The holidays are a time of family, of friendships, and for expressing love. But what if your family is broken, torn, disconnected, and damaged? How does one press on through the holidays without feeling discouraged and depressed?
Happiness is having a large, loving, caring,
close-nit family in another city.
The holidays can be torture for people who have come to therapy to try and fix problems they have with their family. Here are two examples:
A son who is trying to remain sober, recognizes that the reason he drinks is because of the family relational disfunction, so he avoids family. But the others, who are not in therapy, only see his avoidance as a personal attack against the family unit. He continues to be attacked, slandered, shamed, and hurt by the words and actions of those he's supposed to love. They are being unlovable, but he is told he is "the problem."
A young woman raising her daughter alone learns that her uncle molested her daughter and the mother and daughter are blamed for the break-up of the family when she reveals the abuse to law enforcement. When the mother attempts to explain her side of the situation, the others don't want to hear it, they only want to blame, hurt, and destroy her because (as it comes out), other family members were also molested by this same person, but the others kept quiet for the sake of the family.
The holidays have a strong pull for the unloved to move toward attempting reconciliation and family connection that can set up already wounded hearts for added rejection and abuse from those they are trying to forgive, accept, and embrace. In these, and other similar situations, people are retraumatized, that is they experience the original trauma emotionally over and over again each time they go "home."
"For I am afraid that when I come, I may not find you as I wish,
and you may not find me as you wish.
I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, rage, rivalry,
slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder."
2 Corinthians 12:20
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMSHA) recently published a paper on the topic of retraumatization: "Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Coping With Retraumatization," and identified the following risk factors that may contribute to retraumatization: Having a high frequency of life trauma, such as abuse or neglect. Being emotionally disconnected from or not feeling love and support from others, such as family members, peers, colleagues, friends, or other loved ones. Living or working in unsafe situations, such as combat zones or other dangerous environments (read more at: SAMSHA https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//SMA17-5047/SMA17-5047.pdf).
This time of the year, television and radio stations are flooded with "tidings of love and good cheer" that can create an unrealistic expectation on the part of the wounded. There is such a strong desire to be loved and accepted that they take a chance of "going home," filled with hope that "this time" things will be different. I warn my clients against going home with any unrealistic expectations as there is a huge probability for retraumatization, first by returning to the scene of the crime (triggers), and secondly because those people haven't changed. Healing must take place away from the family unit that caused the pain in the first place. The hurting person must find healing in healthy relationships and develop their own sense of family with loving people who may not share their DNA.
I believe the greatest gift you can give your family and the world is a healthy you.
If you are suffering through a painful love during the holidays, please call Encouragers Counseling & Training. We will walk through this time with you and help you come out in the New Year with a new perspective and renewed hope for the future.