By Kristin Snowden, MA, LMFT
While the holiday season can be joyous, bringing friends and family together to celebrate, the season can also bring pain, tension, and trepidation for those in the throes of betrayal trauma. For those of you trying to make it through the holiday season after uncovering your partner’s addiction or infidelity, here’s a list of suggestions to help you make it through the holidays with integrity, safety, and grace for yourself and others.
I. Decide beforehand which personal and professional gatherings/engagements you want to attend. Whether you are still with your partner or separated, it is important to discuss and/or explore if attending family, friend, or work functions will be a healthy, supportive environment for you (or your partner), or if it will contribute to more tension and a lack of safety or security. Will the people around you judge you, offer unsolicited advice, gaslight you, or expose you to more trauma (i.e., attending a function where the people or environment was where your partner acted out). Share your thoughts and feelings with your partner, when appropriate. Explore this with your therapist and support group.
II. Determine what you’re comfortable talking about and what subjects to avoid with family, friends, and colleagues. You do not need to “put on a happy face” when you are feeling sad or despondent. Addiction and infidelity are steeped in lies and “double lives.” Therefore, it is not healthy or recommended that you put on a façade or deny your authentic feelings. However, examine who are healthy, supportive people around you that can hear your story, support you, and not judge your situation. Be upfront and honest with them, if you want to share. For everyone else, come up with a soundbite that will help you navigate those quick conversations where they ask how your marriage is or why you seem so sad (e.g., “I appreciate your care and concern as I am struggling right now. However, I’m not quite ready to talk about it just yet. Thank you.”) This is a great time to start setting healthy boundaries for yourself.
III. Continue your work and healing with a mental health professional and/or support group. The holidays are extremely busy and expensive. As a consequence, we might put therapy sessions and support group meetings on hold. I would strongly encourage you to resist that urge. Getting through the first two steps (above) could be more easily navigable with the help of professionals and support groups. Not to mention, getting through the holidays can be very emotionally triggering, stressful, and confusing to you and your partner. That is precisely when you should be seeking help the most.
IV. Watch your substance use. The holiday season is chock-full of parties, events, and celebrations. Often, these activities include overindulging in food and alcohol. When one is struggling with betrayal trauma, the fight/flight/freeze survival response in the brain is highly activated. As a consequence, one is prone to impulsivity, dramatic mood swings, hypervigilance, and poor decision-making in general—all things that are further aggravated by being drunk. Please think twice before adding alcohol into the mix.
V. Do your best to keep your side of the street clean. Betrayal trauma can destroy one’s sense of self-worth and value. The gaslighting, emotional abuse, and difficulty setting boundaries while the addiction or infidelity was going on can send one into a deep shame spiral. Therefore, it is imperative for someone struggling with betrayal trauma to always consider what types of communication, behaviors, choices, and boundaries will be esteem-building. Try your best to make choices based in self-love, respect, and integrity versus anger, retribution, or passive aggression. Extreme emotions are fine and entirely expected, just do your best to express them in a productive, safe, respectful way. I realize that this is all very difficult when one is in crisis. However, it can be important to your healing process.