At a session earlier this year, my therapist reminded me that no feeling is final. This phrase really resonated with me as I am processing abuse and trauma from my biological family; so I wrote it on a post-it that I keep on my desk. Particularly during the holiday season, we are flooded with so many feelings, some pleasant and some not so pleasant. We are told repeatedly through advertisements lacking a trauma-informed approach that we should be happy during the holiday season and that the time is best spent with your family; invariably defined as parents, siblings and children.
The constant barrage of messages about how you are supposed to feel at the holiday season creates pressure to suppress your feelings and just put on your happy face as you try to make your way through the season. What if you are estranged from your blood relatives or dread the confrontations that predictably occur at holiday gatherings? A friend of mine developed PTSD from the actual physical battles that would occur at her mother’s home in the middle of holiday meals. These battles sometimes necessitated ambulance visits due to the injuries. As a result, to this day, she gets nauseous looking at turkey and pumpkin pie.
The happy ending to this story, though, is that this friend decided to do something about these traumatic holiday instances and instead now spends the holidays with her “logical family” or “chosen family” instead of her biological family. But what exactly does “logical family” mean? Logical family accepts you for who you are and welcomes you no matter who you love, what you are wearing or where you are working. Most importantly, logical family does not tell you how you should feel or with whom you are obligated to spend the holidays.
As Barbara Costello, Director of Outpatient Services (OPT) at Taos Behavioral Health (TBH) commented “Especially at holiday time, Self-Care is extremely important. No matter what the circumstances you face, spending time with the people you love is critical—even if they are not family.”
So as you are planning the next couple of months and where you will spend the holidays, what does “family” mean to you? Do you feel that you are obligated to spend it with biological family that continues to cause you harm? Remember no feeling is final and you can flip the script to make a personal choice to keep going towards things that make you happy.
This is especially critical for parents who need to decide how to celebrate the holidays in ways that are loving to their children even if biological family members may not be the best guests at the celebration. You may have memories of your own childhood celebrations that were joyous and positive or frightening and sad. Especially when those decisions made by family members impact children negatively, you have an obligation to care for yourself and your immediate family with choices that support joy. Do what makes sense for you and spend the time as you want to and with the people that feed your soul and help you live your best life.
What is family then? A collective of special people chosen by you to support and love you and yours as you journey through your wondrous life!
TBH has the largest licensed and credentialed behavioral health staff in northern New Mexico. We can be reached at 105 Bertha in Taos for scheduled appointments, at 575-758-4297 or www/taosbehavioralhealth.org.
Pam Morris, B.A., J.D., R.J.C., practiced as a corporate litigation and employment rights attorney for 15+ years, is passionate about social justice and the arts, and is a member of the TBH Board.