Christmas in Recovery from Emotional Abuse

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Christmas and psychological abuse, dysfunctional family

For years I hated Christmas. I left home when I was 17 years old.  I moved across the country when I was 19 in an attempt to escape the emotional mess that I was in, and I avoided Christmas for as many years as I could by volunteering to take the holiday shifts in the hospital where I worked.  I have not had Christmas with my mother since I was 15. I have not had Christmas with my father since I was 18. And looking back, none of that made Christmas much easier. There was a LOT of baggage that came along with me and it stayed with me throughout the years.

I felt “bad” and “wrong” and “guilty” for avoiding Christmas with my family.  I felt obligated to be with them. I felt like “the problem” and that my absence caused my mother to be lonely.

The last time I had Christmas with my mother, she guilt tripped me into staying home while my brothers went to my father’s (about 300 miles ~ 500 kilometers away) but then my mother ditched me and spent the entire holiday with her new boyfriend and I was the one who was alone. So then I felt bad that I ditched my father.  AND I felt bad that I felt bad ~ because I still believed that my mother needed me that year even though she ditched me. I kept trying to convince myself that I had done the right thing staying home with her. I kept hoping that she would spend some time with me BECASUSE I had made the sacrifice of not going to my Dad’s with the rest of my siblings, but she didn’t.  I was only fifteen. This is such a good example of the conflicting emotions that we get stuck in as victims of emotional abuse. Even in my own mind I couldn’t win.  Even with myself I believed I could not possibly make the right decision.

I never considered until about  4 or 5 years ago, that neither my mother or my father have ever once made an attempt to be with me for Christmas all these years. Just as abusers do not follow the rules they set out for others, victims don’t consider that the rules we accept for ourselves are not followed by the ones who set them out.

There is this universal “pecking order” that we all seem willing to stay in because we are not really aware of it. (we learned it from such a young age) No equality for children no matter how old they are; we must obey the wishes of the parents no matter how unfair. And I didn’t think about it!  The truth is that we don’t think about “fair” in clear terms anyway because we learned to accept “unfair” from such a young age.  I didn’t even notice anything wrong with that system. I just complied except that when I stopped going home for Christmas I always felt WRONG. So the guilt hit me anyway ~ every year even though I stayed away.

And when I think about it this is still related to compliance; I didn’t go home but I felt bad about it ~ as I “should” feel as I was “trained” to feel. 

I was manipulated into staying home with her and for her and then she “dumped me” ~ I felt like I was punished for caring about her feelings, for being considerate. AND she wasn’t even sorry she did it. She acted like she didn’t notice that I was left alone all the time. And so the following year when I was 16, (and it wasn’t my father’s “turn” to have us) I went to my girlfriends house for Christmas day and although I felt really cared about there, I also felt like I didn’t really belong in their perfect family Christmas and I thought they just felt sorry for me ~ but it was great to be a part of the day with them. However, I still felt “bad and wrong”. (And yes it was a little bit related to rebellion and revenge that year.) BUT in the years to follow I didn’t stay away for those reasons anymore, however deep down I still believed that I did stay away for those reasons.  Subconsciously in my mind’s eye, I saw a 15 year old teenager ~ angry and putting my foot down because I was rejected when I gave up Christmas with my father, my baby half sister and my brothers. And subconsciously I believed that each year after when I didn’t return home for Christmas was based on that resentment. So although I avoided the mess of family Christmas and all the crap that went with it, deep down I blamed myself for the turmoil that I still had around the holidays. I believed that I was hurting because I was selfish, spoiled and resentful after all those years and therefore in reality, I didn’t really avoid anything!

I have come a long way with this terrible spin.  Tonight is Christmas Eve and I am thankful that my little family will all be here. My husband and I and our three kids will make finger food and appetizers and have a party in the living room. This has been something that we started doing when the kids were very small and as long as everyone wants to do it, we will.  I am aware that each year we are all together is a gift because children grow up and things can change. I have two children leaving the nest this next year.

On Christmas day, we will open gifts from each other and prepare a big turkey dinner and celebrate in the ways that mean something to us. On Christmas day afternoon, my daughter is going to visit her friend, who is having a birthday and has never in her life spent time with a girlfriend on her birthday because it falls on Christmas Day.  My other daughter is going to her boyfriend’s house right after we have Christmas dinner. We don’t have rules and expectations born out of obligation in our family today.  We are together because we want to be and each year may bring something different and that is okay with me.

I am no longer burdened by guilt, shame or self blame when it comes to my family of origin. They made choices. I made choices too. I am filled with gratitude that I finally realized that I am allowed to make choices. I no longer have resentments either. Freedom came as a result of the work that I have done in recovery.

Wishing each of you a wonderful day filled with peace and contentment.  Whatever you find yourself doing this holiday season, take a moment to acknowledge yourself. Remember that you are worthy, that you are loveable; that you deserve equality.  We are all equally valuable.  For those of you who celebrate the birth of Christ, that is the message that Jesus came to deliver.

