It’s nearly impossible to provide accurate statistics on the number of people that have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused as children because of the depth of secrecy involved. Family systems rely upon an unspoken code of silence that damages the victims of abuse and unwittingly supports the abuser. This is particularly true with victims of sexual abuse.
The victim bears the brunt of the shame, guilt, and unworthiness for the abuse with great fear that telling the truth will result in no one believing them and losing their whole family in the process. So, they stay silent and keep coming back to visit with family out of duty and fear.
When families get together for the holidays, this code of silence must be maintained to keep this unstable house of cards from falling down. The abuse survivor often gets triggered during holiday visits, trying to keep it all together to spend time with other family members. If this is you, here are some things you can do:
Schedule activities to keep you busy and focused on connecting with other family members and friends. Energy flows where attention goes. So, focus on the fun you can have with family members and friends, keeping yourself busy. It may sound like a cop out to distract yourself like this, but the point of the holidays is to see family and have fun in the process. Scheduling your time can also put the control in your hands while creating safety for you.
Use deep breathing exercises, meditation, and or prayer if you get triggered. Panic is an emotional response to past abuse. You cannot think your way out of panic, but you can soothe it using spiritually based techniques that help you ride out your emotional tidal waves. Focused breathing, meditation and prayer can bring calm to your entire being. Find a meditation class locally you can take or a breath work practitioner you can work with if you need help.
Seek help from a therapist who will do emergency phone sessions with you if needed. If you get seriously triggered, you may need to talk with someone as soon as possible. Many therapists, like myself, work with people all over the world remotely. You do not have to do this alone. Find someone who can be there to help you at your most acute.
Re-focus your attention on the beauty in the room. Every room has beauty in it. Just look for it, it is there. Focus on the child enjoying Christmas, the cat playing with ornaments on the tree, the lights twinkling on the menorah, the carolers singing, people laughing, or the bright colors around you. There are so many ways to enjoy what’s around you by focusing on the beauty. Try it. It may just save you from having an awful time.
Give love intentionally to your child self. Your child self is the part of you that endured abuse. She or he is waiting to be loved and no one could ever give you love more deeply than yourself. You are no longer in trauma and hopefully not putting yourself in the position of becoming re-traumatized. If you do become so, close your eyes and imagine you are holding your child self, giving love to her or him. It’s all she or he ever wanted. This can be so emotionally liberating.
Consider an alternative plan for the holidays. A hallmark of the abuse survivor is often great difficulty in saying no and a focus on pleasing others. After all, you couldn’t say no to the abuse as it happened. This becomes a conditioned response that makes you believe you should be there with family because you have no other choice. The fact is, you do have a choice. You can a make plans with friends or take a vacation during the holidays. You can stay at home and read if you want to. Give yourself permission to create your own holiday traditions. You just may end up having a wonderful time in the process.
Meg Haworth, Ph.D. is an integrative wellness coach for survivors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse who now have a chronic illness. To learn how you can book a free consultation, download her free e-book, and take a quiz to assess your risk for chronic illness, go to www.meghaworth.com