You know it is coming. Already, you hear the dreaded jingle jangle on commercials. Like clockwork, every year the holiday season brings anxiety and worry. You are not part of the Norman Rockwell scene. In fact, your family may be downright horrible. And because of that, you have absolutely no desire to go see them this season. Your heart flutters and your stomach tightens at the thought of seeing those people. Mostly it comes from suffering abuse as a child.

Few things are worse than growing up in a family where you are hurt. The holidays can be less than stellar, to say the least. Often in abusive homes, the holiday season is outright depressing. Instead of Christmas cheer, you got Christmas sadness. Whether you were physically or emotionally abused, growing up in such an environment almost guarantees that you become emotionally charged when the holidays roll around.

I know you feel the pressure to go see them. Sometimes it is a manipulative family member who turns on the tears if you don’t come for a visit. Other times, it is outright bullying, demanding that you attend the family functions. Maybe your family never accepted you for who you really are and turned you out because you didn’t fit into what they wanted you to be. Going back and seeing them makes you feel uncomfortable and sometimes even sick.

That’s right! If you force yourself to be around toxic people, then it could make you sick. Stress has a way of breaking our bodies down, allowing illness to take over. If you have been abused, you are well aware of how the pain and anxiety affect your body.

As you think about having to see your family, you may start to lose sleep. It is your mind’s way of telling you that this is a bad idea. Your body will always tell you when something is not right. You will ‘feel it’ in your bones.

Too often, we go along to please everyone else. We don’t want to rock the boat, or we just feel too guilty taking care of ourselves. However, if someone is demanding that you go to a family function, even when it causes you great problems, then, is that person really looking out for you? Or, is that person looking out for himself? He wants you there because it makes him feel better. He doesn’t care that it impacts you in such a negative way. All he wants is what he wants. He wants the façade of a happy family, and if you don’t give it to him, then there will be hell to pay.

This is very true in abusive families. Abusers work hard to maintain their control. Part of that is forcing their victims to put on a play, so to speak. They want you to pretend the abuse never happened and do it with a smile. If you won’t go along with the program, then you are singled out as the trouble maker. You are the problem. The family unit often sees the victim as the problem, not the abuser!

This happens for one of two reasons. First, others are abusers too and want their cut of the pie. In other words, they want a crack at you too. Second, family members may be afraid of the abuser and go along to get along. Either case is unacceptable. The family functions in a most dysfunctional way. But they do it because it works for them. Too often it is easier to go along than fight. But if you do, then you will feel sadness in your heart that you cannot shake. When you allow yourself to be abused, you give a piece of your heart away. Can afford to let someone scar your heart like that?

If it makes you unhappy to see your family, then you don’t have to see them. You don’t have to ruin your holidays to make an abuser happy. You need to make yourself happy. You have permission to do that. Take control from your abuser and live a happy life. If your happiness doesn’t involve seeing your family then so be it.

Leopards never change their spots. Once an abuser, always an abuser. Your challenge is to find the inner strength to stand up to your family and not allow that abuse. As a grown individual, you now have the power to change. You have the ability to make the holidays into something new. Dismiss the old baggage and turn what was once ugly into something beautiful. Take back your holidays and open your eyes to the magic that can happen during this season. You deserve more than you have been given, and quite frankly, you have been dealt a bad hand in life. Whatever you do, don’t ever give your power away to an abuser. You will regret it if you do.

Edit: I had to laugh as an abuser contacted me and tried to bully me into taking this article down. He saw himself in the article and attacked me for writing it. I don't tolerate that behavior, ever. The article stands and is going nowhere.

 Gem of the day: take back your holidays!

About the Author

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., is a criminal profiler and expert on serial crimes.

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