There is so much loss in this world.  Human existence is wrought with change and loss around every corner.  But when we have experienced complex trauma in childhood, the loss takes a new level.  Instead of losing parents because they pass away, we lose parents while they are still alive.  Instead of losing love through death or divorce, we lose love before we ever have a chance to have it.  Instead of losing trust in a person who hurts us, we lose trust in the entire world.  Trauma is loss on steroids.  And our trauma responses are a combined effort to keep ourselves from feeling those overwhelming losses.  But there are reminders everywhere.  So we spend a lifetime running from ourselves.

There is no time when those losses become more apparent than at the holidays.  Everything we try to run from comes back full force.  It can be incredibly hard to wear our mask during these times.  It can feel like we are wearing Teflon to restrain a ticking time bomb while hoping we can keep it from exploding.  It is an extremely painful time with the reminders of our losses everywhere we look.  We see the reminders of unconditional love, extended families, generational traditions and community with people.  The hole within us grows deeper and deeper as we race to get through the season.

What if I told you we can exist during the holidays without all that pain?  What if there was a way to feel better at the holidays without relying on others to make everything okay?  What if we could exist without all the torment during this season?  It’s not easy.  It’s not a quick fix.  But when we acknowledge our pain with compassion and acceptance, we can start to move out of the torture of the holidays a little bit at a time.  To do this, we must gain a new perspective about who we are and how we have been affected by our trauma.  Here are some steps to bring relief this time of year.

We can move out of the distraction of the holidays.  It is not a coincidence that the darkest time of year became the busiest time of year.  We live in a world that refuses to slow down.  This is a result of the collective attempts by humanity to distract from pain.  A time of year that was meant for slowing down and acknowledging our inner world was transformed into a three-ring circus of distracted (and frankly useless) activities.  When we take a step back from all this running, we can reconnect with ourselves and the pain that keeps tormenting us during the holiday season.  Make it a point to do less this year.

We can acknowledge our anger despite how it is portrayed.  If this season is infuriating, that’s okay.  We are allowed to be angry with the distracted, masky, perfectionism and all its pressures.  We can be angry at the constant reminders to be joyous.  The more we embrace our anger, the more we will break free of its hold on us.  Ignoring it won’t work.  It never has.  Accept your anger and take the most powerful step toward your best life.

We can stop invalidating the deep pain about our losses.  Our invalidation comes from our fear of the pain that lives underneath the surface.  But that invalidation escalates the pain in our system as it retraumatizes us repeatedly.  Invalidation can take more forms than we can discuss, but it often claims we are overreacting, need to get over it, should put it behind us or just be grateful.  The minute we consider showing ourselves some compassion, this abusive banter enters the picture and takes us down another road of goal-oriented distraction that will never make us feel like it promises.  So let the invalidation go and allow the pain of loss that is so real.

We can lower our expectations, especially of the wrong people.  Expectations are driven by our desire to resolve our losses with new behaviors from the same old people (or people just like them).  They are created from a desire to resolve our pain without feeling it.  And they perpetuate that pain indefinitely.  Why?  We cannot create change by doing the same thing.  We will repeatedly have our hearts broken by carrying expectations of others and their behaviors at any time of the year, including the holidays.  So let go of those expectations and come back to the original pain of your losses.  This is where you can make real change happen.

This holiday season take a new approach.  Move your focus inward and heal the pain of your losses through awareness and self-compassion.  Watch yourself transform as you accept yourself as you are.  And watch the season shift from a nightmare to a new experience you can tolerate, even enjoy.  You deserve what others cannot give you.  Give yourself the most important gift of the holiday season.  Give yourself healing and transformation.

In Survivor’s Guide for Life during December, join us as we come together for support, healing and learning with the Holiday Toolkit for Trauma Survivors.