Abuse Effects Coping Methods

How to Cope with Holiday Triggers After Childhood Abuse

Why You May Have Holiday Triggers & How to Cope

Holidays are seen as a time to gather with family and do fun, festive things. However, for many individuals who have abusive parents, holidays can actually be triggering and tough to get through. This post will discuss what holiday triggers are, what might have caused them, and various ways to cope.

If the holidays are triggering for you because you have to deal with your abusive parents or other toxic family members, refer to this post on dealing with them during the holidays.

November to January are often cheerful, festive, and celebratory times for many people. But it’s also a dreadful time for many others.

When you see other people enjoying the holidays or judging you for not feeling the same, it sends the message that something’s wrong with you. Constantly hearing how it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” when it’s the complete opposite to you also feels pretty gaslight-y.

But nothing is wrong with you. You aren’t a Grinch or a Scrooge if you don’t enjoy the holidays. You don’t have to pretend to be in the holiday spirit if you’re not. Your feelings are valid.

Holiday Triggers Are Common

Honestly, holidays are triggering for many people. Sure, there is supposed to be joy and celebration. But there is also a lot of anxiety and stress. Holiday triggers aren’t something only people with abusive parents struggle with.

People may be stressed about making sure everything will go perfectly and smoothly the day of. Workers are busy entertaining the massive increase in customers and demand. Plenty of other people have no plans so the holidays remind them of how lonely they are.

During the holidays, people often feel a lot of pressure to be happy and celebrate accordingly. And when they can’t meet those expectations, there are feelings of guilt and shame. A lot of the time, the holidays overwhelm people so much that they forget to enjoy it. Well, if we can’t enjoy it, what’s the point?

What Are Holiday Triggers?

Triggers are anything that brings up uncomfortable emotions. They are something – a sight, smell, sound, feeling, person, place, or situation – that reminds you of something distressing or traumatic. Holiday triggers are often things associated with the holiday that brings up negative or unpleasant feelings.

Oftentimes, triggers can be avoidable, or at least, they’re not persistent. The problem with the holidays, as mentioned before, is that there are signs of it everywhere. This makes its triggers virtually impossible to avoid.

For instance, as much as you don’t want to acknowledge Christmas, people are talking about it. Christmas songs are playing. Festive lights and decor are everywhere. Even if all you do is stay home, it’s the same once you go online.

So unless you plan to completely cut yourself off from the outside world, you have no choice but to find ways to get through it.

Why Do You Have Holiday Triggers?

My family didn’t celebrate many holidays in my childhood. So fortunately, I don’t have many holiday triggers. But I know not everyone is as lucky.

During the holidays, there are a lot of reminders of family, togetherness, and joy. And that’s something a lot of people don’t have.

If you had abusive parents, it’s likely that holidays for you growing up weren’t exactly the joyous celebrations they’re meant to be. And that could be due to a number of reasons.

  • You were pressured or forced to present yourself or act a certain way during the holidays. If you didn’t, you were punished.
  • Your parent made the holiday all about them.
  • You’re forced to put on a facade that your family is perfect.
  • Your parent had expectations that were near impossible to meet.
  • Your parent manufactured drama and conflict. Then, they blamed it on you.
  • Holidays were used as a tool to manipulate you. They were held over your head and could be canceled whenever you were deemed “bad”.
  • Your parent made you jump through hoops to have the celebration, party, or present you want.
  • Your parent embarrassed you in front of extended family members and friends.

These experiences were likely traumatic for you. You weren’t able to enjoy the holidays like a child should. If you had any of the experiences listed above during holidays growing up, there’s no doubt that the holidays now remind you of those experiences. It brings up uncomfortable emotions that can make the holidays hard to face.

A lot of the time, holidays are also triggering because it usually involves celebrating with family. And for those of us with abusive parents, the topic of family – or a lack thereof – is really what’s triggering.

Holidays and the times around them remind you that you’re alone. And once again, that you’re not normal.

How to Cope with Holiday Triggers

It isn’t easy getting through the holidays. But here are some ways to possibly make it more bearable, maybe even a little enjoyable.

Create your own traditions

What makes holidays so triggering is because of how formulaic it is.

Even when you are no longer with your abusive parent, the many things about the holiday still reminds you of them and how they made you feel during this time.

So unless your parents were super unconventional in how they celebrated the holidays or barely celebrated at all, you will most likely be triggered by common holiday themes.

Thus, changing things up for the holidays can help avoid or minimize those triggers. Create your own traditions! You’ve unfortunately associated the common holiday themes with your parents. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the holiday in your own way.

