The Holidays can be such a polarizing time. Some people are exuberant and energized while others are bearing down to survive. It is not uncommon in this profession to see people come through our doors with more burden and distress this time of year. There are ways to overcome this and one is about making traditions your own.
The Holidays have layers of tradition with religion, family, and commercialization. Religiously this is a time of cleansing; it is a time of redemption and renewal. Sometimes the wrongs of the pains harbored are not to be cleansed or redeemed (at least it may not feel like it is time for that). Bringing these things to light with the paradoxical social thrust of Christmas cheer are confusing and re-traumatizing.
Family: well that can be the central source of distress for many of us. Families of origin or current family are so unfortunately often sources of trauma and re-triggering. So in the midst of gathering and reflection, victims have more consolidation of memory and trauma. All the while the general emotional tone does not reflect that of the trauma making the latter feel out of place and isolating. So again the trauma is perpetuated as it is severed from the general social experience.
It seems most visceral reactions to the commercialization of the Holidays stem from the perceived contrast it plays with core values of religion and family. It also creates a much more frenzied and busy atmosphere in public spaces. It further drags these realities into the sanctuaries of our homes through any social media: TV, radio, internet, and mail. We can’t seem to escape it. We are more vulnerable to trauma when the environment feels more out of our control. This frenzied time of year often feels very chaotic; it is subconscious reminders of trauma to be avoided.
Try Being Proactive Instead of Reactive
Reliving trauma is most often a reactive process. Memories and experiences we don’t want are happening and we are forced to respond. We want to get away from them not welcome them. It is victimizing and re-traumatizing in itself. No wonder there is avoidance. The alternative is to strive toward a proactive stance. Psychologically that is moving into—rather than away—from something. It is the stance that I have control instead of someone or something else. It can take one out of the victim role as I am now creating outcomes rather than responding to them. It can be psychologically empowering. How do we create this proactive stance?
During holidays and anniversaries one can be proactive by creating their own traditions. Rituals are fundamental to human existence. They help us create structure and markers in time. Creating our own rituals allows us to take ownership of an event. They allow us to be the creators and encourage a forward psychological stance; it is a stance of reaching toward rather than bracing away from something. We don’t want to reach toward sources and reminders of our own traumas. But how can we separate from that to create our own traditions?
Rituals and traditions can be as simple and seemingly random or mundane as kissing the rock that marks my dog’s gravestone to pizza on Friday. It is whatever we want it to be. The mysticism of human existence allows us to infuse meaning into anything we choose. This can be intensely intimate as a personal ritual to a unifying community tradition. Think of things you can do and who might you be able to share them with. Take a proactive stance and be a creator again. It can only be meaningful if it is to you.