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Tis The Season To Be Guilt-Free
The holidays can be among the most difficult times for those with sexual abuse histories. It is so easy to become overwhelmed, even in the most pleasant of situations. To most people, a holiday get-together is a time to visit with old friends and family while also meeting some new friends. For many abuse survivors it means the same, but the gathering also has the potential to put them in overwhelming situations that become uncomfortable quickly.
It is important to plan how you will spend your holidays. I know of several survivors who had to make alternate Thanksgiving arrangements because being with certain family members was too difficult for them. Most troubling was the amount of guilt they endured before, during and after making the decision to not attend.
This holiday season I am giving everyone permission to be selfish. I want all of you to tap into your head and heart and decide how much you can handle. I can already hear the rebuttals….”mom will be devastated if I miss the family dinner”, “my grandmother will be disappointed if the entire family isn’t there”, “my best friend will be upset with me if I don’t go to her holiday party”. STOP IT!
Put your needs first for once. Decide ahead of time how many family gatherings you can handle. Which relatives make you comfortable/uncomfortable? If you can handle spending some time with relatives who make you uncomfortable, how long can you tolerate the interaction? It is important to decide ahead of time how long you will stay and plan your exit strategy before you walk in the door. Which relatives are most comfortable? Plan to stick close by them during your visit. If possible, have a signal planned with a trusted relative to use when you become overwhelmed. They will know that this means “get me out of here….now!”.
What about social events? How many holiday parties are enough? Some can handle one big party, but not two. Some prefer small, intimate gatherings over larger events. Tap into YOU and decide what works best and then stick to it!
What if you have the opposite issue; you are isolated from friends and family and loneliness is your biggest issue? How can you find creative ways to be involved with others? Can you volunteer at a food bank or shelter? Does it feel satisfying to just be among other people? Bringing a book to Starbucks or the local bookstore is a great way to get out and be with others.
The key is to know you and your needs. Drown out the voices and opinions of others, even if they “mean well”. This is your season of being positively selfish and meeting your needs. Many sexual abuse survivors work tirelessly at being active participants in this world; the holiday season is a time to look inward and decide what is right for you. You have earned it.
About Stacey Lannert
Stacey is free. In January 2009, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt commuted her sentence of life without parole. She is currently speaking out about sexual abuse and sharing her message of love, healing and forgiveness.