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The holidays can be triggering: 11 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports.

The holidays can be triggering: 11 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Show me a person with a relational trauma history, and I’ll show you someone who, at one point in time, likely had a complex relationship with the winter holidays.

Why?

Because the two culturally dominant and Federally-recognized holidays during this time – Thanksgiving and Christmas – are family-centric and there’s often a slew of assumptions and questions that come from folks during this time that presupposes a relationship with family of origin and all the attendant plan-making, visiting, and togetherness that relationship implies.

The holidays can be triggering: 11 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

The holidays can be triggering: 11 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports.

Implications and assumptions that might be anything but true, easy, or simple for someone who comes from a relational trauma background and/or who is currently estranged or disowned from their family system.

It’s a time of the year when well-meaning but impactful questions abound on Zoom meetings, the preschool pickup line, bumping into your neighbor raking up the leaves:

“So what did you do for Thanksgiving?”

“Bet you can’t wait for Christmas — what are you doing this year?”

“Wait, you’re not going home for the holidays?!”

“So you DON’T love this time of the year?”

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe DEFINITELY not.

For many of us, this time of the year can be or has been really triggering.

A reminder of what never was, what isn’t, and what likely won’t be.

At least with your family of origin.

But also, on top of what may feel explicitly triggering at this time, what’s also true for some is that this time of the year may also be IMPLICITLY triggering.

Meaning your body may have strong feeling memories of this time of the year.

A time of the year when the days get shorter, the weather turns colder, and fewer opportunities to leave the house become a reality (depending on where you live in the country).

A time of the year where, if you lived through an abusive, dysfunctional, or neglectful childhood and the holidays, the end of the year might be triggering for your body and mind and not necessarily always with memory recall because of what could and would happen if you were stuck inside.

So please, if this is you, if you struggle with the holiday season for any reason, today’s essay is for you. 

In it I share a list of 9 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports to put in your proverbial toolbox to take care of yourself through these triggering winter holiday times. 

I hope that even one thing I share feels supportive. 

11 important reminders if the holidays feel triggering:

Consider this post a digital permission slip of sorts if you’re struggling this holiday season and remember:

  1. It’s okay to dislike the holidays. 
  2. Your feelings are valid and you don’t need to feel guilty about it. 
  3. You have the freedom to celebrate the holidays in any way you want. 
  4. You can create your own traditions that make you happy. 
  5. You don’t owe anyone anything during the holiday season. 
  6. You can spend your time and energy in ways that feel right to you. 
  7. The holidays are a great time to practice setting and asserting your boundaries (they’re an AFGO). 
  8. It’s okay to say no to things that don’t serve you. 
  9. If this holiday season feels tough, remember that feelings can change; future holidays may feel different and better.
  10. You can change your relationship to the holidays if you want.
  11. And self-care is paramount if you struggle at this time of year.

Tuck this digital permission slip away for now but come back to it any time when you feel triggered by what you imagine you “should” feel/do/experience during this time of the year.

15 Scripts Of What To Say In Triggering Holiday Conversations:

Consider the following scripts if people question what you’re doing for the holidays and/or comment on your lack of plans/plans that don’t make sense to them and you don’t know what to say back.

  1. “I appreciate your concern, but I’ve decided to spend the holidays focusing on self-care and personal well-being.”
  2. “I’ve made a choice that feels right for me at this time. I hope you can respect that decision.”
  3. “It’s a personal matter, and I’m taking some time for myself during the holidays.”
  4. “I’m prioritizing my mental health this holiday season and have chosen to spend it in a way that supports that.”
  5. “Thank you for your concern. I’m focusing on creating a positive and peaceful holiday experience for myself.”
  6. “I’ve chosen to celebrate the holidays in a way that aligns with my current needs and priorities.”
  7. “This year, I’ve decided to take a break and focus on activities that bring me joy and peace.”
  8. “I appreciate your curiosity, but I’d rather not discuss my holiday plans. Let’s talk about something else.”
  9. “It’s a personal decision, and I’m grateful for your understanding as I navigate this time on my own terms.”
  10. “I’m choosing to spend the holidays in a way that brings me comfort and peace. I hope you can respect that.”
  11. “I’ve decided to step back and prioritize my well-being during the holidays. I appreciate your understanding.”
  12. “Family dynamics can be complicated, and I’m taking this time to reflect and focus on my own growth.”
  13. “I’ve made a conscious decision to take a break from family gatherings this year for personal reasons. I hope you can respect that.”
  14. “I’m focusing on creating a positive and nurturing environment for myself during the holidays.”
  15. “I’ve chosen to spend the holidays in a way that aligns with my current journey of self-discovery and healing.”