Thank you for being part of my blog and for sharing your journey to emotional healing and overcoming abuse, with me.

I invite you to share your Holiday time victories or struggles or whatever else you would like to share. There is always lots of feedback in this healing community.

Merry Christmas ~ Happy Holidays.                   

Love Darlene Ouimet

Related Blog Posts: On EFB ~ Thanksgiving, Christmas and Dysfunctional Families

                                 On Overcoming Sexual Abuse ~ “I’m Re-gifting Christmas”

39 response to "Christmas in Recovery from Emotional Abuse"

  1. By: Karla Posted: 26th December 2016

    Merry Christmas everyone! I havent been posted in awhile . its been ”wonderful Christmas” being put down by my family for ”trying in life” working for everything my husband and I have being put in my place for having more then them that wont work for anything ,thinking Karla must support all of them . my twin sister has put me in my place for the last time. I always do my best to be the ”peacemaker” in the family always saying the right thing . well not this time . my twin began at the dinner putting me down for all the things I’ve worked hard for and my husband too. I told her in front of everyone . well I am not sorry sissy you have it hard in life . you choice to live the way you do . I am sorry you dont have heat and for all the things you dont have I am sorry . dont ever put me down again for busting my but and working to get all that i have . i am going to enjoy my life and if you want to set in a puddle of pee then go to it . i dont care any more . she started off with it must be nice to have heat , she kept going . you should have seen the shocked looks at the table . I am sorry for rambling . then she ”dry begged” well i guess i will have to give $100.00 for grannys tomb stone . I looked at her and told her do what she needed to do but I wasnt taking her public shamming at the table . it got pretty heated . have you ever been done like that Darlen ? I hope my posts not off topic .

  2. By: sadonchristmas Posted: 25th December 2014

    Im crying right now after reading this. My family has always been really broken and every Christmas I still get my hopes up like a little kid and it is always a disappointment. Tonight I invited relatives by and I made a big dinner and baked cookies and worked all day to make it special and I really wanted my family to be happy and together. I painted my dad a beautiful painting of a wolf in silhouette howling at the moon on a starry night. I worked hard on it… and he didnt bother to show up. It hurt. I had my aunt ( his sister) & her husband and my boyfriend and daughter… my mom was very late and upset bc my dad refused to come. Every year its something. Some sort of pain from my dad or brother. My brother threatened to kill me earlier this year and I havent talked to him since that… its just hard. My boyfriend and I went broke making everyone elses Christmas special. We dont even have gifts for eachother. I habe nothing under the tree at all and my dads gift sits there silently mocking me and making me feel even shittier. I feel unappreciated and unloved and it hurts. I feel like an idiot every year I get excited. I decorate everything inside and out and I get no love and it hurts. I just want my family to be together and I want to feel like I matter. My heart is so broken by my father. I am 28, you’d think after a lifetime of broken Christmases that I would have given up by now. At least my baby girl will have awesome Christmas memories and I know she loves me and appreciates me. My boyfriend has the same issues with his dad. I guess thats why he and I try so hard to make everyone else happy. I feel worst of all for having nothing for him. He takes care of our family and I cant give him anything and he says its ok but it doesnt feel ok.

  3. By: Heather Jerdee Posted: 25th December 2012

    ” We don’t have rules and expectations born out of obligation in our family today. We are together because we want to be and each year may bring something different and that is okay with me.”

    Yes!!! This year I am not spending any time with my parents or other family. It is just my husband, I and our sons. I have also had some get togethers with dear friends who are also surviours. My husband and I are doing things so differently this Christmas. I has a moment of PTSD/Dissocation but I was able to take care of myself and it passed quickly. My husband was also there for me. This is the best Christmas I have ever had because I feel safe and loved. My own family, husband, son’s, and freind’s are safe and loved. I never thought I would have the life I have now. Safe 🙂

    I also had relgious abuse from a christian home and I have been working on knowing/feeling what you wrote about equality. Younger parts of me are healing the thoughts/feelings that God favors abusers and now knowing God never wanted me to be abused.
    Hugs to you Darlene and Merry Christmas

  4. By: Karen Ranes Posted: 24th December 2012

    Christmas was always difficult in my family for all the reasons previously stated. I have always
    dreaded it as in our house growing up it was NOT a happy time. I was always forced to put on a happy face and pretend that everything was wonderful when it was far from true.
    This month makes one year for me on EFB. It has been a year of amazing information and
    support from this group. I know my truth now. I know what happened to me. With all your help
    I have begun to heal and change thought and behavior patterns. I really do feel better. The old
    tightness in my chest is gone. The self hatred and blame. I have let go of most of it. I plan to
    work on coping methods next year and changing my response to stress which seems to flip my switch to bad coping. But now I feel that moment of choice that I never felt before. To not choose
    to a self harm but to channel that feeling a different way.
    You all have been with me on my journey and I thank you.
    Best wishes for a Happy Holiday. Karen

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