Thanksgiving, Christmas, family dinners, family gatherings, family…
You can’t miss it at all: the expectations, the merriment, the love and laughter shared by family at the holidays is plastered on every commercial and advertisement proclaiming this time of year.
“Be merry! Love your family!
Forgive and forget so we can all get together and be happy! Don’t say or do anything to upset anyone and certainly don’t do anything to indicate that everything is anything but merry… and perfect!”
Do you know what is worse than being a victim of trauma at the hands of a family member? Being asked, forced, begged, guilted, and berated into attending a family function with your perpetrator because he/she is family and nothing is more important than family…
Did anyone force, berate, guilt, or condemn this family member when he was traumatizing you or your family? No, we wouldn’t want to intrude or stick our noses into a private, family matter. Yet, you, the victim, are being asked to sit at a table with someone who caused you harm, trauma, and years of mental, emotional, and physical torture.
Let me now say that I have invested years of my life in therapy and healing so many old traumas and wounds. I do not want to waste a minute of my life holding on to the pain of the past instead of enjoying the present. I have forgiven, but I will not forget, and I certainly will not put myself in a situation where my abuser can have access to me in the future.
So, why do family members who claim to love, support, and care for me ask me to sacrifice my mental, emotional, and physical safety so that we are all together for the holidays? Why do we, as a society, tend to overlook real pain and hurt to make ourselves feel better? Why are we so caught up in the picture-perfect holidays that we put those we love in harm’s way to accomplish it? Even if it is only emotional harm, are we showing our family true and authentic love by asking family members to sacrifice their boundaries and personal feelings for the greater good of looking like a perfect family?
I have had grandparents who know of the trauma caused by my parent ask me to attend family functions as a gift to them, a deathbed wish. I have had sisters who have personally witnessed the trauma ask why I won’t attend family functions with this parent? I want to know why we think we can ask someone who has been a victim to sacrifice for our comfort?
Would we ever ask a family of a murder victim to eat with the murderer? Would we ask a sexual assault survivor to eat with her rapist? Only if the rapist is family…
Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to re-traumatize your family. If someone is uncomfortable attending a family gathering, extend your love, empathy, and understanding. You may even consider not inviting an abuser to your holiday, family or not.