Why the festive season triggers us, and what to do about it

December 13, 2022

Despite our social media feeds filling rapidly with families in matching Christmas pyjamas, many people report feeling triggered during the festive season. It’s a paradox really. On the one hand, we might feel excited about celebrating the end of the year with our loved ones, yet on the other, those same people we will be celebrating with can trigger unpleasant feelings.

The truth is, whilst Christmas might be the trigger, it’s rarely the catalyst for the negative feelings it can evoke. The root cause of why we might feel negatively about Christmas tends to relate to whether or not we have resolved past hurts with those in our family. When we haven’t, we might attempt to sweep them under the rug – just for the day – as we forge our way through Christmas hams together with smiles for the camera. But the pressure to be perfect at Christmas can magnify those feelings of disappointment when our family dynamics don’t live up to what we think they should be, or wish they were.

So what can we do to ease the pressure, and enjoy the day?

Start by managing your expectations

Leanne Schubert, Family Therapist and Day Program Director at South Pacific Private says it’s wise to start by dropping the comparisons. “Everyone has their own unique family history, dynamics and language, and some members may be more aware what healthy boundaries look like whilst some may not” says Leanne. “Whilst we can’t control the behaviour of family members, we can control our own expectations”. Leanne says that it can be helpful to consider what your expectations of Christmas are. If you decide that your expectations likely won’t match the reality of what will unfold, you might benefit from some self-preparation.

Healing past hurts

It’s possible to love what Christmas represents and yet still feel wounded by it. For some, memories of Christmases past may have involved a drunk parent, sibling, friend or extended family member showing up and causing distress. For others, Christmas may have frequently disappointed us year after year; perhaps you didn’t receive any gifts as a child or you recall your parent’s arguing over financial stress each December. Even our own children can evoke memories of our early festive season experiences and trigger unpleasant feelings. For those who never celebrated Christmas at all, there may be long-lasting feelings of abandonment or rejection.

Leanne says that if you believe you have trauma that is triggered at Christmas time, there are steps you can take to take the pressure off the day. “The first step is to be real, and remind yourself of the skill of re-parenting, by asking what your inner wounded child needs at this time of year. So often we forget the importance of self-compassion and self-care”, says Leanne. “Next, get pragmatic about it. Book in for extra sessions with your therapist, enrol into some extra programs and really unpack what it is about the festive season that is triggering for you”. Leanne says that by doing this we begin to reassure our inner child, and it could make Christmas a much more enjoyable time. “Unload all these things with someone you trust before you turn up with them in your baggage on Christmas Day. Your experience could be entirely different this year.”

It’s perfectly OK to be imperfect

Finally, Leanne says it’s important to realise that even families with healthy communication skills aren’t perfect. “None of us are perfect as individuals, so it’s unfair to expect that our family should be too” says Leanne. “Christmas can be a particularly triggering and confusing time, so we always recommend seeking some extra support if this is your reality”.

If you or someone you care about could use some support, get in touch with our caring intake team today for a free and confidential assessment by phoning 1800 063 332, or emailing us here.

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