Hopefully these scripts will feel supportive. Of course, create any and all iterations from them that resonate with you and your unique situation. But above all else remember that you get to hold your boundaries and say whatever you’d like. You’re not responsible for making other people feel comfortable if you’re honest about your situation.

4 Alternate Celebration Ideas:

As you internalize the digital permission slip reminders and hold your boundaries politely but assertively, consider, too, lining up alternative plans/extra supports for yourself through the holiday season if your plans don’t/can’t/shouldn’t include your family of origin or anyone else:

4 Supportive Measures:

And finally, remember to layer on lots of extra support during this time if the holidays feel hard. Consider one or all of the following to help you:

  • Crisis Hotline Contacts: Save crisis hotline numbers in your phone in case you need immediate support during challenging times. We have a list of national and California-specific crisis and warm lines over on the resource page of my therapy center’s blog. Check those out.
  • Therapy Sessions: Schedule therapy sessions with your therapist before, during, and after the holidays for extra support. And if you don’t already have a therapist and you live in California or Florida, my team and I are accepting new clients and would love to support you. Please reach out to us for a complimentary 20-minute consult call.
  • Lean On Friends Who Get It: Reach out to supportive friends who understand your situation, and let them know you might need some extra support during this time. And if you don’t HAVE any friends who get — really get estrangement, disownment and dysfunctional family systems — come make some new friends inside of my signature course Hard Families, Good Boundaries. Our private, members-only Facebook group is a great place to find kindred proverbial Black Sheep.
  • Utilize Online Resources: Websites like Reddit have dedicated communities where individuals share their experiences and provide support for those who find the holidays difficult. Explore these subreddits:
    • r/EstrangedAdultChild:
      • This subreddit is specifically for adults who are estranged from their parents. Members share their stories, seek advice, and provide support to one another.
    • r/raisedbynarcissists:
      • While not exclusively for those who are estranged, this subreddit is a supportive community for people dealing with narcissistic parents. Many members share their experiences of going no-contact or low-contact with family members.
    • r/justnofamily:
      • This subreddit is for individuals dealing with difficult family dynamics. It includes stories of estrangement, setting boundaries, and seeking advice on managing challenging family relationships.
    • r/familyestrangement:
      • This is a community specifically focused on family estrangement. Members share their experiences, offer support, and discuss various aspects of being estranged from family.

Most importantly though, as you navigate this holiday season and if this time of year feels painful for you, please make whatever choices you can to take care of yourself. 

It’s hard enough having painful feeling states, but when the rest of the world is seemingly chipper and full of holiday cheer and you feel alone in your painful experience, it is, I think, harder to bear. 

So please be kind to yourself in whatever way this looks – holding the boundaries you need, acknowledging or ignoring the season, re-writing your experience, and fundamentally, taking good care of your physical and mental health as best you can. 

If you need suggestions for added support right now, be sure to explore this post.

And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Do you find this time of the year triggering? What’s one script, alternative celebration structure or support that you use during these winter holidays to help take good care of yourself? 

If you feel so inclined, please leave a message in the comments. This blog, this little corner of the internet, receives about 30,000 visitors each month, and our blog comments have become a kind of community where folks with similar paths and journeys find each other, learn from each other, and take hope and inspiration from each other’s shares. So if you feel so inclined, please feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom and experiences. You never know who you’ll help when you write.

Until next time, please take care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

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  1. Emily says

    This is such a wonderful reminder of how the holidays hit different people’s hearts differently. I have positive associations with this time of year and have lots of expectations around how it will go. My husband has a ton of relational and generational trauma around this time of year and my enthusiasm and expectations have often caused him anguish and me disappointment and resentment. This has become even more pronounced as we’ve become parents and I’m so attached to making the holidays magical for my kids. This is a lovely reminder from a neutral third party that it’s okay for him to be coming to this experience with a completely different set of triggers and associations. Hoping for a kinder, slower, more peaceful year.

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