For most of us who have experienced complex trauma, the holiday season feels like walking on a tightrope. We are always one tiny wobble from falling into an abyss of pain, and that annihilation anxiety can take over our lives. This cycle of fear and avoidance can quickly become intolerable, and when that happens, we revert to the coping mechanisms we learned in childhood.
When we were young, we depended on adults to show us how to cope. Often, those adults were the same ones who failed to meet our needs, so their capacity for teaching us to manage needed to be improved.
Now that we’re older, we may have developed adequate means to regulate our pain. But under intense stress, we are very likely to revert to those that are ingrained into our neural pathways: avoidance, creating chaos, holding on too tight, or a complete lack of the capacity to regulate.
To be clear, we are not choosing to deal with our pain through these harmful ways. When those tactics fail to work, we often punish ourselves, or our internalized abusers punish us. The cycle continues as we lose trust in our adult selves to keep us safe. No wonder the holidays that revolve around mainstream expectations of happy family gatherings can be stressful for those of us with complex trauma.
One of the best things about the human brain is its capacity to imagine! Our imagination triggers the same neural pathways in our brains as experiences in the physical world. Getting through this challenging season requires nourishing yourself to balance the pain. And imagination is where you can play, practice, and create new neural pathways that move you toward peace and joy.
Remember that you can be the person you wished for as a child. You can use your imagination to visualize your adult self-nurturing yourself as a young child. Perhaps with a real or imagined hug that lingers and says, “you are a beautiful soul, you deserve to have your needs met, and we’ll get through this pain together.”
Spend the holiday season imagining your ideal holiday experience and play with it; perhaps one day, you’re ice skating, and another day in another part of the world. It would take a lifetime to run out of great things to imagine! I read a quote somewhere (I’ll update when I can find it) that said something to the effect of “your imagination is where your self and your experience is one.” This is where you will find the center of you.
Learn How to Deal with Trauma in a Safe and Healthy Space
Enjoy the holidays and cope with trauma triggers the right way by seeking the help of a professional therapist. Laura Bruco, MSW is an experienced trauma therapist who has helped individuals learn new coping skills, explore their feelings, and develop a deeper understanding of themselves.
Book a consultation now to learn how I can help you.