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

Five Ideas for a Peaceful Thanksgiving

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Advertisers during the Thanksgiving season present an exaggerated image of the simple holiday. Sumptuous feasts bring together far-flung relatives. The coolness of the weather chills past arguments and lets bygone be bygones.

Moreover, people perpetuate this unreachable ideal by promoting glittery, heavily edited holiday images on their social networks.

Unfortunately, the expectation can be so high during this season that people who are estranged from their families of origin or those who are far from them due to military or business reasons can get very low-spirited this week.

“There’s this idea that it’s supposed to be perfect, and if it’s not, the person asks, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”  states Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist.

Expectations for the perfect holiday are sky-high, which triggers myriad issues related to mental health. However, statistically, the number of “traditional households” in this country is not in the majority, Rodino adds.

To help you lessen that stress and to embrace the true spirit of the holiday, this post will offer ideas for immersing oneself in a spirit of thankfulness.

After all, the holiday name itself tells you what its focus is: giving thanks.

1. Celebrate Thanksgiving with your family-from-the-heart

During Thanksgiving, you may feel that everyone in the United States is celebrating the feast with all their relatives. However, you’re not alone. Some of your friends may not have relatives nearby for the holiday or you may know other folks estranged from their kin. If you want to share the day with special friends, invite them over for Thanksgiving.

No rules exist for the feast. You don’t need to be related by blood. Invite relatives and friends whose company you enjoy. Give thanks for the good people in your life, whatever role they play in your life.

(This concept of celebrating with friends has been picking up steam lately. Do a Google search for Friendsgiving, and you’ll find oodles of ideas for celebrating.)

2. Celebrate the hidden treasures in your life

As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you may find yourself focusing on the darkness in your life rather than the light. And whereas there’s nothing wrong with self-reflection, one must balance it out by looking for some goodness, something of hope in one’s present.

A holiday can make finding that hope difficult. You may just focus on loss. Where are the relatives? Why couldn’t my family be normal for the holidays? Why does everyone get a real Thanksgiving except me?

But remember that you are a wonder. It’s a tremendous blessing that you were able to see the emotional child abuse for what it is and now head towards a life of healing and light. That’s a huge blessing.

YOU are a blessing.

Then also think about the beauty in your life and focus on all the neat treasures tucked into your day that you may overlook or even feel silly about being grateful for them. On Thanksgiving, celebrate those treasures, no matter how big or how small.

“Today, I am grateful for… my awesome purple-framed glasses that help me see better, for listening to new music on Spotify for free, for Cary Grant movies, for art supplies and the hope and expectation in blank sheets of paper, for Cupcake Red Velvet wine, for the crunch of autumn leaves when I go on a nature walk, for the graceful silhouettes of geese against the gray sky…”

Give thanks for the world around you and all the beauty within it, even if you have to dig for it sometimes.

3. Indulge in a hobby… with all this uninterrupted time

What hobbies or activities are you often putting off because of important commitments? If you’re spending Thanksgiving by yourself, indulge yourself in the pleasure of that hobby without interruptions. Want to paint? Practice your music? Work on your karate skills? Try a new recipe?

Do it.

Be grateful for this gift and use it to your heart’s delight.

If your hobby is watching movies and analyzing them, go for it. Just steer away from holiday-themed movies, as they can trigger nostalgia and longing on this day.

4. Reach out to other people

“Help others,” recommends Laurie Stoneham in her article 10 Things to Do If You’re Alone on the Holidays. “Volunteering at a mission or shelter for the homeless will help you feel connected.”

You can find those places to volunteer online, check your newspaper or church bulletin, or check your city’s message board.

5. Treat the day like any other day

“Not everyone is down with holiday events,” writes blogger Kat Dawkins at Psych Central. “And that is perfectly OK.

“Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or weird about not participating in the Thanksgiving holiday. We are not all interested in that type of thing.

“If the day is a trigger for you, make sure you surround yourself with others in a positive environment. Keep yourself busy your mind off negative things as much as you can.”

Have any tips for a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday? I’d love to hear them. Just drop a note in the Comments.

Holiday Survival Tips: 10 Suggestions for an Emotionally Healthy Christmas

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For all the beauty of the Christmas season, it can be a difficult time for survivors of emotional child abuse. Whether the adult is estranged from toxic parents or still in contact, the adult often must battle feelings of sorrow, frustration, anger, and loss.

At the Invisible Scar, we recognize all those valid feelings… but we also hope to give some ideas for creating new (and realistic) expectations for this special time of year. These tips will not offer any miracle cure for the very real pain of survivors of emotional child abuse—but I hope these ideas will bring comfort and joy to those who want to, despite all the past abuse, live good, healthy lives no longer dominated by the past. The scars are real, the pain is real… but there is beauty to be found in a new present, in a new beginning.

1. Find meaning in the season.

 Find or reconnect to a purpose, meaning or value during the season.” (Christy Matta, MA; Holiday Stress Survival Tips)

What do you want to celebrate this holiday season?  Is it the birth of Jesus Christ? Is it goodwill towards all?

Knowing what you want to celebrate can help you focus on what matters most for this season (and beyond). When we have ideal yet vague pictures about what the season means, we can get overwhelmed with the 45,340 different interpretations of celebrating it. Take time to focus on what you want to celebrate.

