The holidays are hard for survivors of trauma. I know that’s not a shocking statement. Our circumstances are usually less than stellar. Either we spend it without the majority of our family or we spend it with them but wish we hadn’t. Our external situation can create so much angst.
In the past several years, I have come to terms with my holiday situation. I have come to enjoy my small holiday gatherings, usually involving one or two friends and my children. I really do like it. It is so much less complicated. And there is room for the creation of my own traditions. All the fretting I did about my kids getting the bad end of the family deal has been for naught. My kids don’t know what they are missing. And believe me, that’s a good thing. That family sucks.
But there’s another side to the holidays for survivors. It is the unpredictable inner world. You never know when it will rear its head. For me, I was introduced to a new part on Thanksgiving Day. He seemed like a pretty amiable part in the scheme of things. I was okay with this part. I was working through the memories and emotions without too much fanfare or resistance. It’s never pleasant, but I was doing okay with it. But two days before Christmas, it all took a turn for the worst. The expression from this part made a massive shift. It got nasty. I came to understand this part was repeating my father’s words, but I didn’t know that at first.
I was inundated with the horrific language and emotions associated with the “yuck” that was my childhood … on Christmas Eve … on Christmas Day. I was attempting to hold together the massive Christmas responsibilities of a single mother while living in a nasty memory. I was able to work through Christmas as best I could, but there were parenting fails and mood swings and exhaustion to contend with. The past emotions were convincing and my external circumstances seemed to support them. I could certainly justify them in my head.
But then it ended. While it always stinks, it always ends. And in retrospect (because that’s the only time we can get the full picture), the emotions I experienced were clearing the way. Maybe I am meant to take on a new level of power in the new year, but I had to release the old powerlessness to get there. Maybe I had to cut more ties to the old family and take on life with less baggage. I don’t know yet how it will manifest, but this powerlessness in my system was holding me back.
What are the chances you will remember this while you are feeling horrible? I have to admit, the chances are slim. But in case you do, here is what you have to look forward to.
When we feel powerlessness, we are about to be empowered on a new level. We are coming in to our own power in a new way and we must release the old powerlessness to get there. Maybe we are considering a change. Maybe we know we have to make a difficult decision to get there. Maybe we have to speak up or admit something to ourselves. The powerlessness might feel like an obstacle to stop us in our tracks, but it is our own inner resistance being released for our new change to happen.
When we feel shame, we are bringing in a new level of self love. We are learning that we were not to blame. We could not be the bad person our abusers made us out to be. Maybe we are tired of being so hard on ourselves. Maybe we are tired of the continued cycles of abuse in adulthood. Maybe we just sense that something isn’t right about what others have been telling us. The shame is not coming to tell us how horrible we are. The shame is coming up for release so we can love ourselves in a new way.
When we feel grief, we are opening up to new things. We all want to live different lives after trauma. But without releasing the old ways, we stay in the old patterns. You might think that releasing the old traumatic patterns would require grief. It seems like we should be saying, “Good riddance.” But on some level, the inner parts level, we have to grieve the time we spent in this world. We have to grieve the only things we have known. And without this grief, we can’t establish a better way of living.
When we feel rage, we are ready to stop hating ourselves. I always get excited when my clients allow themselves to get angry. More than likely, our anger was suppressed in childhood, so we turned it on ourselves. It shows up in our lives as passive aggression, physical ailments and anxiety. We don’t consciously know its anger, but it is. So when we feel the rage come on, we are allowing our anger to come forward and stop destroying us from the inside out. We are placing the anger back where it belonged, so we can find a way back to self love.
The next time you are inundated with an emotion that seems to be coming up right as you felt you were making progress, remember this. You are clearing what you need to move forward. Allow yourself to accept it and feel it. Allow yourself to express from it and heal it. And over time, you will see the inner obstacles clear. There is one thing I have learned from this journey. When I appear to be going backwards, I am going forwards. When I feel the worst, I am on my way to my best self.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW