How to Handle Trauma Triggers During Christmas and The Holiday Season

How to Handle Trauma Triggers During Christmas and The Holiday Season how to handle trauma triggers during christmas and the holiday season
Photo by Kateryna Hliznitsova on Unsplash

The holidays are supposed to be the greatest times or the “happiest times” of the year where we laugh and connect with those close to us or with our families. It’s more like the time we down our tools, rest and just cherish each and every moment with our families. It’s the time of the year mostly associated with joys, laughter, dance, celebration, gratitude, family and friends.

That’s how it looks like on the outside but that’s never the case when all your triggers are gathered in the roundtable. When you have unresolved trauma or unhealed wounds, the holidays especially Christmas may look like the playground for your triggers.

From aunt Jane (using it figuratively. Not addressing my aunt call Jane, she is amazing) asking you in a sarcastic tone why you left your abusive marriage, to uncle Ben talking about how he persevered during the tough times unlike you who left, to your parents looking at you with those eyes that clearly express their disappointment in you as their child, to your successful sister flaunting how they’ve got their life together and how they’ll be going to Maldives for New Year’s Holiday with their love of their lives and two beautiful daughters and more coming from left, right and center.

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Then there’s you, unhealed from past betrayal from your partner/parents but still trying to be that daughter/son who ‘pleases’ their parents. All the interactions in those family holidays are like hot daggers to your unhealed wounds but you still persist because you don’t want to be labelled a ‘deserter’.

That’s how most family dynamics are actually, we put on this false image so that we don’t look like the one who is letting the family down but deep inside we really wish those holidays would just be cancelled or would end. So, the end of the year is also the peak of most of our triggers because we come face to face with what our unhealed abandonment wounds fear the most. That’s why Christmas can be a very difficult time because you are facing those unavoidable triggers. You may want to play with your nephews but there are with your mother (trigger).

So, how do you cope with triggers over the holidays? There are only two options actually, not going to those gatherings or going but now finding coping mechanisms that will help you. I am going to explore both scenarios on this article.


Scenario 1: Not Going — You Don’t Have to Go to Those Family Gatherings

If you really feel that all those close family members and friends are always onto you and it’s just a pain, then it’s okay to just avoid those family gatherings altogether. Don’t just go because you have to, you don’t have any obligation and there is not written rule (even if it was written, it’s not a natural law, it’s still manmade) that you have to spend time with your family over the holidays. Just weigh your options, which one makes you sadder? Going or not going?

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There’s no point of going to those gatherings if you’re going to just walk on eggshells so as not to upset your family or for you to put yourself in anxious situations day in day out. It’s okay to lie and come up with an excuse on why you can’t go (the excuse can be having your work shift over those holidays). Nothing will happen to you if you lie because already deep inside you just feel this irksome feeling or that ugh! When you think about the fake laughter you’ll have to carry with you during the holidays.

Also, you are not ignoring those family gatherings so that you can lock yourself up in your house and ruminate about the past, no. You avoid those gatherings but you now replace them with activities that will bring you joy during the Christmas period. Here are some activities you can engage in: –

· Find a volunteer activity around you (anything which can give you joy and sense of belonging like visit a children’s home and playing with those kids)

· Go to the movies (if you have a friend you trust, you can tag along)

· Road trip (try solo travel and really enjoy the beautiful sights and scenery)

It’s just about anything you’d prefer doing that will at least lighten up your day and a break from your normal routine instead of the psychologically torturing family gatherings.


Scenario 2: Going but Being Prepared

If you really have to go to those gatherings, be prepared so that they will not catch you off-guard. It’s like you’re going to an unavoidable war with the main aim being getting out of there alive with the least amount of scars. Take a day or two to prepare, strategize and do not go without a plan.

Firstly, you can prepare by setting clear boundaries around your family. Establish boundaries specifically with those family members you feel are the most triggering or ask you the most triggering questions. You can determine the time you can spend interacting with some of those family members as well as what you can possibly do during the holidays. Boundaries can be something like knowing the amount of money you can spend on them, knowing the topics you’re comfortable or not comfortable talking about or knowing the tasks you can possibly do. It’s just about knowing the things you can tolerate and what you cannot tolerate from those family members. Once you understand this, at least you’ll not find yourself being overworked or doing things which you don’t even want to or just being upset because they’re upset. You can even go an extra mile by practically doing the following: –

1. Coming up with a list of family members you’ll interact with over the holidays (from your sister, nephew to your grandparent).

2. Then assign a score to who always triggers you the most or who do you fear the most or who will you interact with them most

3. Come up with a list of responses to questions (mostly victim blaming questions) they always ask that trigger you. For example, “Why did you stay that long when you knew they were abusive?” or “Are you planning on getting back together?” Response: — “Thank you for your concern. That’s not a topic I want to talk about right now.” (exit and go play with your nephews or nieces).

You don’t have to explain yourself and do not even waste your time trying to overexplain yourself either (you can’t possibly explain to your grandparent about trauma bonding), they will hardly understand anyway because of their biases.

Also, for those who you can easily brush off (like a distant relative), just say No or walk away, (you may not see them for another 365 days anyway). So, look for responses that end the conversation and not those that open the doors for further questions. When you have ready-made responses, they will put you on autopilot when interacting with those triggering family members and this lessens the impact of that trigger. When you’re at loss of words those memories of the past will come flooding in but if you have ready responses, they will at least keep you safe as it you will not have to overthink as much. You can find great boundary-setting sentences here.

Another example for my own life is when asked a question like, “When are you getting married Edwin?”

Response: “Not anytime soon [insert name], I’m currently focusing on my career and my business.” (Conversation ended)

Secondly, you can use some of the family members who you trust as your own support network. There’s always that amazing cousin, friend or nephew or sibling who really listens to us or is there for us during these tough moments. So, you can use them as a fall back strategy and a safe space when you feel cornered and you want someone to talk to. You can also develop healthy coping mechanisms just to channel out your frustrations. You can take a journal and just write something or meditate, take a walk or just something which keeps you grounded.

Thirdly, you can understand the moments where your family criticize you the most. Your parent will mostly throw that jab at you when no one is watching (they don’t want to ruin their reputation), so you can also avoid those situations where it’s just you and them. If you have to, step outside and do something or go the kitchen or go to the bathroom. This is just about minimizing the interactions you can have with those who trigger you a lot. When they want to talk to you in private, tag along that nephew or that friend just to sit beside you or come up with an excuse. Don’t let them tear you apart with that ‘talk to you alone’ vibe. You can also choose to sleep early to avoid that ‘family meeting’ or to avoid them attacking you when they’re possibly drunk. You’re doing it to minimize those instances where they can gang up against you and trigger you.


Scenario 2: — Going but now Using it As an Opportunity

This is not for everyone but if you’re courageous enough you can give it a try. This is mostly for you if you’re currently working on yourself or you’re on therapy or practicing any kind of healing for your wounds. You see the holiday as a game of identifying your triggers and expose yourself to them as much as possible (not in a dangerous way- but in a fun kind of way). You just want to interact and engage in various activities with your family during the holidays so that you can really identify those triggers. A trigger can be a smell, food, colors, weather, person or just anything really that sets off a negative wave of emotions in you. You then write all of them in a journal, in detail so that once the holidays are over you can now discuss them with your skilled helper or a therapist. It can be greatest shift you can have in your life, exploiting those things/people who hurt you to grow yourself.

So, you use the holidays as the opportunity to identify your triggers and what’s being triggered. Triggers point out those unhealed parts deep within yourself. Some of those unhealed parts cannot be identified consciously and are just lurking in the subconscious mind. You may not even know your triggers because most of them are outside your level of awareness. For example, you may think your mum is the huge trigger, so you choose to avoid them only to find yourself being emotionally overwhelmed when you go to the bathroom or the kitchen. So, the trigger is actually the kitchen which reminds you of a traumatic incident you’d even forgotten about. So, it means there’s still something in the past which you have to work on so that next time you visit that kitchen, you’ll be confirming if that traumatic memory has now been processed. If you feel safe there, it means you’ve released those stuck emotions and if you still feel some negative emotions then it means there is something in there that needs healing. See, triggers can be beautiful things when you’ve started your healing journey. Actually, when working with clients the thing we do after we’ve have cleared emotions as a result of their past hurts is something called testing where we look at possible triggers and actually test if the client is still getting triggered by it. (If they’re getting triggered, it means there’s still some work to be done. If there’re not it means that all those subconscious beliefs associated with the trigger have been cleared and the client has transformed). That’s the amazing moment where a client sends you a message like “I met my ex or my mum today and I was not triggered”. (Heal to this point- it is possible).


The holidays may not be the easiest day for you and I hope this article will at least bring a smile in your face. You deserve better and you are doing this for you. As we’ve said, if you really think you’ll feel worse with attending those family gatherings, you can choose to ignore them. If you really want to go because you feel you can’t live with the guilt, go but be prepared. And if you really want to take it to the next level, see it as a game of identifying and learning about your triggers on a deeper level so that you can use those people who you feel have hurt you as ‘stepping-stones’ towards a life of freedom and inner peace. So, the choice is yours, I know you will get through this. If you’re really, really experiencing low moments during this festive season, you can always reach out. You are not alone, you can reach out for support.


Note from the Author

If you’re ready and you’d like my help with healing, finding peace in life and breaking free from these subconscious patterns for good (in close to a month) using Mind Shifting, then you can book a FREE BREAKTHROUGH CALL with me HERE. Happy healing 💙💙. Feel free to share and comment! Use this information with caution, it comes from my own thoughts, experiences and research😊.

References

1. https://thecenteroflifecounseling.com/coping-with-trauma/

2. https://cptsdfoundation.org/2021/11/24/10-ways-to-handle-trauma-triggers-during-the-holiday-season/

3. https://discoverymood.com/blog/facing-holiday-associated-trauma/

4. https://resources.soundstrue.com/blog/the-trauma-trigger-cycle/

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Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

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