If you’d like to keep it conventional, you still can. Maybe your childhood Christmas tree was the standard green. So go for a different color if you still want a tree. Or go for a different tree altogether.

Sometimes, a little change in the details might be all you need to feel a little better during the holidays. But if not, go for bigger, extreme changes. Watch horror movies and order sushi or something. No one says the holidays have to be celebrated a certain way. So celebrate it YOUR way.

Go somewhere else

Carrying on traditions may seem ideal, but not if it’s hurting you. If staying home or visiting certain people is triggering, go somewhere else. This can be a tradition in itself.

Plenty of people travel during the holidays. So you’re bound to find other ways to celebrate outside of your home if that’s what you want.

Look for various community events or plan a trip. Whether it’s just a couple of hours away or on the other side of the world, changing your environment during the holidays can help with the triggers. And if you don’t want to plan a trip, look into organized group trips or book a cruise.

Spend it with other people

Holidays can be triggering because you may have to spend it with your abusive parents or some other toxic family. If you have the choice, maybe start spending the holidays with other people. Or at least, spend a little less time with people who drain you.

Spend the holidays with just your chosen family or friends. And if you’ll be alone, consider hosting a get-together or party for anyone else who may be alone during the holidays.

This can also be virtual if a physical get-together isn’t possible. You can simply chat with people online or interact in more fun ways like playing a game. Some Facebook groups also host virtual meetings over the holidays for people with estranged families. So take a look into those if you’re interested.

Treat it like any other day

Remind yourself that the holiday is just another date on the calendar. There are plenty of times when my family doesn’t do anything special at all on birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. It just simply didn’t matter to them at the time.

Dates only have meaning because we give them meaning. If it’s possible, don’t keep track of the days leading up to the holiday.

A lot of time, I lose track of my days. I blink and suddenly it’s Thursday when it still feels like Monday. So as long as you don’t place any special meaning on this date, then it won’t have any special meaning. It’s just another day.

Distract yourself as much as you can

Treating it like any other day only really works if you’re able to somehow lose track of your days. And the best way to do that is to distract yourself as much as you can. Refer to this long list of ways to distract yourself.

Things like learning a new skill, taking a class, finding a new hobby to invest your time in, or even drowning yourself in work can keep you preoccupied till the holidays are over.

Make it a ME day

If traditions and festivities are not your thing, you can still make the holiday a good day by making it all about you. Make it a ME day. This is the day when you get to shower yourself with all the goodies you deserve.

Do what you want to do even if it’s just sitting in your PJs watching TV. Eat what you want to eat. Treat yourself!

You can also get yourself a bunch of gifts ahead of time and wait to open it on the day of. Basically, the day is what you make of it. Do what YOU want to do.

Look at the silver lining of being alone

This may come across as insensitive, but if you’re alone during the holidays, try to look for the silver lining in that. As triggering as holidays are, at least you’ll be spending it in peace.

Maybe holidays used to be screaming matches. Maybe your parent took this time to embarrass you in front of extended family. Or maybe you’re forced to put on a facade and enjoy yourself regardless of how miserable you are.

So at least now, you don’t have to deal with that anymore. You may be alone, but you’re free. You’re free to eat what you want, wear what you want, and do what you want! So take the chance to do that.

Give back

Recognize that there are plenty of people in awful situations during the holidays. Please realize that this doesn’t make your situation any less valid or awful, just that you aren’t alone in your struggles. And sometimes, noticing how some people may have it worse can make us feel a little better about our situation.

There are people who are homeless, cold, and hungry. There are children without families spending their Christmas in group homes.

Maybe you can volunteer somewhere like a soup kitchen, hospital, nursing home, or animal shelter. Maybe trying to make the holidays better for someone else can make yours better.

Reminder: Try not to break no contact

If you’ve established no contact with your parents, the holidays might be a very tempting time to break that. But remind yourself why you went no contact in the first place. Remind yourself how holidays with your parents were.

Some people want to break no contact so they won’t feel alone. But no one can make you feel more alone than being around your abusive parents making you feel worthless.

As tempting as it will be, please try not to. You’ve gone no contact for a reason. But of course, it’s ultimately up to you.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in feeling lonely or dreading the holidays. More people are triggered by the holidays than you think.

If the holidays make you upset, that’s okay. Your feelings are completely valid. And you don’t have to put on a facade if you don’t want to.

But if you want to try to get into the holiday spirit, change things up! Make your own traditions, as conventional or as random as you’d like. Overwrite what makes the holidays triggering for you. Make adjustments until you start feeling comfortable.

The holiday is however YOU want to celebrate it. Maybe you can make it something you can look forward to in future years.

I wish you the best of luck this holiday season with whatever you decide to do.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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