How are we emotionally impacted by our birthdays?

Mark Vahrmeyer

Mark Vahrmeyer

UKCP psyhcotherapist Mark Vahrmeyer is an UKCP psychotherapist. Since 2013, Mark has co-run a psychotherapy clinic in both Brighton and Lewes. Mark has a special interest in multi-cultural issues and eating disorders.

Birthdays are generally depicted as happy events that should be celebrated. However, birthdays can be complicated and evoke difficult feelings such as sadness, listlessness and even feelings of depression.

I think that another reason that birthdays can be so important for people, and why they put so much pressure on them, has to do with control. Humans cope with the uncertainties of life by creating meaning making systems and through believing that we have control. Both of these mechanisms work to keep existential (death) anxiety at bay.

Birthdays, are culturally embedded so by affording them significance and meaning we are participating in a socially embedded meaning-making proposition which gives us self-worth and a sense of belonging.  

I believe that by putting so much meaning on a birthday and then creating the ‘perfect’ day it is a way of exercising control of the world around us and feeling more powerful on what is paradoxically a day to mark us being yet another year closer to death.


What is the birthday blues?

‘Birthday blues’ is a term used to capture the range of difficult emotions that some people experience around birthdays. They often come on in the lead up to a birthday, peaking on the actual day and then quickly dissipating, at times with a sense of relief.

Whilst we all have seen images, heard stories or seen films depicting the perfect birthday, for most of us this was not the case. For example, for some children of divorced parents, birthdays can be difficult, as the absence of one parent may be highlighted on that special day. The outcome is that birthdays become something to dread rather than eagerly anticipate.

If people are habitually getting the ‘birthday blues’, then something from the past has got ‘stuck’ and is repeating as an experience each year. A psychotherapist would work with you to uncover what it is that brings on these feelings around the time of your birthday and to resolve the underlying grief, or address what it is in your appetite for life that is being suppressed.

If we can be curious about them, birthday blues can tell us important information about what we may want or what is missing from our life. And if you can’t make sense of it, it can be really helpful to talk to a psychotherapist.


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