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For Those Healing from Holiday Trauma

Christmas is one of those things that feels like it happens to you whether you like it or not. For some of us, as children it felt like the elf assigned to our case was off her tits on eggnog and used our Christmas wish list as a napkin for her 12th mince pie. 

Here’s the good news: you’re not there anymore. You grew up. Say that out loud to yourself again: I’m not there anymore. Granted, adulting is hard, but it becomes a whole lot easier when we let go of the rules we think we have to follow simply by realizing those rules were never ours in the first place. So rebel mamas, this way happiness lies.

Christmas places a magnifying glass on “family”. On belonging, and being wanted, and included. If you didn’t have an emotionally happy, functional family growing up, then you experienced the ache even deeper. Comparison disguised as “family cheer” is inescapable at this time of year. Every book, every movie, every holiday plan. And the longing for a good Christmas if you’ve always wanted one but never had one is real. 

Our childhoods shape how we feel about Christmas. And past trauma can show up in the things we seek to control. Gifts perfectly wrapped, how dare a tree ornament be an inch to the left? No one else allowed in the kitchen? Or is it the excel spreadsheets that you pour over night after night, while you whisper to yourself “I’m not going to be like mum. I won’t overspend, I won’t run out of time (who needs sleep anyways?)”. If the family photo’s not perfect, I’ll feed the photographer to a reindeer. This Christmas will be fun, damn it.

I am not a psychotherapist, and I’m not going to diagnose you, but I can talk to you about being conscious. It’s a little bit of mental magic to sprinkle on your Christmas. We can consciously use Christmas as a tool to heal parts of our inner child. 

Realizing it’s not about the stuff, but about the feeling is the first start. What feeling did you most miss out on as a child? Were you so emotionally neglected that even though the tree was up you didn’t feel like you cracked an invitation? Or did your family discord cast a shadow bigger than Santa, and you never got to feel the magic, only the tension? Or was it even milder, where you really wanted everyone to care about the holiday as much as you did, but they couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps you even took on the adult role of making sure something Christmas-y happened while the adults in your life focused on the getting merry part with Prosecco in hand.

Trauma (and yes, a bad Christmas can most certainly count as a trauma) often leaves us with triggers. Ideally you can go to an NLP practitioner (neurolinguistics programming) and have the trigger dissolved. This is one I do for moms often, and it leaves them feeling like new, leaving no old fear to face. 

But I know it’s only a couple days until Christmas, so for now let’s go with good old avoidance this year. If you watched your mom panic over food, and it made you scared to go in the kitchen, then ask your partner to cook or order in. Perhaps your partner has a Christmas trigger of their own and you can do a trigger swap, I’ll do the shopping while you sort the menu, or whatever lets both of you off the hook. And if it’s a stressful relative who somehow bypassed Covid regulations and made it to your front door, make a deal to have your partner be a buffer. You can make it up to them later.

Now onto the fun part: it’s your party. When we use the stuff that comes with the holiday as a tool to recreate the feeling we missed out on, we delight our inner child, and maybe even bring some healing to hurt places. Never mind delighting our own children in the process! That’s a given. But I’m making this one about mommy. Give yourself the Christmas you wanted as a kid. The process is a bit Marie Kondo meets Mrs. Klaus-ask yourself does this fill that feeling? It could be as simple as mentally deciding to invite yourself to your own Christmas celebration, getting out pen and paper and writing a list of your favorite things. How many of those favorite things can you include in this Christmas? If it’s feeling like you never got to be the kid, you have two options. One is to bring the kids into the fun. Involve them more in the baking of the cookies. Sit down and write your own letter to Santa while they write theirs. Post yours too! The second option is to ask dad or partner to take the reins (pun fully intended). Tell him to go nuts and let yourself enjoy receiving-even if what you receive is an underbaked cookie with way too much icing on top!

If you are creating the Christmas that meets the emotional needs that were not met for you as a child, then understand this is for you and about you. Do not expect your children to appreciate it in the same way. In fact, they might not be phased at all, they expected Christmas to feel good. And instead of feeling resentful (yes, this is normal) read that sentence again. I’ve raised my kids to expect to feel good around a time where they could be feeling heartbreakingly low. You’re winning at this Mama.

And when you wake up on Christmas morning this year feeling excited and wanting to scream “It’s Christmas!”, give yourself permission. Remember a genuinely happy mom is a great Christmas gift for everyone. You, Mrs. Klaus, did it again.

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