Family, no one loves us nor can anyone hurt us like they can. November is a month filled with a focus on family and family gatherings. The beginning of the month has us confront emotions that we might be carrying regarding loved one who have passed on, whereas the end of the month has Americans gathered around the Thanksgiving table. These events can give rise to a number of unresolved issues for survivors of sexual abuse. Our hope is that some of this month’s activities can provide you ways to resolve lingering hurts and toxic patterns that inhibit your ability to thrive.
With all interactions, you must first make sure your personal needs are being met. Although November is filled with family gatherings, you must first ask yourself if the event will be healthy for you.
While society is filled with images of Thanksgiving being celebrated by happy families, there are alternatives that might be healthier for you. Find time where you can be alone with your thoughts. Ask aloud “What is my ideal Thanksgiving?” Allow the answer to come to you. Take steps to facilitate making this ideal, this year’s reality. You could decide to host a Friendsgiving filled with chosen family versus family of origin. Maybe you would like to be alone at home. Perhaps this is the time for you to get away and explore somewhere new. There is no wrong answer. Do what ever feels like it will promote the most light and joy in your soul.
Dealing with a Dead Family Member:
This can be a difficult situation for many to traverse. There is so much you want to say but lack the ability to hear the words that can bring you closure. This year, consider implementing the lessons of All Souls Day, Samhain or Day of the Dead. The deceased are not lost, but exist on another plane of being, and can feel more alive because of our memories.
Create a space where you can release long held feelings associated with the deceased family member. Depending on your faith journey, you may feel more compelled to either write out your feelings or hold a conversation with this individual. If you decide to dialogue, find a space where you can be alone and experience peace. Invite the spirit of the person to join you and say whatever needs to be said. Allow yourself to listen to any inner voice within you that might carry a message that you need to hear. Talk as long or as little as you want. When you are ready, say your goodbyes and give thanks for their willingness to listen to what you needed to say to facilitate healing.
If you chose to write your feelings, begin by grabbing the following: a pad of paper, a pencil (to better edit your thoughts), a deep bowl and a match or lighter. When you feel ready to begin to write, try to embrace a stream of consciousness style. Your soul knows what it needs to say and ultimately expel. Go as deep and as long as you want, but keep in mind the goal is to release the pain once and for all. If things feel insurmountable, try to cast off a realistic layer of your trauma. When you feel at peace with what you wrote, place the pages in the bowl. As you ignite the match or lighter, state an intention for both of your souls to heal and discover peace. Finally. light the paper on fire. Allow the flames to carry away your burden and let yourself feel buoyed as the words convert to energy released to the universe until only ashes remain. When all the embers are out, take the ashes outside to spread or bury wherever you see fit. Afterward, express gratitude to yourself and whomever you might pray to, for allowing yourself to finally say what you needed to say to this individual and for the gifts of healing and empowerment.
Another way to find healing regarding family members you wish were alive, is to consider creating space for them at your next meal. This is a simple, but profound exercise. Anytime you want to share time with this spirit, leave an empty chair and set a place setting for them. Invite them to join you and share stories of both memories and what has occurred since they have been gone. You may or may not choose to add a bit of each food served to their plate. If you choose to do so, feel free to box it and give it to a neighbor who might be alone for the holiday.
Handling Family Gatherings:
When you receive an invitation to a gathering begin by identifying triggers you experience during interactions and how you contribute to toxic patterns. Create game plans for tackling narcissists, avoiders, enablers and people with whom you engage in a competition. Prepare “canned” answers for questions that typically are difficult for you to answer. Understand what you need to remain healthy and joyful and what tools are required to make your plan successful. Next, pinpoint an ally who can help you leave difficult conversations or can provide you an easy early departure. Having a trusted and positive person nearby may help alleviate anxiety and allow you to enjoy reconnecting with others more fully.
During the gathering, work to create a more objective perspective. Meet interactions from the lens of not “what is this statement or action doing to me?” but “where is the deeper truth in the statement or action?” Is the person making negative or judgmental comments because they are experiencing personal pain? Make the conscious decision to forgive their transgression and choose to see beyond the hurt to their inner essence. Although it may feel tricky for you at first, identify if there are ways you can help them process the issue and when appropriate, tell them how their view of the issue has impacted you. Lead with love and try to find avenues for you to jointly heal and begin a new chapter in your relationship. Show them that you honor them being vulnerable and you value their effort to repair your relationship. End this conversation with trying to find a future opportunity for a more light-hearted interaction to grow this new dynamic.
After you leave the family gathering, give yourself time alone. Make an effort to attend to self-care. Infuse yourself with love and gratitude and strive to do something that brings you joy to help rebalance your energy. When you end your period of self-care, pause to give yourself gratitude for participating with your family in a manner that is healthy and uplifting to your spirit.