Feeling Grinchy About Christmas?

The holiday season can be wonderfully joyous…and it can also be sad, lonely, depressing, stressful, and triggering. Sometimes it’s all of that! If you find yourself feeling a bit “Grinchy” about the holiday season, know that you’re not alone. For many trauma survivors, the holidays can be complicated and bring a flood of emotions and memories that challenge all the traditional cheer.

One of the most notable impacts our family experienced as we raised our children who came to us with a severe trauma history was how drastically (and permanently) the holiday season changed. Cherished traditions that had been around longer than I have no longer worked for us. My kids couldn’t handle the expectations, overstimulation, or rigidity of them. And, they certainly didn’t appreciate all the family togetherness that terrified them to their core. What once was joyful became fraught with epic emotional meltdowns, survival behaviors, and more swear words than I ever knew existed. 

Can You Relate?

Dr. Suess’s famous “Grinch” character is best known for his disdain for Christmas. He didn’t like anything about it and wanted more than anything to just hide in his cave and ignore it. Since that wasn’t possible (as it isn’t for most of us), he hatched a plan to steal it. After all, he thought, if he took away all the ribbons, bows, tinsel, and lights, there would be nothing left to celebrate, and it would all just go away.

I believe many of us who have been through hard things, and even those of us further down the trauma recovery journey resonate deeply with this character. Trauma changed everything about how we see and experience the world around us. The twinkling lights, festive tunes, and family gatherings can stir up a mix of emotions, from anxiety and stress to sadness or even anger. These emotions might stem from past traumas, painful memories, or simply the overwhelming pressure to meet societal expectations. Throw in all the financial obligations and demands that come with the season and it can tip even the most sane among us over the edge!

What Can We Do?

As we progress through this season, I believe it’s essential to acknowledge and validate these feelings. Feeling Grinchy about Christmas isn’t a sign that you’re mean or rotten or nasty as is often said of the Grinch. Rather, they’re a natural response to a known or unknown trauma trigger that has been tripped. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a sign that something is off and needs your attention. 

So, how can one navigate through these Grinch-like feelings during the holidays?

Recognize Your Triggers: Identify the specific aspects of the holiday season that trigger negative emotions or memories. Understanding your triggers is the first step towards managing them effectively.

Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel this way and that your feelings are valid. Give yourself permission to slow down, calm down, do less, and prioritize your well-being.

Set Boundaries: Establish boundaries that honor your comfort level. Communicate your needs to friends and family, whether it’s limiting social interactions, avoiding certain topics, or creating space for self-care.

Create Your Own Meaning and Traditions: Embrace the opportunity to redefine what the holiday season means to you. Focus on activities or traditions that bring you joy and comfort, even if they deviate from the traditional norms or you do them alone.

Seek Support: Connect with trusted friends, support groups, or others (like a coach) who understand trauma and can validate your feelings and help you stay grounded. Talking to someone who empathizes with your experiences can provide immense relief.

Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that nurture your well-being. Engage in activities that soothe your soul, whether it’s reading, listening to music, taking walks in nature, giving yourself time and space to rest amidst all the hustle and bustle, practicing mindfulness, or indulging in hobbies.

Remember, feeling Grinchy about Christmas doesn’t mean forever forsaking the holiday spirit. It simply means it’s time to slow down, step back, pay attention to your needs, and navigate the season in a way that supports and preserves your mental and emotional well-being. 

Most of us also know how that beloved story of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” ends. That’s what makes it so endearing. It’s not just a story of a grumpy green monster who hates Christmas. It’s a wonderful story of redemption and renewal. 

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!

He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

…Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

As you seek to honor your own emotions and feelings and embrace the holiday season on your terms, my wish for you is that it becomes a chapter of personal renewal in your own story. We can’t keep it from coming, we can’t make it go away. But we can do it in a way that works for us…because “What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

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