Originally published on Ravishly and republished here with their permission.
I was 16 years old when my abusive single mother abandoned me.
You would think after a lifetime of abuse, neglect, and poverty, I’d have been relieved that she was gone and I was now in the care of my stable, responsible, middle-class aunt.
But at that time in my life, I was absolutely devastated. As much as I had hated my mother, I had loved her just as fiercely and wouldn’t in a million years have chosen to be apart from her. It truly felt like the end of the world to have this person who was supposed to love me forever decide to stop being my only parent.
That’s the thing about family and the things we feel about them. Whether we hate them, love them, or feel something in between, we cannot control nor predict how we’re going to feel about their actions in our lives.
And in the same way, we can’t predict how we’re going to feel as family-oriented holidays like New Year’s rear their yearly heads.
The holiday season may bring us joy and connection with the loved ones in our lives, or it may be filled with a seemingly endless numbness, rage, or sorrow that can affect us deeply even years after growing up.
Whatever you’re feeling, I want you to know that it’s all okay, it’s all normal, and it’s all valid. All of it.
I also want you to know that while we can’t control the range of feelings we may have during this time, we can do our best to show ourselves the kind of love and care that we deserve, whether or not we get them from our parents or anyone else in our families.
Here are four suggestions that I’ve found helpful in my life to get you started this holiday season. Please feel free to share your own tips with others in the comments!
1. Give Yourself Permission to Feel the Full Range of All Your Emotions
You are a complex sentient being – you shouldn’t have to hide, repress, or feel embarrassed by any of the emotions that come up for you during the holidays.
Hiding or repressing your anger, sadness, or any other emotion may have been a survival mechanism for you as a kid, but it doesn’t have to be as an adult.
As long as you express your emotions in a way that doesn’t harm yourself or other people (or animals!), then you are in your right to express yourself. In fact, holding in our pain and emotions often leads to unwellness in our lives.
One of my favorite things to do is tell myself “Josie, it’s okay to be _________!” I say it aloud and with conviction, often times yelling it out into the air. And then I follow through with the emotion. If I’m angry, sometimes I’ll yell and scream and kick a pillow. If I’m sad, I may yell and cry and scream into that pillow.
It not only feels good, but it allows the feelings to bubble to the surface and leave my body, as opposed to staying inside me and making me sick.
2. Move During the Expression of Your Emotions
While you’re letting all those emotions out – anger, sorrow, fear – I’ve found it helps me a lot to move as I do it.
My favorite activity of choice right now is biking, but whatever range of motion you’re able to do and feel good doing is fine.
My aunt once told me that when she was in grad school she would buy little Dixie cups (you can even get holiday-themed ones), place them around the floor, and stomp on them. She said that hearing the crunching sound was a big emotional release for her.
If you have a limited range of movement in any part of your body, you can find fun creative things to do with other parts of your body.
Sometimes I like to scrunch up my face, make very exaggerated expressions, or smile as widely as I can even when smiling is the last thing I wanna do. I’ve found that any sort of movement is helpful, no matter how big or small.
And even though I must look silly crying my eyes out while riding a bike down the street, I’ve found that afterwards I feel more calm and cleansed than ever before.
3. Connect to Your Inner Child
For those of us with abusive, absent, or otherwise hurtful primary caregivers, it’s safe to say that as children we were not given all the love, support, or care that we needed.
I’m of the mind that our hurt inner child stays with us throughout our lives until we give them what they’ve been missing their whole lives.
As a 24-year-old adult, it at first felt silly for me to try to connect with my inner child, but since starting I have found her getting stronger and happier with every passing day.
Some things you can do are:
- Think about which activities brought you the most joy as a kid and do them now (for me, that includes singing karaoke at the top of my lungs and fantasy RPG video games)
- Do “silly” childish things like telling jokes, playing with bubbles, and skipping
- Try your hand at creative pursuits without any self-judgment, expectations, or goals – just get some tools like colored pencils, paper, scissors, and so on, and have at it (or, alternatively, you can use things like pre-made coloring books or stencils)
When you listen to, accept, and love your inner child without judgment, you may find your adult self is all the better for it.
4. Dedicate the New Year Season to Treating Yourself to Your Own Dreams
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve never mustered the courage for?
Is there anything you’ve ever come across and thought, “You know what, I could do that”?
Is there any activity you’ve felt too embarrassed to pursue or be into, but are secretly dying to do?
One really awesome way to turn the holiday season from something you dread into something you look forward to every year is by planning a yearly project.
Think of something you’ve always wanted to do but never did, or something you used to do but stopped. It can be a no-strings-attached project. You’re not going into it with the goal of carrying it over for all of the new year or doing it everyday for x amount of months, or any of the other things we get hung up on in our new year’s resolutions.
This project is simply meant to be a time for you to explore. The only goal is to do what feels good to you.
Always wanted to try acting? Why not get some friends together and put on a show (complete with scripts, rehearsals, and even costumes)?
Always wanted to be a writer? Write a short story or play about any topic of your choosing. You could even invite your friends over for a dramatic reading of it.
Always wanted to be a scientist and do experiments? Look up one of those science fair idea lists and pick one that interests you (or make your own) and follow it through to the end. You can even make one of those adorable three-panel posters and (you guessed it) present your findings to your friends.
When it comes to the holidays, adult children of abusive parents can feel a range of emotions that can affect whether or to what degree we enjoy the holiday season.
But with a little hope, imagination, and fun, we can give ourselves the best gifts we can ever receive: Love, care, and a commitment to ourselves that no one else can take away.
Josette Souza is the Program Associate for Everyday Feminism. She’s a working-class Afro-latinx and recent first-generation college graduate currently living in Mexico. Her favorite things in the world are Black liberation, intersectional feminism, and offering her condolences to the people who failed to bring her down by telling her that getting a degree in Africana studies would mean never getting a good job.