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When the Holidays Aren’t Gift-Wrapped

Dec 17, 2014

Much to the contrary of the sights and sounds of merriment and good cheer that flood our sensibilities during the holidays, this may not be the happiest time of the year for many. For those Freedom from Want.jpgwhose childhoods bear the scars of sexual abuse, the holidays may be a time of loneliness, stress, and heartache. Visions of sugarplums have been replaced with the reality of a childhood that never was—a daily and, sometimes nightly, struggle to push away memories too difficult to recall.

We seem to collectively hold a common holiday image of a safe and warm hearth and home with family members happily and lovingly gathered together around a dining table laden with a beautiful holiday feast. Never mind that this image seldom exists in such exquisite fashion in anyone’s reality; for those whose childhoods were neither safe nor warm, it serves as a harsh reminder of what might have been. There is only the wish for a family to celebrate with—a family space that is safe and warm. Children who grow up in abusive or neglectful homes often experience a pervasive sense of separateness or deficiency that is heightened by the collective expectation of family togetherness and joyful reunions during the holiday season.

In a better world the magic of the season would send each hurting soul the lived experience that each child deserves—the gifts of a loving family, a safe and stable childhood, the blessed knowledge of a peaceful life, and most of all, the gift of a treasured place of belonging to return to. If only Santa and his elves could come up with a way to send a different childhood down the chimney on their way to delivering toys and goodies to all those good boys and girls.

For many survivors the challenge is to find a way through this time of year that honors what is authentic and true. Perhaps the true and real magic of this or any other season is that individuals whose childhood was marked with pain and abuse can and do find a way to heal beyond their pain and continue on to create loving and safe lives for themselves and their chosen families. We, at Shepherd’s, daily bear witness to this miracle of hope that emerges from the courageous journey to healing and that often brings an end to a generational cycle of pain.

Please know that if this season of hustle and bustle brings a sense of struggle or loneliness, you are not alone. There are many individuals in our community who struggle to get through the holidays and long for the experience of peace and connection that every human being deserves. And there are those of us who do see the pain and also see that it matters a great deal. If you are a survivor in need of help or support during these longest days of winter, please know that there is a community of support available, and we at Shepherd’s understand the pain that this season can bring. Please give us a call—we’re here to help.

Janice Palm, M. A., LMHC

Shepherd's Counseling Services, Executive Director


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