Embrace the Quiet Joy of the Christmas Season

christmas-mangerJudging from the surge of pageviews and long emotional emails in my inbox, I know you’re hurting and wanting the hurting to stop. You’re tired of the unrelenting emotional abuse and mind games that you’ve endured. Even if you’ve taken the step to create space between you and your abusers, you may still feel out in the cold and hurt, especially during the Christmas season.

You see the stream of jolly Christmas scenes and bountiful tables with beaming relatives surrounding them, and you feel like every person in the world is celebrating Christmas in a huge, elaborate way. And it hurts so badly that you can hardly breathe.

But breathe, you should.

Deep breaths.

In. Out. In. Out.

The Miracle of You

As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you’re a miracle in that you’re here right now, acknowledging what has happened to you and hoping and working toward a healthier emotional life. You’re a miracle in that, despite your parents’ campaign to create you in their own image or to eradicate who God intended you to be, you’re here. You’re you.

What a huge, lovely gift your uniqueness is to the world. What a miracle it is that you’ve survived such difficulties and emotional hardship to get to this point where you’ve said, “My life matters! My emotional health matters!”

Because it really does.

Don’t despair, dear readers. My inbox teems right now with emails from people who say they are crying as they write to me, who struggle to make sense of their stories. I want to hug every single person and let you know that I understand how deeply it hurts, I understand that longing for a loving, healthy relationship with parents, I understand that sense of gloom and sadness that threatens to overwhelm you.

The almost indescribable sorrow and pain of an emotionally abusive childhood is shared by far more many people than you can imagine—but know that many of them have emerged from the darkness to create kind, good, loving lives for themselves.

In this season of hope, peace, joy, and love, let me tell you that through therapy, reflection, prayer, and quiet moments, you will find healing. The sorrow will be reduced to a rock in your knapsack in your journey through life rather than a boulder that presses down upon you. The sadness will come less frequently into your life. The gaping hole inside your heart will feel less like a mortal wound and become a smaller, more manageable pain. Your abusive years will be part of your backstory, not part of your present story. You’re so much more than what they told you.

To all those despairing readers, please know that your life matters. Find help in reaching out to good friends. Confide in them. Don’t let pride prevent you from grasping for help. Your life is a gift from God to the world. Remember this.

During this Christmas season, focus on the small, beauty of your life. So much of an emotionally abusive childhood is marked by misplaced urgency, a lack of reflection or quiet. This Christmas, pull yourself out of despair by celebrating the small hidden beauty. That advice may sound cheesy, but there’s a quiet beauty and joy amid the glitzy, chaotic mayhem. Spend time looking for it.

To all who write me and say they want to return to their abusive parents because it’s better to be with them than alone, I’d recommend thinking it through. Imagine the scenario. What have other Christmases been like? What would be said to you? What will the experience feel like? How will you feel during this time? How will you feel afterwards?

If returning to your family’s house for Christmas means returning to an abusive situation, don’t do it. Better to be alone in peace. Better to find friends to celebrate the holiday with you. Or if friends are far from you or hard to make, spend the season taking care of others at a shelter or nursery home. Your world is far bigger than you know. Needs are far greater than you think. Go beyond the relentless, exhausting yet familiar cycle of emotional abuse… You’ll experience a greater joy and peace.

Christmas is not about how many people are gathered around the table, how plentiful the Christmas cards received, the decor of one’s home, the abundance of gifts beneath a tree, how perfect everyone looks in a Christmas family photo. Christmas is deeper, more joyful, more intimate than that.

The first Christmas was a miracle, an intimate scene shining in the glory of God.

To find some peace and joy during the Christmas season, take time to contemplate that miracle.

  • Go to church for Christmas, and focus on the miracle of the season.
  • Reach out to good friends.
  • Comfort the afflicted, whether the forgotten in nursing homes or homeless shelters or hospitals.
  • Find joy in the small beauty of the season—Christmas lights, music, favorite dishes, movies, evergreen trees, peppermint.

And if you’re truly struggling to breathe during this Christmas season, please seek help. Take care of yourself, friend.


Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications.

photo credit: murkmad

5 thoughts on “Embrace the Quiet Joy of the Christmas Season

  1. Even though I’m Jewish and don’t currently celebrate Christmas, I did for many years, so there’s some wistfulness lurking about.

    I don’t have any real friends, due to my inability to identify safe people even after 30 years of therapy and lists of treatments too long to mention.

    The thing that helps me the most is feeding the hungry. Volunteering in a free kitchen warms my soul. Seeing those tired, worn eyes light up, the dirty faces smile as plates of hot food are set before them, is the best gift I can think of.

    For those few hours, serving those whose needs eclipse mine, the weariness of lifelong mental illness lifts from my shoulders and I am happy.

    These are my family: the homeless–for even though I am blessed with shelter and money for necessities, I have no real home. The abandoned–for my genetic family have rejected me.

    I am not too weird for the street people. I myself was a street person as a youngster. They pick up on that, and they don’t judge me, because they can see that I don’t judge them.

    And there is the question, What would Jesus do? Would he be sitting around eating ham, drinking too much, and drooling over objects wrapped in pretty paper? No. He’d be out feeding the poor.

    And that’s my remedy for lonely holidays.

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  2. First I want to say that I love this blog. It’s one place that writes about EMOTIONAL abuse as the main topic. It’s tough to find such a place and in fact it’s a fairly recent find for me. Thing is emotional abuse comes with the other types of abuse but can happen all on its own too and I think that gets forgotten because it’s usually covert.

    Anyway, I felt compelled to comment on this because the last two Christmases I was alone…all by myself after my roommate left to see his big family. I had a choice last year and was invited but I actually chose not to go.

    It was weird and it was definitely lonely, even though it was the second year in a row I was alone. But at the same time it was worry free about how things would transpire, or be with my family.

    The last year I was with them, there was a huge elephant in the room that no one dared mention. However, later in the year my sister was sure to use it against me when I wouldn’t conform to her wishes right away when it came to caring for my father when he became terminally ill.

    She was angry because I didn’t just simply jump at the chance to do it all on her terms. (Of course she didn’t directly say that, but the message was quite clear.)

    It was during a verbally abusive phone call, while my sister was verbally attacking me and blaming me for something or other, that I made the decision that I would be moving toward getting myself untangled from my family and the stress I was in as a result of their behavior.

    It is a relief to not have to worry about the obligation of showing up for ANY holiday and especially Christmas. I don’t have to think about how to be fake and pretend we’re a happy loving family. I don’t have to stress about the herd of elephants in the house anymore either.

    I’m sure this isn’t all that comforting to anyone who may happen to read because I know the loneliness can feel much worse in the moment than thinking about just going ahead and spending the day with the family. For me it was difficult…but when it was over, I was so glad I stood strong.

    Another nice thing is that I don’t have to go out and deal with the crowds and spend my money on gifts that will be forgotten about in less than a week. Not that that’s the most important thing, but it’s a factor. Buying someone a gift should be done from love…from the heart, not because you feel obligated to do so. Or to feel like you better because if you don’t you’ll be judged and looked down upon.

    And most important I get to call the shots with no guilt or shame for doing things on MY terms.

    My sister has an open house every year on Christmas day and this year she sent me an invitation. It included asking for an RSVP. It was an electronic thing that was set up that way for everyone who received one. But my point is that I chose to completely ignore it, just as I’ve been ignoring every attempt at communication since my decision to not be involved with anything pertaining to my immediate family.

    That being said, I do have a couple extended family members I talk to, one being a cousin. But we don’t see each other much and we haven’t spent Christmas together since we were kids.

    It’s not easy. And this year I have an invitation to go spend my day with a friend’s family. But I also have freedom to make the choice at the last minute and there is absolutely no obligation to go, which makes the decision to say yes much more of a relaxing thing. And I KNOW it was my own choice because I WANT to go, not because if I say no, I will be berated.

    To all going through the torment of dealing with an abusive family this season, think of staying away as a Christmas gift to yourself.

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