, and personality styles are highlighted.  So too the pivotal role of safety and security in childhood upbringing and various social-cultural contexts.  A “good enough” secure interpersonal connection promotes stress resilience and overall mind-body well-being, even longevity.  Chronic tension in relations undermines the same.

And with an intimate partner, in terms of therapeutic, trust-building consequences, the renowned researcher, therapist, and author extols the imperative of honestly recognizing, (re)appraising, and expressing our emotions, especially our hidden and vulnerable ones.  One challenge, alas, is that these sensitive “hot buttons” are often covered up by implosive, passive-aggressive, condescending, or explosive expression.  For example, instead of reacting with anger outbursts or flashes of rage, or with smoldering silence, it’s more healthy to harness this aggression by articulating an underlying fear (of, for example, rejection or abandonment) or of an isolated, empty feeling, whether these subterranean emotions are situation induced or part of our psychic core.  This will lessen the likelihood of volcanic eruption (or bottled-up depression) and throwing (or insinuating) fuel on the relationship conflict fire.  Now able to hear your pain, a partner becomes less defensive; he or she may respond with greater understanding, perhaps even genuine empathy.  Hopefully, this does not include a pseudo-sympathetic, “Oh I know what you mean” or “I feel your pain” pronouncement.

Incidental (Yet Not Insignificant) Insight

Finally, an indirect indication that I am making some progress in my grieving-writing process, feeling a bit more at peace:  the latest poetic iteration had a short burst of humor.  This realization parallels an insight by, Dr. Ernst Kris, a long-standing psychoanalyst and student of humor.  Kris observed, What was once feared and is now mastered, is laughed at.  And my inversion:  What was once feared and is now laughed at, is no longer a master!

Still my long-term goal:  What was once feared and is now laughed with, likely becomes a mistress or lover!  ;-)

Enough with the background, book review, and postscript…I hope you enjoy the expanded poetic conception (see below).  Mark

In honor of the season, I decided to share a few little somethings that you might enjoy.  If so inclined, feel free to share or republish:

1) Classic Holiday Joke

Most people have heard of "Holiday Blues" and "Holiday Stress."  Being psychologically-minded, I needed to distinguish the two.  Now holiday blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays when, for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special or significant.  And holiday when you have to be with some of those people! 

2) The Search for Peace

Interestingly, the search began by grappling with, in mantra-like fashion, the elusive relation between "forgive" and "forget" in the context of letting go of the end of a relationship, the loss of a partner and, especially, her little granddaughter.

However, over time, recognizing my necessary and still ongoing entanglement in the grief web, a realization dawned:  I had succinctly captured a hoped for end state; alas, unrealized was the sadder and wiser, still smoldering, still seeking detached desire, that is, the maddening yet liberating path of wisdom:

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

The Search for Peace
(Or the Rise of a Philosophical Phoenix)


Oh to be able
“To forgive and forget”…
All I can say is:
Not yet, oh not yet!

I may not forget; even less to forgive
So what shall I do?
Pray, hope, and believe
In the crawl from the cave…
To one's last dying grave:
Was a mission achieved?
Or a soul addressed?
How can a question be reborn as a quest?
Without all the guilt for leaving the nest?

Trials of tears, trails of sweat
Many off roads before I rest.
No end of tunnel light
Nor road-map for success.
It’s your dark night journey of the soul…
Without a GPS!

The only direction’s a love connection
With lost souls relearning right from left
And our sole task
But to humbly ask
For a hug…
A hug to heal a heart bereft.

Now empowered to grieve
To let go and conceive
The ultimate test...
My only reprieve, a refrain to believe:

I may not forget; even less to forgive
So what shall I do?

(c)  Mark Gorkin   2015
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

3) Finally, my Classic Holiday Essay (which contains some "Shrink Rap" lyrics) pasted below in its entirety --
Practice Safe Stress for the Holidays:
The 4 "F"s of Holiday Friction

Closing Thoughts

As noted in a recent blog, last month's EAPA program was a big hit. (See testimonials below.)  If I can help you and your folks start the New Year off with a jolt of my serious and sassy, "Psychohumorist" energy and team synergy, please e-holler.

Employee Assistance Professionals Assn/Chesapeake-MetroDC, "Leading with Passion Power:  Inspiring with Courage, Clarity, and Creativity," half-day program

Nov 9, 2015


Heard some great feedback. Comment that resonated was that it was like a retreat for practitioners and the timing couldn't have been better! Sorry that I had a conflict but wanted to stop by and say hello, after such a long time!!!  Jim

Jim O'Hair
Coordinator, Employee and Family Assistance Program at Northrop Grumman Corp.

Nov 6, 2015

Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for the great training yesterday! I really enjoyed it and feel that everyone really liked having the interaction amongst our groups. It really helped us all learn more about each other which was nice.

I will surely keep you in mind for some upcoming events I am doing in the new year.

Have a great weekend!


Kate Black
Senior Marketing Coordinator
Maryland. Washington DC. Northern Virginia. Delaware
Cell 561.758.6272

Best wishes and good adventures,


Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW
The Stress Doc ™

Stress, Change & Leader Resilience Speaking, Coaching
Crisis & Critical Incident Intervention-Consultation
Burnout-Bullying/Conflict-Grief Counseling

Google blog:


Practice Safe Stress for the Holidays:
The 4 "F"s of Holiday Friction

While many associate the holidays with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and its theme of gaining and sharing the holiday spirit, the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities may have even more relevance:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time
It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness...
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Like Dickens, I too have tried to capture the complexity of the holidays; if not through a great novel, then with my one classic holiday joke.  I realized with all this talk of pressure during the holidays, I needed to distinguish between "Holiday Blues" and "Holiday Stress."  Now holiday blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays when, for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special and significant.  And holiday when you have to be with some of those people!

