Trauma and the Holidays
For many, this time of year can be filled with joy, cheer, and happy family memories. For those who have experienced trauma, or for whom the ripples of trauma have touched their families, it can be a time full of triggers. There may be painful reminders of how your family has changed since the trauma, or of the times the trauma occurred. Children can be triggered by scents, sounds, family rituals, family members/missing family members and other reminders during this time of year. For parents it could be reminders of when you found out the pains your children have experienced or reminders of how the trauma has affected their childhood. Each person’s experience of any given trauma is different and so might be their triggers. Each family member is affected and experiences the ripples of trauma in a different way. Even though our experiences may be felt differently, there are some things that can help all of us during this time.
The holidays may look different but that doesn’t make them any less meaningful
First, remember that this year has been a different experience for everyone. With social distancing and wearing masks for safety, our holidays already look very different this year. You might not be visiting your family or partaking in your usual holiday routines. Allow yourself and your family the space to honor and feel whatever feelings you/they may be feeling towards these new changes. The holidays may look different for you and your family this year but that does not make them any less meaningful.
Second, make a plan about how the holidays will look this year. Talk to your children and your support system. Have an open conversation about who will and will not be present for holiday gatherings, what holiday rituals will be taking place, and which will not. Parents, think about any triggers (ex. phone calls, family zoom calls, missing a family tradition, etc.) you may have. Create and create a plan for things you can do before, during and after to help cope. Also, speak with your children and work with their additional support system (family, school, therapist, etc.) to help identify their triggers and together create a plan for them.
Create meaningful rituals
While planning how to cope with any trauma triggers, you can also plan as a family any new meaningful rituals you would like to start. We can’t take away painful memories, but you can help your family cope with them and continue to create positive, happy memories. This is a great way to come together as a family and hear the ideas everyone has on new and meaningful rituals you all can start.
Give yourself a break
Understand that this is a difficult and confusing time. You are allowed a break. In-between gift shopping, homework, work, child-care, phone calls, etc., don’t forget to give yourself a break. You don’t have to be “on” all the time. The holidays can be stressful, and even more so when we add experiencing a trauma and a global pandemic. You deserve a break. This goes for children too. They may not be as aware of the times they need breaks, and their breaks may look different.
Kandece Money, M.Ed, LPC-I