Childhood Trauma Survivors & Thanksgiving | One Compassionate and Helpful Tip

Gina Rolkowski shares how childhood trauma impacts loss for survivors and how to compassionately address the losses during holidays like Thanksgiving.Image shows a woman's hand holding cup of tea with lemon on a cold day.

Childhood trauma survivors most likely remember Thanksgiving a bit differently than the happy, connected displays on TV commercials.  While there might have been a turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing, there was also fear, yelling, anxiety and possibly abuse. Memories like these can cause childhood trauma survivors to feel anything but excited and happy during holidays like Thanksgiving.

Childhood Trauma Survivors Experience a Great Deal of Loss

Oftentimes, when you hear “loss” you think of death.  Losing someone you love or cared for.  However, when it comes to childhood trauma, loss reaches far beyond the loss of a person due to death.  Some examples include the loss of:

  • innocence and playfulness
  • family relationships
  • self-worth
  • personal power
  • ability to develop talents and gifts and become your “true self”

As a result, Psychology Today uses the term “bereavement overload” to describe the mental health status of survivors of long-term child abuse. No doubt, loss pulls hard at the heartstrings of those who grew up in traumatic and abusive homes.

Holidays Can Trigger Losses

Holidays often trigger the pain of all of these losses.  Especially when society and the media portray connected, happy families gathered around a beautifully decorated table laughing and smiling.  Not only that, but this depiction coupled with the longing for a safe, happy relationship with family, only rubs salt in the already sore wounds of trauma and abuse survivors.

Growing up in a home where you felt invisible and unloved feels horrible enough.  However, once the holidays come along and you see others connecting with families the way you always wanted…boom!  The grief intensifies and rather than feeling thankful, you end up feeling deeply sad and alone.  Which is a very painful way to feel, to say the least.

The Power of Compassion

Rather than hide under the covers or dissociate and numb yourself, the best way to handle these tough feelings is to feel them.  It’s horrible enough to long for something you lost but suppressing the feelings will only increase anxiety and grief.  Keep in mind that anxiety houses banished emotions.  So the best way to manage the grief?  Feel it.  Make space for it.  It’s perfectly Ok to long for a family you never had.  Likewise, it’s ok to feel angry or sad that you feel this loss.  You have a right to feel sad that you did not receive something you wanted and needed so badly (ie. love, validation, support, encouragement, empathy, connection, etc.)  That hurts!

How to Deal with the Grief

Like I mentioned earlier, many losses impact the life of those overcoming a painful traumatic childhood thus making grief an everyday experience.  However, holidays trigger that pain only increasing it.  Which is why Thanksgiving might feel anything but thankful to you when you have been abused growing up. Feeling triggered is normal (albeit upsetting.)

The good thing is that just because it’s Thanksgiving doesn’t mean that some new strategy needs to be employed to relieve the grief.  Practicing staying in your body and feeling those feelings will absolutely decrease the pain.  It might not make it go away, but it will significantly calm your body and thus your pain.

Some More Concrete Ideas for Tending To Your Grief

First and foremost, getting into your body will calm you down and provide the initial relief that you desire.  So, start with that and go back to it as often as necessary.  (I do this as often as I need to no matter the date on the calendar. 😉  For a refresher on how to do that click the highlighted text above, “staying in your body.”

Other helpful ideas to get through a tough holiday include tending to your wound.  When your grief has space to be seen and felt, your anxiety will significantly decrease.  So once you have addressed the feeling in your body, what else can you do?

  • Make time with yourself to journal or draw a picture of how you are feeling.
  • Nurture yourself with a warm cup of tea.  Go out to the store and look for a new tea to try.  Pick out some fresh lemon and a cute mug and hold the warmth to your heart as you sip on the tea telling yourself you are safe and loved.
  • Make your own pie or dessert just for you!  Turn on a funny show or a baking show and try some new Thanksgiving dessert just for you.
  • Sit with God.  Tell Him how you feel.  He knows what it feels like to have a broken heart.  Let Him hold yours with you.
  • Keep in mind that while you might feel alone, you are one of many many others out there feeling the same way.  Connect with others by imagining them with you holding you and understanding your sadness.

Take some time to plan to tend to your sadness before the holiday so that you are prepared on Thanksgiving with your tools to heal.  And keep in mind you can spend as much time on any one of the ideas above or even repeat one over and over as needed.  This will not be a one fix wonder so embrace the time and space and you will absolutely notice relief.  Rushing through it, will only increase the pain and anxiety.  So take your time, it’s Ok.

This Too Shall Pass-Joy Is Ahead

On days like Thanksgiving when old patterns and feelings tend to emerge, it’s helpful to remind yourself that you can change the cycle of horrible holidays by continuing to heal yourself.  I know these days can feel awful and lonely.  However, the more you tend to your pain, the more it will decrease.  Better yet, the more space you will make for hope, freedom and the joy in your life that you long for, deserve and desire.

I know this because I did it and you can too.

For help in overcoming a traumatic childhood, feel free to schedule your free call with me.  You are not alone this Thanksgiving!  You are in my heart and God’s heart.


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