Coping through the Holidays as a Trauma Survivor
Updated: Nov 19
For some, the holiday season is full of fond memories with loved ones and traditions that bring joyful experiences. For those who have survived trauma, the holidays can feel very confusing and dysregulating. A time that is frequently advertised to be happy, warm, and full of connection with family and friends, but instead, it is filled with stress, anxiety, and many triggers.
The holidays may be mixed with emotions - maybe a part of you truly enjoys aspects of the holiday season, while another part of you feels frightened or despair in the approaching weeks. These experiences are very normal for survivors of childhood trauma and abuse. Even if current day holiday gatherings are not overtly traumatic or distressing, the very nature of repeating similar patterns, traditions, or gatherings in places where trauma was experienced, can evoke deep rooted feelings of anxiety and fear.
Holiday gatherings might be a painful reminder of the dysfunctional patterns you experienced as a child, while your adult self longs for normalcy. Others may experience the painful absence of these traditions as they find themselves alone during the holidays. No matter your experience or how you choose to move through the holidays, your feelings are valid and we hope that the below information help you find some peace during this season.
It’s Okay To Put Yourself First
There can be a lot of pressure to show up to holiday gatherings, social pressure to discuss what you plan to do during the holidays, or simply pressure to be more “joyful” and enjoy this season. It is okay to not enjoy every part of the holidays. Putting yourself first will look different for each individual. Set aside some time to think of ways that may honor your whole person during this season. This can be done through:
Distraction: Watching movies and listening to music that have a springtime or summertime theme. Doing the opposite of what is currently happening can remind our brain of the times that we do enjoy.
Self Care: Planning out what your idea of self care through the holidays might look like can be a way to practice self love and nurturance. Maybe it’s time to schedule that massage you’ve been thinking about.
Before going into the holidays, it can be helpful to have a plan in place whether you will be around family or not. If you are going to be around family members for the holidays, plan ahead of how you will cope with this. Some examples might be: discussing with a trusted friend that you may call them during the holiday, or identifying a family member who understands your struggles with the holidays that you may be able to lean on during the gatherings.
Coping ahead may also look like planning what the holiday will be for you. Maybe you plan a gathering with chosen family who are safe and trustworthy. You might plan out what you are going to do at home that day, perhaps order takeout and rent a movie, or go for a leisure walk in the park. Either way, there is not a wrong way to plan for how you will cope through this season.
You matter. Your mental and physical wellbeing matters. Setting boundaries in order to protect yourself is of the utmost importance and is not selfish. It’s okay to skip out on gatherings. You do not owe anyone an explanation or reason for not wanting to attend. Boundaries are limits that we not only set with others, but also with and for ourselves. If you know that you tend to bend to the pressure set by family members, perhaps sending a text message is more manageable for you.
It is also appropriate to plan on setting boundaries during holiday gatherings. This may look/sound like:
"I can only stay for an hour."
"Stop yelling at me."
"I'm uncomfortable discussing this, please don't bring it up again."
"I'm not coming to the gathering."
Setting boundaries with those who have chronically violated your boundaries can be difficult. Always consider your safety first in determining how, when, and what to communicate a boundary.
Remember You Have Support
During this time of year, there has been an influx of mental health support for survivors of trauma. There may be local support groups for trauma survivors, grief support groups at counseling or religious centers, or even ones hosted online via zoom. If you don’t already have one, it can be helpful to set up an appointment with a therapist to process your thoughts and feelings around the holiday season.
At Grace Therapy & Wellness, we are here to walk with you through the challenges of holidays, families, and everything in between. Click here for more information about our services across Texas.