Often when people hear the word “holidays”, all sorts of images come to mind. Some people feel warmth and love and excitement at the idea of spending time with their family and loved ones. For some, the holidays are about seeing and catching up with loved ones while enjoying meals and gifts together. For those with a family history of trauma and abuse, the holidays may feel anything but merry and warm. For some people, the very thought of the holidays can trigger feelings of abandonment, guilt, anger, and resentment. While the holidays can feel tough and painful, there are things we can do to help them feel more tolerable and safe. Below are some skills to help in coping with the holidays.
- Minimizing expectations- When we are able to let go of expectation on how things “should be”, we are able to minimize suffering when our expectations are not met. When we have expectations about things outside of our control such as other people, we often set ourselves up to be disappointed.
- Setting Boundaries- One issue with childhood trauma is it can set people up to feel very young and disempowered. It’s important to remember that as a child it can be unsafe to have a voice because we are dependent on our caregivers to survive. Once we become adults, we have the brain capacity to be able to meet our own needs and function independently in the world. While being around ones family can lead them to feel young, it is important to remind oneself that as an adult, we can set boundaries and limits with others and ourselves.
- Tolerating Loneliness- Often the holidays can bring up feelings of grief and loss. This may be due to unresolved trauma or loss of loved ones. Feelings can be extremely painful but they do pass. Sometimes we need help with processing grief and loss which is where working with a therapist can be helpful.
- Taking time for your self- Sometimes people will put expectations on themselves to try to be everything for everyone. Even in the healthiest of families, the holidays can feel overwhelming at times. It is important to recognize the need for alone time and self care. While it can feel uncomfortable or even “selfish”, taking care of ourselves is essential if we are going to be able to show up for other people.
- Having a support system- If you have healthy relationships with friends or partner, it can be helpful to connect with them in order to get support through a tough time. Having support can help people feel less lonely and more connected.
- Planning Ahead- This is one of the biggest things I work with clients on when prepping for the holidays. This can help prevent a disaster from happening. Having a self-care toolkit can be the difference between a family explosion and a tolerable experience. Toolkits can include self-care activities, support resources, emergency contact numbers, and a before/during/after plan for family events.
- Accepting you may disappoint others- One essential piece of surviving the holidays is putting yourself first. This may mean declining invitations to family or friends events if they feel unsafe. While this can lead to others feeling disappointed, it’s important to remember that as adults, we are responsible for our own needs.
While these tips will not keep the holidays from happening, they can help us to get through them in a safe and tolerable way. Grief and trauma can feel amplified around the holidays but it’s important to remember it is temporary. If you are struggling with trauma recovery and feel unable to recover on your own, it may be time to seek professional help. If you would like to learn more about Shannon’s services, contact her today for a free consultation.
Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors. Call Shannon today to book your first appointment.