Navigating Grief During the Holidays: A Guide for Cycle Breakers
As the holiday season approaches, it can bring up mixed emotions for many of us. While it can be a season of joy and togetherness, it can also serve as a reminder of our grief—whether that’s grief over the loss of a loved one, the changing dynamics within our families, or the sense of ambiguity that arises during this time. For cycle breakers–individuals who are challenging intergenerational patterns and striving for healing–the holiday season can present unique challenges.
Understanding types of Grief
Grief is not a one-size-fits-all experience; it comes in various forms, each with its own weight and complexity.
Grief When a Loved One Dies:
The most recognized form of grief, this occurs when we’ve lost someone dear to us. The holidays, once a time of shared celebrations, are often tinged with the absence of those we’ve lost. We may find ourselves yearning for their presence during these cherished moments.
Memories that once were a source of joy and warmth can become a trigger for emotional pain, overwhelm, and depression.
This type of grief is less talked about but just as important. It’s when we feel a sense of loss without clear answers. For example, it can happen when someone is physically there but emotionally distant as with forms of dementia or when family still spend time together but internally, values or sentiment has shifted and they’ve grown apart.
It can also show up when someone is missing but we still feel connected to them. This can be true in the early years following a divorce, when there’s limited contact with a loved one struggling with addiction. For cycle breakers, these ambiguous losses can show up in various ways during the holidays.
Examples of Ambiguous Loss During the Holidays
- Loss of Connection: As cycle breakers challenge old family dynamics or values, they may find themselves feeling disconnected from their loved ones during the holidays. It’s a loss of the connection they once had, a sense of not fitting into the familiar mold.
- Change in Family Dynamics: When family dynamics shift due to personal growth, the absence of certain relatives, or evolving traditions, it can feel like a loss of the family you once knew.
- Distance and Isolation: Living far from family or not being able to be with them during the holidays can create feelings of isolation and longing, contributing to the sense of ambiguous loss.
Grief Over Identity and Role Changes
Cycle breakers often experience grief related to their evolving identities and roles within the family. Parenthood, professional decisions, or setting firmer boundaries can all trigger this kind of grief. This form of grief is less about interactions with other people in your life and more about grief related to your personal loss of an aspect of yourself that had been important to you. Here are a few examples:
- Parenthood Transition: Becoming a parent can be a significant shift in your identity. While it’s a joyful experience, it can also bring grief for the life you had before and the changes in your family dynamic.
- Losing the Wonder of Being a Child: As you grow into adulthood, the enchantment of being the child in your family may fade. It can be nostalgic but also bring a sense of loss.
- Changing Role within the Family: If you were once “the golden child” and have started setting firmer boundaries or making career choices different from family expectations, you may experience grief over losing that role. Navigating that shift with the people in your life can be complicated, for sure, especially when those decisions are not valued or affirmed by your family of origin.
- Changing Role within yourself: But there’s also a piece of that role change that’s not about the way your family feels about it and is more about the way you feel about it. Even as you recognize the value of releasing people pleasing for instance–there can still be some internal grief about no longer experiencing yourself as the golden child or “the nice one” either.
Which of these experiences with grief are you grappling with the most?
Grief is a complex emotion that, to be frank, our society has not been very good at supporting. While it may be heightened during the holidays, this is an experience that cycles breakers are constantly making sense of. Working with a therapist who can help you navigate and process the complexities of grief can mean the difference between moving forward and getting stuck in patterns of self-sabotage related to unresolved grief.
Coping Strategies for Cycle Breakers
Here a few ways to cope with grief over the holidays.
Allow time to Process and Feel
Give yourself the gift of time to process your emotions. Allow yourself to feel without judgment. Journaling can be an excellent outlet for expressing your thoughts and emotions. Working with a therapist who can be with you in your emotions, help clarify what you’re are feeling, and help you ride the waves of complex emotions at this time (such as with AEDP therapy) can help you move through this season, finding peace in the midst of it all.
Nutrition and Food Choices
Be mindful of how your diet may change during the holidays. Honor your grief by choosing foods that connect you to your loved ones or evoke pleasant memories. If changes to your typical eating pattern tends to throw you out of balance, you may also find it beneficial to plan ahead to maintain nourishing and consistent dietary choices during gatherings.
Engage with a supportive community that shares your values and can affirm your boundaries. This may be with individuals in your organic environment, but you may also consider participating in intentional group support, such as group therapy or coaching. These spaces can provide a sense of belonging and understanding.
Holistic Mental health Practices
Holistic practices like breathwork, restorative yoga, sound baths, reiki, and EFT tapping can help soothe your body and mind. They offer respite from the intensity of your emotions.
As a cycle breaker, the holiday season can intensify your journey of challenging patterns and striving for healing. By acknowledging the various forms of grief, seeking support through therapy and community, and practicing holistic self-care, you can navigate this season with greater resilience. Remember, you don’t have to face your grief alone—reach out for the support you deserve. If you’re struggling, consider seeking professional help to guide you through this challenging time and towards a place of healing and self-discovery.
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