On Celebrating Birthdays
Submitted by Shelby Wood
As my grandma would say,
You HAVE to have cake on your birthday!
After many years of friends’ and family members’ birthdays, I have come to realize that not everyone wants cake, and not everyone wants to celebrate. Whatever the reason is for not wanting cake, or some other tasty treat, will always be beyond me. In reading on the psychology of birthdays Marty Nemko, PhD shares this:
Celebrate birthdays in your own way. Want a blow-out party? Fine. Want no party, not even a birthday cake? Fine too. In my case, I enjoy performing, so I decided to play a little concert. (Nemko, 2020).
My take away from this is to do whatever self-care looks like for you. Consider it as your way to acknowledge another year of being you, if ‘celebrating’ yourself feels uncomfortable. I think, in reflecting on who my grandmother was baking and cooking was her way of showing love. The more butter in a recipe, the more love. Giving someone homemade cake on their birthday was her way of showing that she loved, and cared. Accepting a cake, even when it might not be your preference, might seem in contrast to what Nemko shares. I would argue however that another form of self-care is learning to accept the love, care and concern of our family and friends; perhaps on your birthday that comes in the form of a cake.
Despite feeling the need to see my friends and family have their sweet of choice for their respective birthdays, I will also acknowledge that birthdays can be triggering. Dr. Therese from Exploring Therapy states:
Whether we realize it or not, each and everyone one of us has a meaning we connect with our birthday.
Try it for yourself. Fill in the blank: “Birthdays mean _____________.” (Dr. Therese, 2021)
She explores how some people look at birthdays as a milestone marker for comparison to others and/or to our idealized self. For some people it can be a time to reflect on perceived deficits rather than on what has been accomplished. If you find that you look at your birthday with disdain or feelings of inadequacy, Dr. Therese encourages you to “fill in the blank differently”. She shares several examples:
Birthdays mean: a chance for self-reflection, not self-destruction.
Birthdays mean: I have the power to choose what I want to experience and how I want to feel today and always.
Birthdays mean: an opportunity to focus on the wins, not the losses.
Birthdays mean: another year of life is a gift, even if I’m not 100% where I want to be.
Birthdays mean: I am a work in progress, and I choose to celebrate the progress.
(Dr. Therese, 2021)
I have friends and mentors with birthdays this month including the fabulous Martha Tecca (TODAY!). Dr. Therese uses the language, “Wishing you to feel empowered enough to fill in the blanks however you wish.” (Dr. Therese, 2021) and I like that sentiment. Whenever your next birthday arrives: today, next week, next month, or several months from now; I hope that you find ways to honor your progress throughout this past year. (And yes, friends, family and colleagues I will make you some sort of sweet to show my love and care for you in honor of all the progress you’ve made.)
Mascardo, Therese. “How Birthdays Impact Our Mental Health…thoughts from a Licensed Psychologist.” Exploring Therapy, Exploring Therapy, 26 July 2021, https://www.exploringtherapy.com/therapy-blog/how-birthdays-impact-our-mental-health-thoughts-from-a-licensed-psychologist.
Nemko, Marty. “On Birthdays.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 30 June 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-do-life/202006/birthdays.
Happy Birthday, Martha!
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