I have written before about how many holidays can be difficult for trauma survivors. I also want to make note again of this fantastic resource for coping with holidays: An Adult Child Abuse Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays.
Halloween, and for some the weeks leading up to it, can present its own challenges.
There is the issue common to many holidays of feeling disconnected from the activities others around you seem to enjoy. If you already struggle with feeling isolated or disconnected, holidays may just intensify those issues.
For those with eating disorders, the constant availability of and heavy focus on candy and other sweet treats may be triggering.
The scary, macabre decorations and themes may also trouble some trauma survivors. One symptom of PTSD is hypervigilance, which can show up as a heightened startle reaction. For those whose system is chronically on hyper alert, being surprised or startled is not the innocuous experience it is for others. For a system already on overload, being scared in “fun” may be anything but.
For those survivors with dissociative disorders all of the above may apply. In addition, if you have dissociative identity disorder (or any awareness of others inside you) try to be aware that this time may impact younger parts of you differently. Or that parts of you who hold particular trauma memories may be especially affected by certain decorations, costumes or movies. As always it is so crucial to work on inner communication and treating each other with respect. Just because something is no big deal to you does not mean all of you feels the same. If you minimize the reactions of your others, it may just lead to bigger problems for you down the road!
Holidays can also be traumatic for survivors because they can double as anniversaries of prior incidents of abuse. If you find yourself (or some parts of you) having strong negative feelings and reactions around the same time/season/holiday every year this may be worth exploring in your therapy.
Some trauma survivors are especially struggling at this time because they have experienced ritual abuse. For them, many of the trappings of Halloween have deeper and terrifying significance. You may be struggling with increased anxiety, depression or urges to self-harm right now. If this is part of your history, please be extra gentle with yourself. Make use of your safe support systems to help you through this time period. Remember that it will pass. You deserve to live in a different kind of present and you can!
Also remember that feeling triggered or awful at this time of year does not necessarily mean you have a ritual abuse history! As I have outlined above, there can be a myriad of reasons why this holiday may be troubling for you. Sometimes dissociative trauma survivors get very afraid of what other horrible memories may yet emerge. This is understandable! Easier said than done I know, but try not to borrow trouble. Every survivor is unique and you will get more clarity about your own history when the time is right. You can take good care of yourself now, even if you do not understand why this time is hard for you.
If this is a difficult time for you, give yourself permission to do whatever makes it easier. Accepting that it is hard or triggering, without judging yourself, may be the first step. Do your best to avoid the aspects of the holiday that make you feel worse and embrace those you enjoy, Or create a completely non-Halloween related tradition for yourself. You could have a comedy movie marathon, for example.
Have you developed good coping strategies for yourself today? Or for other holidays? Please feel free to share what’s worked for you!