2. Have realistic expectations.

If individuals have locked horns for most of the year, it is not reasonable to think that on one day all will be forgiven. We need to be gentle with ourselves.” (Edward T. Creegan, MD; Reality vs Myth in Fighting Holiday Stress)

Many people place a huge burden on themselves and others during the holiday season. Whether inspired by too many Lifetime movie channel holiday movies or one’s own sense of longing for the perfect Christmas, folks can get caught up in needing everything to be just PERFECT. Everything needs to be the exact manifestation of every Christmas-related longing the person has had their entire life.

To cope with unrealistic expectations, make your expectations very specific and weigh just how realistic they are. For example, I may have this unrealistic expectation: I want to go ice skating with my aunts, uncles, and cousins at the vast, gorgeous lake near my mountain home. The problems are: I do not live near those relatives; I do not have a nearby lake; I do not live in the mountains or anywhere cold. So, I can transform an unrealistic expectation to a more realistic one: I will go ice skating at This Skating Rink on this day with my husband and children.

3. Create new traditions.

Most folks do what their families have done because, well, their families have always done those things. But now, in the beginning of the season, take time to think about the traditions that your family had that you liked and would like to continue. Or think about which ones you always wanted but didn’t do because you felt you couldn’t or shouldn’t. Want to decorate your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve instead of Dec. 1? Go for it. Want to make gingerbread houses with pink frosting instead of red? Make them.

Think of traditions that you’d like to bring to your life now. (You can even do an online search of holiday traditions and learn about new ones you want to incorporate into your holiday season.) If you are part of a chosen family (as opposed to a birth family), you may want to discuss what to do for the holiday season. Some families sit down and think of one holiday-themed activity to do for every week in December.

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4. Celebrate simple pleasures.

In the much-maligned movie Surviving Christmas, one of the characters talks about the simple beauty of a Christmas tree in the woods and how much its quiet beauty touched her. Another character, in a misguided attempt to woo her, decorates the tree and completely goes overboard with glitz and glam, thereby ruining what she had treasured for its simplicity.

Think about how overdone things can be, but— rather than shun the entire season— focus instead on simple beauty. The power of the season is in the small things. The Christ child in a manger—not a child in a high-priced, elaborate cradle set in a castle. A Christmas star—not a Christmas meteor shower. A drummer boy whose gift is to play rat-a-tat-tat on a drum—not a full-fledged orchestra.

What simple beauty can you add to your life? What small things can be done with great love?

5. See the beauty around you.

An enormously helpful suggestion I was given a long time ago was to look for the beauty around you. In other words, really see things. Notice the simple beauty tucked in our everyday. Sometimes, it’s hidden in small things. For example, a pretty Christmas drawing on a latte cup. A snowflake pattern on the window. The beauty of bright pink and bright green on a scarf.

If you’ve been around chronically disgruntled people, you know that they will always find something to complain about. Anything is fodder for a complaint… and you can get blue in the face trying to “help” them see the beauty.

Don’t be that person.

Instead, purposefully seek to see things during this season that are uplifting and good. No, not everything is perfect. Yes, we are, as author John Green says, all broken… but it’s all right to seek the good things and be grateful for them.

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6. Be with loved ones.

Be with people who genuinely like you and value who you are… and who you value, too. Just being with good friends who make you laugh or think or feel good is a gift during this Christmas season. Instead of forcing yourself to spend time with people who drain you emotionally, who abuse you, who treat you horribly, choose instead to be with people who respect you.

Remember, you get to choose your social sphere.

7. Reach out to folks.

You’d be surprised how many people are far from their relatives or other loved ones during the Christmas season. Invite them to coffee or to go see a tree-lighting ceremony or see Christmas lights. We know folks who have a Misfit Christmas; they invite everyone they know who are on their own at Christmas, and everyone gets together–despite some folks not knowing each other. It’s a beautiful tradition, the company always varies, and it’s always fun. We also know folks who choose to spend the holiday working at a local shelter and bringing light to others.

8. Be gentle with others (i.e., cut people some slack).

The unrealistic expectations we sometimes have for the holiday can result in unrealistic expectations we put other people. If you didn’t get a Christmas card from someone, don’t assume they don’t love you or don’t think about you; they might just be insanely busy, lack funds to buy a book of stamps (they get pricier each year), choose not to follow that tradition, etc. You don’t know the reasons why someone cut you off in the parking lot, forgot to buy you a gift, is being crabby at the store, etc., so cut people some slack. You’ll feel better in taking the high road… and you’ll have less stress as well.

9. Avoid social networks.

With so many people constantly posting glimpses into their amazing lives via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, etc., adult survivors of emotional child abuse can start feeling down about not having amazing, loving families that everyone else seems to have. It’s natural to feel that sorrow… It’s completely normal to feel sad about not having had a loving birth family…. but to remain in that sorrow is not a good thing (which is why I often mention the importance of going to therapy).

The holidays can ramp up the amount of family-related posts on social networks, so you may want to consider taking a break from social networks for the holidays.

10. Take “calm down” breaks.

Whenever you get stressed out, anxious or feel overwhelmed during the day, take quick relaxation breaks of 1 to 5 minutes to calm yourself down.” (Connie Bennett, 7 Tips to Relieve Holiday Stress)

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Have any suggestions to share? Please feel free to add a comment… In the spirit of this post, let’s keep the comments as positive suggestions. Thanks!