Christmas, Family-Related Trauma, the Challenges

Family related trauma and Christmas

The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of warmth, togetherness, and celebration with loved ones. However, for some, Christmas can be a difficult and isolating time, especially if family connections have been affected by  trauma and abuse from within the family. In this blog, we will explore the challenges that Christmas can bring for individuals who have experienced family-related trauma and offer strategies for coping during this season. Remember that support is available, and using support is a sign of strength. The need for human connection is widely recognised as a basic need for wellbeing (Beaumister & Leary 1995). When this connection also has harm associated with it, confusion and stress may also be part of the experience when involved with family.

The Complex Reality of Christmas

For many, Christmas is a joyful time filled with traditions and reunions. However, for others, it can be a reminder of family-related trauma or a sense of loneliness. There are several potential challenges for survivors of family abuse:

Triggering Memories: 

The holiday season may bring up painful memories of past abuse, making it emotionally challenging. Sometimes the association between the time of year and trauma brings on memories. Other factors might be greater contact with people who were involved in harm, or who did not intervene. 

Pressure to Reconnect: 

Society often emphasises reconciliation and forgiveness during Christmas. Articles about this can be found across the internet, for example “Christmas is a time to forgive” was the headline and leading sentence of one article (Christmas is forgiving 2013). Even without Christmas there can be pressure to forgive. The commonly known phrase “To err is human; to forgive, divine” by Alexander Pope implies forgiveness as a supreme virtue. These kinds of pressures may create added stress for survivors.


Increased alcohol consumption during the Christmas period can make it hard to manage emotions, and for some people is associated with increased PTSD symptoms.

Contact with Perpetrators:

Some people have contact with  people who have perpetrated harm. This can be difficult. Sometimes family members encourage contact, forgiveness, reconciliation and making amends. All of these can add to the distress of contact with someone who has perpetrated harm.

This can be worsened during the Christmas period when a perpetrator may be at family events.  Excessive drinking by a perpetrator at family events may be a concern for those who have been harmed.

Family members can be unaware of any history of trauma within the family and encourage interaction that causes survivors discomfort. For example, many people are unaware that sibling sexual abuse is identified as the most common form of familial sexual abuse (Krienert & Walsh, 2011).

Loneliness and Isolation:

Trauma responses can mean that the survivor of a trauma has difficulty engaging in social interactions. They can feel estranged, or isolated from others. This can occur even if family members are not the ones  who have perpetrated harm.  

There can be a social pressure to be part of joyful family gatherings, which may not be possible for everyone.  Those suffering mental health problems  after trauma can experience a range of symptoms including high levels of anxiety in social settings.  They can also experience feeling guilty for not being involved in family gatherings, for not feeling happy.

If someone is using social media over this period, the comparison to images of seemingly perfect holiday celebrations can intensify feelings of loneliness and inadequacy as you can find in this blog about why social media makes you feel bad.

Coping Strategies for the Holiday Season


Prioritise self-care during this time. Engage in activities that bring you comfort and joy, whether it’s reading, walking in nature, whatever it might be.

Set Boundaries: 

It’s okay to say “no” to events or gatherings that are not in your best interest.

Reach Out: 

Connect with friends, support groups, or mental health professionals who can provide emotional support and understanding.

Create your own holiday traditions that bring you joy and a sense of connection, even if they differ from the traditional ones. An Orphan’s Christmas may be a helpful thing to connect with others. 

Realistic Expectations:

Know that you do not have to forgive a perpetrator to recover from traumatic experiences ( see our  blog here). Know it could be hard to be around people who may have harmed you and that you may have conflicted feelings about being at family events, and this is very normal.

Manage Stimulation

If you are using a lot of social media and not feeling good, reduce your social media use. Melissa Hunt and colleagues (2018) found that  limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression.

Consider and manage alcohol use. Alcohol use and trauma symptoms do not go well together.

Seek Support 

Services such as lifeline and beyond blue are available 24 hours a day and can help if you are having a difficult time.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636


If you find that the holiday season brings up overwhelming emotions or traumatic memories, professional support can make a significant difference. The Centre for Clinical Psychology in Melbourne focuses on trauma recovery and emotional well-being. Their team of experienced psychologists can help you develop coping strategies and navigate the challenges of the holiday season and life after traumatic experiences. Remember that you are not alone in your feelings, and support is available to help you find comfort and healing during this season.

Contact Information:


Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Christmas is forgiving (December-2013). Testify of Christ. Retrieved from:

Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768.

Krienert, J. L., & Walsh, J. A. (2011). Sibling sexual abuse: An empirical analysis of offender, victim, and event characteristics in National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data, 2000–2007. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse: Research, Treatment, & Program Innovations for Victims, Survivors, & Offenders, 20(4), 353–372.

Pope, Alexander. “AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.” Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive, 06 Jul 2023 (v1.9 (Summer 2023)). Web. 27 Sep 2023. <>