Now here's some lighthearted, seasonal verse I wrote years ago for my radio feature, "Stress Brake."  It's called "Cruisin for a Bluesin":

The holidays may bring you down
And you just sing the blues.
To turn those soured tones around
Just play these "don'ts" and "dos."

When you're cruisin on the town
Don't charge away the blues.
If you card the credit crown
Your spouse may blow a fuse.

For fussy dad the streets you'll pound
To find the perfect muse.
He might as well be tied...and bound
He'll never change his views.

If you're alone, don't be house bound
Or cuddle up to booze.
Go ahead.  Drown a frown with tears
And folks who can amuse.

Why not try that choral sound
Spread some joyous news.
For when the voices do resound
Then notes you can abuse.

This year don't play the tragic clown
Be bold in how you choose.
You too can prance above the ground
Put on those dancing shoes.

So now we've come full circle round
More lines I must refuse.
Just know when love and friends abound
The blues have many hues.

(c) Shrink Rap Productions  1997

Despite this good advice, we know that when you are with some of those people (or if they are just in your head), real sparks can fly.  Here are "The Four 'F's of Holiday Friction:  Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances."

1.  Fantasies. 
First, the idyllic image of the holidays portrayed by the media seems so out of touch with reality, it's enough to make you overload on eggnog (with or without the alcohol).

Another pressure is the internalized memories we carry around. I recall my friend Linda, a single parent at the time, berating herself because she couldn't keep up with the holidays - the cooking, the shopping, the house decorations, etc. - the way her mother had.  Of course, Linda's mom did not work outside the home.  I also recall Linda observing that, as a successful professional, she now has the money but lacks the time for the season.  Previously, when she wasn't working, she had plenty of time and no money:  The "Holiday Catch-22."

And, finally, this season turns most of us into sentimental jelly fish, just waiting to get entangled in the arms of that "true love."  Hey, I'm not saying that Mr. or Ms. Holiday Hopeful is as possible or as real as Santa Claus.  (My motto:  "I no longer count on nor discount any possibility.")  Just don't let childhood longings and memories and voices transform you into a frantic, salivating, love-crazed inner child.

The key to managing this friction:  gently embrace, don't cling, to magical memories.  Discover a blend of magical realism that helps you balance love, work and play in the present.

2.  Family.
  There are so many permutations in families these days, it's got to get a bit confusing.  For separated families, a poignant question:  which parent (or grandparents) will we be with for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Years?  I vividly remember an eight year old's lament:  "Why can't we just be one family again?"

Another common family issue is when a holiday gathering turns into a competitive arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing recognition and approval.  And if you find in these family therapy sessions, I mean holiday reunions, that you can't resist trying to change the attitude and behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that "makes you crazy," patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades...maybe there's only one solution.  Have you thought about getting far out of town for the holidays? 

3.  Food. 
The holidays turn most of us into bingeaholics.  Running helter skelter, not stopping for lunch, overdosing on the cookies and chocolate that a colleague has brought to work.  And discipline at a party is a contradiction in terms.  This caloric chaos is not surprising considering the biggest role model of the holidays looks like he hasn't met a single gram of fat in two hundred years that he doesn't love.  Hey, Santa Claus hasn't been doing his aerobic workouts either.  But wait...Appoint a designated nagger, who will gently remind you when you are overdoing it.  Don't chat hovering around the buffet table.  Take reasonable portions and move away.  Now replace food with some food for thought. 

And face it, no matter what you do, or don't do, you are likely to add some pounds on the holidays.  So go to the malls and walk briskly for thirty minutes before you start the shopping splurge.  You'll spend less and, probably, will eat less as well.

4.  Finances. 
The holidays heighten our monetary consciousness -- from the end of the year financial and psychological accounting (did we meet our financial/family security and career goals?) to the never-ending list of holiday gifts.  And as the great Russian novelist, Doestoyevsky, noted:  "Consciousness is depression!" 

For the first issue, seek a budget counselor, a CPA, a career counselor or even a mental health specialist.  For the last, "just say no" to your child's "toy lust."  Give your child choices; explain why there are limits. Try this holiday mantra:  "Presence not just presents."  This season, invest time, not just money. 

For big families, be creative.  Divide up the gift list with other relatives.  You shouldn't have to buy something for everyone.  Making a gift definitely adds a personal touch.  And, finally, don't overlook a very important person.  Get a special gift for yourself.

So the holidays may be a stressful time; a time of feelings of loss and sadness.  But with a little higher power humor it also, can be a source of creative expression and sharing.  Here's my gift to you:

Double-Edged Depression

Waves of sadness
Raging river of fear
Whirlpooling madness
Till I disappear
Into the depths of primal pain
Then pain, no gain.

Depression, depression
Is it chemistry or confession?
Depression, depression
Dark side of perfection!

Climbing icy spires
Dancing at the ledge
The phoenix only rises
On the jagged edge
In a world of highs and lows
Hey, the cosmos ebbs and flows.

Depression, depression
It's electrifried obsession
High flying depression
Exalted regression?

So I'm pumping iron
And Prozac, too
What else can
A real man do
In a life of muted dreams
How about a primal SCREAM?

Depression, depression
Even inner child rejection
Depression, depression
Hallelujah for creative expression!

(c)  Mark Gorkin   1994

Shrink Rap Productions

Just remember, for the holidays and beyond...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an keynote and kickoff speaker, "Motivational Humorist," a team building and organizational development consultant, and is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™.  The author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger, the Doc's inspiring programs are always high energy, thought-provoking, interactive and FUN!  He is the opening speaker for the national conferences of Estrin Legal Education.  See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- -- cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR).  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to .