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With a Relational Trauma History, the Holidays Can Be Hard

Here are 11 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports to help you through this time.

Key points

  • For those of us with relational trauma histories, the winter holidays can feel triggering.
  • Asserting your boundaries when you don't want to talk about the holidays is important.
  • And surrounding yourself with extra supports during this time can feel helpful.

Show me a person with a relational trauma history, and I’ll show you someone who, at one point in time, likely had a complex relationship with the winter holidays.


Because the two culturally dominant and federally-recognized holidays during this time – Thanksgiving and Christmas – are family-centric, and there’s often a slew of assumptions and questions that come from folks during this time that presupposes a relationship with family of origin and all the attendant plan-making, visiting, and togetherness that relationship implies.

Such implications and assumptions might be anything but true, easy, or simple for someone who comes from a relational trauma background and/or who is currently estranged or disowned from their family system.

It’s a time of the year when well-meaning but impactful questions abound in Zoom meetings, in the preschool pickup line, and while bumping into your neighbor raking up the leaves:

“So what did you do for Thanksgiving?”

“Wait, you’re not going home for the holidays?!”

“So you DON’T love this time of the year?”

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe DEFINITELY not.

For many of us, this time of the year can be really triggering; a reminder of what never was, what isn’t, and what likely won’t be, at least with your family of origin.

So please, if this is you, and if you struggle with the holiday season for any reason, today’s post is for you.

In recognition of the struggles that may arise during this time, here are 11 reminders, 15 scripts, and 8 supports to assist you in navigating the triggering winter holiday season.

11 Important Reminders

Consider this post a digital permission slip of sorts if you’re struggling this holiday season. Remember:

  1. It’s okay to dislike the holidays.
  2. Your feelings are valid, and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.
  3. You have the freedom to celebrate the holidays in any way you want.
  4. You can create your own traditions that make you happy.
  5. You don’t owe anyone anything during the holiday season.
  6. You can spend your time and energy in ways that feel right to you.
  7. The holidays are a great time to practice setting and asserting your boundaries.
  8. It’s okay to say no to things that don’t serve you.
  9. If this holiday season feels tough, remember that feelings can change; future holidays may feel different and better.
  10. You can change your relationship to the holidays if you want.
  11. Self-care is paramount if you struggle at this time of year.

Tuck this digital permission slip away for now, but come back to it any time when you feel triggered by what you imagine you “should” feel/do/experience during this time of the year.

15 Scripts of What to Say in Triggering Holiday Conversations

Consider the following scripts if people question what you’re doing for the holidays and/or comment on your lack of plans or plans that don’t make sense to them.

  1. "I appreciate your concern, but I’ve decided to spend the holidays focusing on self-care and personal well-being."
  2. "I’ve made a choice that feels right for me at this time. I hope you can respect that decision."
  3. "It’s a personal matter, and I’m taking some time for myself during the holidays."
  4. "I’m prioritizing my mental health this holiday season and have chosen to spend it in a way that supports that."
  5. "Thank you for your concern. I’m focusing on creating a positive and peaceful holiday experience for myself."
  6. "I’ve chosen to celebrate the holidays in a way that aligns with my current needs and priorities."
  7. "This year, I’ve decided to take a break and focus on activities that bring me joy and peace."
  8. "I appreciate your curiosity, but I’d rather not discuss my holiday plans. Let’s talk about something else."
  9. "It’s a personal decision, and I’m grateful for your understanding as I navigate this time on my own terms."
  10. "I’m choosing to spend the holidays in a way that brings me comfort and peace. I hope you can respect that."
  11. "I’ve decided to step back and prioritize my well-being during the holidays. I appreciate your understanding."
  12. "Family dynamics can be complicated, and I’m taking this time to reflect and focus on my own growth."
  13. "I’ve made a conscious decision to take a break from family gatherings this year for personal reasons. I hope you can respect that."
  14. "I’m focusing on creating a positive and nurturing environment for myself during the holidays."
  15. "I’ve chosen to spend the holidays in a way that aligns with my current journey of self-discovery and healing."

Hopefully, these scripts will feel supportive. Of course, create any and all iterations from them that resonate with you and your unique situation.

4 Alternate Celebration Ideas

As you internalize the digital permission slip reminders and hold your boundaries politely but assertively, consider lining up alternative plans or extra supports for yourself through the holiday season if your plans don’t/can’t/shouldn’t include your family of origin or anyone else:

  1. Create Your Own Rituals: Establish new, positive holiday traditions that align with your values and bring you joy.
  2. Solo Movie Marathon: Enjoy a movie or TV show marathon of your favorite films or shows, creating a cozy and fun environment.
  3. Volunteer for a Cause: Boost your mental health by volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about and fostering a sense of purpose.
  4. Nature Retreat: Escape to nature for a day or weekend to recharge and find solace away from the pressures of the holiday season.

4 Supportive Measures

  1. Crisis Hotline Contacts: Save crisis hotline numbers in your phone for immediate support during challenging times.
  2. Therapy Sessions: Schedule therapy sessions before, during, and after the holidays for extra support.
  3. Lean On Friends Who Get It: Connect with supportive friends who understand your situation. Be they near or far, let them know you need support.
  4. Utilize Online Resources: Explore dedicated communities on platforms like Reddit (r/EstrangedAdultChild, r/raisedbynarcissists, r/justnofamily, r/familyestrangement) for shared experiences and support.

The holidays can be triggering for many of us with relational trauma histories. Hopefully, one script, one reminder, or one activity from today's post feels supportive.

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