Let’s face it, for many people the holiday season is a reminder of past and current emotional and/or physical abuse, missing family members, the gathering together of dysfunctional family, even abusers, alcohol consumption and more.
So, how does one get through a day which may possibly have to be spent surrounded by dysfunctional behaviors?
1. Remember that other people’s behaviors are not yours. If it becomes projected toward you, you get to get up and walk away. You get to gather your brood and keys, respectfully say your goodbyes and simply leave. On this day, and every day, you have the right to self preserve and exit from toxic environments. If you feel you may end up in an abusive encounter, arrange a way to be able to leave as soon as you can.
2. We live in an age of pressure. We worry over judgment and backlash. Not attending a family function can create an arena of hurt. We don’t want the family to be upset at us. We don’t want to have to rehash grudges still being held against us. We don’t want to experience any new wounds. Remember that your peace of mind belongs to you. If you feel it is safer for you not to attend, then you don’t have to. If you do decide to attend gatherings though, for yourself, focus on any moments of positive laughter and conversation. Focus on the familial connections which feel positive for you.
3. If you encounter triggers such as passive aggressive comments made toward you, skewed stories told that are meant to make you feel bad or humiliated or other audio invasions such as high noise levels, remember to use some grounding tools. Have headphones with you to temporarily block out the noise and negative conversation. Not only does it silently make the statement that you are unwilling to participate in toxicity, it also allows you a temporary mental escape as you listen to soothing music on your phone. If you feel yourself dissociating, silently name five red, green, white or black items in the room. Grab some ice water. Run your hand over the couch material or a solid object beside you, focusing in on its texture in your mind to bring you present into the room . If there are children around ask one of them if they want to play catch. Toss a stuffie or ball or any small item back and forth with them. These tools can all help to bring you back into the present.
4. Stay sober. Try not to drink in an attempt to relax. Keep your mind aware and focused. Concentrate on breathing. Visualize a protective barrier between you and those who you are not comfortable being around.
5. Set a time limit on your visit, and have an exit strategy. If three hours is all you feel you can handle, then try and time your visit so that the family meal is starting and wrapping up within your time frame. Be okay with taking a “to go” plate to enjoy later when you are back in your own safe space.
In essence, please remember to not be guilted into placing yourself in anxious or stressful familial situations. Even if your family doesn’t understand you, or doesn’t try to, know that you have the right to reserve your own comfort zone.
Remember to stay in the present.
Remember that if you feel triggered you have the right to ground or leave.
Remember that many people are not mindful of others’ needs, so prepare a self care list that you can glance at if you feel your mind can’t focus on its own. Looking at a list of ways to ground yourself can, in itself, also bring you into the present.
To my fellow abuse survivors who struggle through the holidays, I am with you in my heart. Here’s to the passing of another year and the start of a new one.
Vennie Kocsis is a child abuse survivor and the author of “Cult Child“. She is an outspoken advocate for trauma survivors.