By the time you read this, another holiday season will have come and gone. As I write it, however, we are in the middle of that hectic time between mid-November and the end of the year when Americans are in a near-manic frenzy of consumption and festivity. For some this is a time for warm reflection and cheerful gratitude. For many others, this is a time of great anxiety and even depression because more than anything, holidays are about family. For many people, reflecting on one's current relationships with family, or on one's past memories of family gatherings, is a painful prospect.

Much of the richest object relations theory has been written from a developmental perspective, describing the process whereby internal representations of relationships with others create the potential for recognizing differentiation and the creation of a stable sense of self. These representations are inevitably engaged in the ongoing negotiation between our internal versions and the very real external individuals who both collude with and undermine our ideas of them. Likewise, these others confront us with representations of ourselves that we simultaneously accept and resist. Identity from this perspective becomes a potentially disorienting hall of funhouse mirrors, inside of which our families and our selves waltz in a masquerade of choreographed and spontaneous interactions.

The processes of gift giving, scheduling gatherings, and negotiating menus highlight the ongoing creation, negation, and evolution of our internal object worlds as they collide with and confront external events, which are themselves the product of the internal object worlds of others. Is anything purely external? Or is the world of action, the realm of externality, merely the stage on which we play out the characters and scenes that are scripted inside our minds?

After all, when we give a gift, what are we really giving? Something is happening in the external world, the exchange of an item, but its significance is entirely internal -- internal to the giver, because a gift expresses a desire for the recipient to accept our suggestion about who they are, and internal to the recipient because the gift reveals the giver's desire, and because it adds yet another point of illumination in a constellation of possible selves.

The degree to which the holidays live up to the fantastic conditions of our cultural lore is contingent on the extent to which these mutual projections are in harmony with one another. As we move out of the holiday season, and help our clients do so as well, we can keep in mind that what we have gone through is more than the sum of obligations and travel plans; we have wrestled with the very foundations of identity itself.

Suzanne Stambaugh, M.A.
Impulse Potential Space Editor