It's a Wonderful Life, Not a Perfect Life

November 30, 2010 Becky Oberg

Attention! Your holiday--whatever it is--is not going to be perfect.

While you may not accidentally break your glasses in a freak accident involving an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle or realize in horror that the Bumpus Hounds have eaten your turkey, things are going to go wrong.

As Ralphie observed in A Christmas Story, "Life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us."

An impossible standard

Our culture has an obsession with the "perfect" holiday, usually calling it Christmas (even if a person does not celebrate the holiday's religious aspect or at all). To a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD), this idealism is especially dangerous. When we think the world operates like a low-budget TV special, we believe in an unrelenting standard. That triggers the familiar cycle of idealize, deny any indications otherwise, become aware of the truth, blame self for what just happened, depression.

Perfection? Bah, humbug!

Holidays aren't perfect because the people celebrating them aren't perfect. C. S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, observed "It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to 'keep' it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) to see that the thing is a nightmare. ... They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house."

We can enjoy holidays--and life--when we remember that things often do not go according to plan. Understanding and accepting this fact does not mean we have to like it--even if it is incredibly liberating to know that it's okay if we don't know the words to O Christmas Tree.

It doesn't have to be a blue Christmas

It's not an easy lesson to learn--I've learned it over the course of several years and am still learning it. However, it is one of the most powerful coping skills I know of. As writer Bill McKibben explained, "There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions."

According to an e-newsletter from ArcaMax, Dr. Martin Antony of Toronto's Ryerson University strongly urges people learn to tell the difference between healthy high standards and perfectionism. The impossible goal of perfect can cause anger, anxiety, depression and shame--feelings that can be dangerous if a person with BPD does not know how to manage them.

So take a step back. As Antony put it, ask "Does it really matter as much as it feels like it matters?" Chances are it doesn't. We wish people "Happy Holidays", not "Perfect Holidays". It doesn't matter whether you enjoy a traditional dinner at home or a Chinese restaurant. What's important is how you feel inside.

Happy Holidays.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2010, November 30). It's a Wonderful Life, Not a Perfect Life, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Dr Musli Ferati
December, 10 2010 at 4:55 am

The title of this article is for many things significant. Each holidays has its cheerful side which however are described as disturbing moments. And this unavoidable mixture of peaceful events with disaster incidents should sensitize us to a calmness and kindness social relations. Otherwise, our holidays instead of enjoyed us they going to vex us, which would disguise the meaning and essence of the same.

kevin blumer
December, 4 2010 at 2:20 am

xmas is not perfect you just have to make the most of it or try i allways find xmas hard and the last few years i have actualy worked straight thre xmas then i dont think about it as mutch it would be nice if everything goes right this year

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Becky Oberg
December, 7 2010 at 4:54 am

Christmas is hard for many people. Whether it's the stress of cultural pressure or the fact that real life doesn't take a holiday (case in point: my grandfather died on Christmas Eve when I was a child), it can be tough. The important thing is to keep things in perspective.

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