The holiday season brings up emotions for many of us. For some, those emotions are linked to fond memories of time spent with family. Maybe you think of food, gifts or the quality time. Maybe the holidays make you smile with excitement. For others, the holiday season feels dreadful. You are not looking forward to it, you do not have fond memories and your only excitement is the thought of it being over. No matter which reaction you have, this time of the year likely brings out your inner child and depending on what your childhood was like, you may need to take extra care of yourself in the next few months.
Your inner child is the child-like part of you. The vulnerable, innocent part of you that has visceral, automatic, reactions to things that you can’t explain. It is the part of you that requires extra care and consideration. For those of us that have traumatic experiences, our inner child can be a part of us that responds to hurt. It is the part of us that sometimes feel frozen in time, with limited skills to manage challenging situations. It’s the part of you that throws tantrums, does not want to communicate what you need and recoils at the idea of the pain. It’s that part of you that does not know what to do and it seems that your logical brain has shut off. In healing work, the inner child is essential because it is the part of you that requires the most care as you seek to shift behavior patterns.
This time of the year seems to be the most sensitive time for a lot of people. We are inundated with movies, commercials, tv shows and conversations about family. The messaging and pressure of what “should be” is ever present. You “should” have good memories and traditions. You “should” have a place you call “home” and people to see. You “should” be able to give and expect gifts from others. This “should” be the most magical time of the year.
The truth is that most mental health professionals can tell you that this is when we are most on our guard. The pressures of the holiday season, the expectations, the increase in family engagement and pressures of “happiness,” often heighten emotional strain which can cause a decline in mood and functioning for some during this time.
While it is always important to care for yourself, caring for your inner child is essential during this time as many of us feel particularly fragile and vulnerable. Thinking of the part of yourself that needs the most care, may allow you to give credibility to self care and put boundaries in place to protect yourself this holiday season. Additionally, giving yourself the power of agency can reduce trauma responses and involuntary reactions to triggers.
Here are some tips:
- Breathe. During the holidays there is often a desire to move fast to get everything done to meet external expectations. Take the time to connect to yourself so that you may understand what reactions you have had years past and some reasons why. Is there a past experience you had around this time? An experience with someone you have to interact with around this time? What are the fears you hold? What are the things you think you can’t take care of? What have you been afraid to acknowledge? You can even allow yourself to connect to your inner child, by choosing a picture from your childhood and meditating with it.
- Acknowledge. Be honest with yourself about all of the feelings that this time of the year brings up for you. Is there sadness? Is there anger or helplessness? Is there joy? Is there grief? What feeling are there and why? Your inner child is often neglected and unheard. In order to care for them, you first need to pay attention to what they need.
- Choose. What are some things that you typically do? What serves you and what doesn’t? Sometimes we engage in traditions because we feel we need to. Whether they stretch us thin physically or emotionally, it is critical to reconsider them consistently. Some things you may need to say no to, even if it is just for this year. Some people you may need to draw a boundary around and not engage with. It is okay to switch things up, especially if it means taking agency over situations that have been hurtful. Don’t cave in to external pressures to do things or be places once you have identified that they do not serve your interests.
- Fun. Make sure that you plan activities that are fun and playful for you. No matter how you have spent the time in the past, it is okay to develop your own traditions and be planful. Who you like to spend time with? What are some fun and new things you can do? You can develop new brain associations with this time of year the more intentional you are about how you spend your time and who you spend it with?
- Companion. For those events you must go to, consider a “party bestie.” Someone who you know who will be present (or you invite), who you can talk to. They can be your anchor. You can plan safe words for a smooth exit from the event. You can game plan anticipated challenges, responses and ways that they can support you. Having support can make difficult events less problematic.
Remember, the goal is that you take care of your most vulnerable self by preparing for your needs. Following these steps will allow you to not only connect to that part of yourself, but understand and meet their needs to improve your mood this holiday season.