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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holidays and Trauma: Making Connections

Holidays can be a really tough time for people who don't have mental health challenges, much less those who do. In fact, the holidays themselves often bring about trauma for many people.

Christmas in particular is one of the toughest holidays for some to soldier through (pun sort of intended). Perhaps because it's a holiday where expected family interaction is coupled with presents, unlike Thanksgiving. Whatever the reason, Christmas can actually usher in a reexperience of pain for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These individuals might feel like Ebeneezer Scrooge instead of Santa's Little Helper. Holidays can reinforce the feeling of being "outside and looking in," like you're watching a movie filled with happy, smiling people while you're stomach is twisted into knots as past events swirl around in your head instead of visions of sugar plums.

Of course, this further isolates the trauma survivor. A typical reaction of family or friends who don't "get" trauma might be, "What's wrong with you?" Even worse, trauma survivors might not even be able to verbalize what's wrong with them. Instead, they feel humiliated and wish they hadn't shown up at the holiday event or party.

For those of you who have family members in your life (or characters!) who have PTSD, be cognizant of how you offer to include them, as well as sensitive to even subtle cues from the person that they aren't comfortable. Survivors may need to create new rituals to help in their healing, and it's important for people in their life to support this by being open to change as needed.

Let's analyze: What have been your traumatic experiences over the holidays, either your own or someone you know? What helped to overcome those feelings?