Christmastime is upon us, and while many are busy decking halls and bringing tidings to kin, some revellers are a few partridges short of merry.
If you’re a Scrooge, plenty of people will tell you not to shout or cry when Santa Claus comes to town.
But here’s a little gift to all Christmas-haters and demonstrators this festive season, from me to you: You can now tell anyone who verbally berates you for disliking December, and all its trappings, to get stuffed like a Christmas turkey because there’s actually a really, really good reason some of us don’t like the holidays.
Take, for example, Jesus. Presumably, given the religious circumstances, the Son of God who’s to blame for all this good cheer, is a bit more of an Easter guy.
For the rest of us mere mortals with a ‘Christmas Spirit Deficiency’, there’s something called ‘Bah Humbug’ Syndrome.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, who looked to locate the parts of the brain associated with Christmas spirituality as part of a 2015 study, estimated millions of us are prone to a lack of seasonal cheer.
The authors – including two professors of neurology, one professor of clinical physiology, and a research fellow in neuroimaging – published their findings in the BMJ Christmas special, saying:
Throughout the world, we estimate that millions of people are prone to displaying Christmas spirit deficiencies after many years of celebrating Christmas.
Although research published in the Christmas special is often conducted as ‘a bit of fun’, the researchers did find evidence to suggest there’s an area of the brain which ‘decides’ if we are more jolly than bitter at this time of year.
They located the ‘Christmas spirit’ in the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on a small group of people – 10 participants who celebrate Christmas and 10 who don’t celebrate the holiday.
They had participants fill out questionnaires on their feelings toward Christmas and then had them look at different images, including Christmas-related imagery as they underwent an MRI.
After going through the scans, the researchers found those who celebrated Christmas appeared to have a significant increase in neural activity in specific areas of the brain when they looked at Christmas images over other visual images.
The results showed five areas of the brain lit up like a Christmas tree: the left primary motor and premotor cortex, right inferior and superior parietal lobule and bilateral primary somatosensory cortex.
The researchers admitted much more needs to be done on a grander scale with more participants from different cultures to cement our understanding of the so-called Christmas Spirit Brain Network.
But psychoanalyst Steve McKeown, the founder of MindFixers and owner of The McKeown Clinic told UNILAD he thinks the research is important in helping people who dislike Christmas understand if there’s anything deeper to their dispirited feelings.
He dubs the phenomenon ‘The Grinch Syndrome’ and says identifying it ‘will accelerate the patients’ understanding of their brain’s part in the festive tradition’.
He said it’s important to ‘understand embitterment’ as a possible manifestation of unhappiness.
It could even be something he dubs ‘Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder’, McKeown mused:
The Grinch’s grumpy, bitter and solitary life away from society could be a case of Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED).
Has The Grinch, like so many people in today’s society, been suffering from a mental health issue?
Post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED) is a pathological response to extreme life experiences which can encompass every part of the sufferer’s life.
McKeown says the triggers can be anything from rejection, to criticism, to lacking love and attention, adding they sometimes result in ‘severe and prolonged embitterment’.
Using Dr Seuss’ Grinch himself as a case study, McKeown says to help people with ‘Bah Humbug Syndrome’ we ‘must first understand them’.
The psychoanalyst adds:
The Grinch conveys total lack of empathy or compassion for his fellow villagers. He denies himself emotional attachment.
The Grinch does not know how to immerse himself into the celebrations, play, and laughter, and must learn how to love as well as to accept being loved.
McKeown cites The Grinch’s first Christmas as a first experience of potential rejection – remember the bit when he watches a festive party from outside the warm, friendly home, only to be noticed and laughed at for his looks?
The psychotherapist and coach notes this experience could have been ‘the beginning of rejection perhaps and the first significant reason why the Grinch hated Christmas’.
…Aside from the festive stressors, the difficulties the holiday season brings, evoked by a time of reflection – not to mention the shorter days, longer nights and freezing weather.
He adds it may have been ‘the beginning of post traumatic embitterment disorder’:
I’m guessing this is why the Grinch hated Christmas, having been neglected, cold, and left outside and having to witness such behaviour.
So, how to solve a ‘Bah Humbug Syndrome’?
My plan for poor Mr Grinch would be a course of ‘memory reconsolidation therapy’, whereby we could reconsolidate and reframe some of those traumatic scenes he might be holding onto.
So, next time someone tells you to cheer up because it’s Christmas, you just remember what The Grinch said: One man’s toxic sludge is another man’s potpourri.
If you have a Christmas story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]