Potential Holiday Shame: 10 Common Triggers & Unshaming Tips

TRIGGER #1 Family Issues
Our families of origin are often where we have experienced our first shame wounding or internalized feeling inadequate in some way. The source of these memories are held in our bodies and associative memory chains and can be triggered without our realizing it like a tick that has burrowed its way under our skin.

Folks who are estranged from their families are not always off the hook. They may have decided to keep their distance from those who spawned them, but a broken set of bonds is a form of loss and nothing can bring hat pain and feelings of shame and blame to the surface as powerfully as the rest of the world being united.

TIP #1 —
It’s a great time to clear away whatever is right under the skin or weighing on one’s heart. Don’t forget to remind folks of all the ways they know they do belong.

TRIGGER #2 Social Events such as Parties & Gatherings
Social festivities abound during the holidays, whether they are in the form of merry-making parties, workplace events, award ceremonies, religious gatherings, paid entertainment or intimate gatherings. If a person has a form of social phobia this time can be very stressful maintaining relationships while navigating invites. Helping others manage this in a way that feels doable is a real gift. But it is not just the misanthropes that have a hard time, even the most prosocial folks can find themselves wanting to hide under the table.

For a host of reasons, one of the largest being our societal focus on comparisons, socializing is not always fun. In unspoken ways, looks, weight, aging, successes, failures, child rearing, real estate, stock funds, bank books, home design and vacations are often being compared or judged in a knowing way.

Remember, humans evolved and became the most dominant species on the planet not because we could keep up with the Jones’ but because we could communicate in a symbolic way, lower our defense impulses when we needed to bond, and to cooperate with each other to solve complex problems for our survival.

The keeping up with the Jones’ is a fairly new phenomenon that resulted out of agrarian societies and has only intensified over the centuries the more materially and comparison-based we have become.

Politician regimes in all corners of the world since the beginning of time have figured out how to manipulate our shame response by exploiting our sense of being socially isolated through shunning, exile, confinement, or enormous punishments for a person or their loved ones if they did not adhere to social rules and mores.

Today we use social media for our public and social shaming purposes. Carving out a social path in today’s in-person and cyberlinked world can stress our systems, wear out our adrenals and dump cortisol into our bloodstreams like a sugar shack in a vat of coffee. People need help discerning what is truly socially nurturing for them and how to shore up their shame resilience when they find themselves in these jubilant socially dog eat dog scenarios.

TIP #2 —
Try using Navel Intelligence in these moments to keep your inner and outer balance. *Not sure how to access it? Scroll down to the link in the red box!

TRIGGER #3 Travel & Security Alerts
If shame is connected to feelings of unsafety or physical survival, routine travel during the holidays at airports, train stations and in holiday traffic can become triggering and sap people of their confidence, lower their guard, or even distract to the point of making them accident prone.

TIP #3 —
Shoring up resources BEFORE folks travel is a great way to help them navigate the double whammy of shame and fear that can bombard their system.

TRIGGER #4 Loneliness
If we don’t truly feel gotten, seen and accepted for who we are, we feel lonely. Whether we are physically alone or feeling disconnected from others in a group, a family, a one-on- one relationship or a crowd.

Me, myself and I brings this loneliness home in spades, add the backdrop of a joyous group of people connected by holiday’s cheer, and you have a very deep well of loneliness. Don’t let the flying monkeys of guilt, shame, unworthiness, unloveability descend upon others if you can help it. Help them find or figure out what can serve as the ballast for them. Many of my clients look forward to sessions with me at this time.

TIP #4 —
Can you provide that ballast of support for your clients or loved ones? There is nothing like being met by someone else in a vulnerably safe way to shift wound to resilience, openness and even interconnectedness.

TRIGGER #5 Financial Challenges
We touched on this already when we looked at the incredible spot light holidays place on keeping up with the Jones’ in so many ways. But financial challenges during the holidays have a way of pronouncing failure to those in the middle of them.

No matter what the holiday, Western cultures have fallen sway to the material juggernaut that rolls over the deeper meanings of these once spiritual and intimate times like a tank. Not to mention the reality: holidays are expensive even when you offset them with more meaningful activities and experiences.

Adults feel the material pull from children, children from their friends, adolescence from their social clichés, and everyone from the alluring persuasion of the holiday marketing machine blitz.

TIP#5 —
There is no better time to help people locate and focus on their innate worth, goodness, belonging and to uphold that for others.

TRIGGER #6 Depression during a time of Joy
This state of depression whether chronic or seasonal can become a silent, internal war and the holiday joy and effervescence doesn’t help, only makes things worse. I can’t stress enough how one’s brain chemistry robs joy from life and that can reinforce the depression.

Envy is a strong emotion that can surface here and turn to strong bitterness. People struggling with depression feel victimized and experience the unfairness of their struggles. They would love to be having a blast, but their neurochemistry is not having any of it.

TIP #6 —
Help these folks feel honored in what is real for them, how their feelings of unfairness make sense, and if at all possible, to safely work out some of the anger that might be lying right under the surface. Having one’s rage or anger seen and honored even though it is not the usual festive approach can often create needed relief.

TRIGGER #7 Stress
Shortened work deadlines, holiday preparations, brutal schedules, too much partying, flu/colds can all lead to holiday stress which makes us more vulnerable to experiencing shame, guilt, fear, depression.

TIP #7 —
Model for others the importance of good self-care at this time and how regulating your nervous system on an ongoing basis can keep shame from beating down your door. As always AST Model’s Rainstick is a great way to maintain nervous regulation.

*This holiday season teach Rainstick to 5 others, give the gift of alive, alert presence that folks can use all year long!

TRIGGER # 8 Illness or Hospitalization
Being sick during times of joy, expansion and unity can feel like a wet blanket thrown over one’s existence. Some of the internal thoughts it fosters are: Why is this happening to me? Will there be an end to this suffering?

It brings up so many of the already mentioned shame triggers in spades: depression, failure, inadequacy, stress, anti-social malaise, fear, loneliness and even financial challenges.

TIP #8 —
People need support that meets them where they are when they are ill, hospitalized or in an institution literally and figuratively. This is always true, and even more so during the holidays. Illness brings a sense of being shut away, shunned, punished, or abandoned by the world that cannot always be named but is greatly felt. There is nothing like personalized caring connection in the form of cards, emails, in person visits or a skype/phone call.  Break the isolation. It feels good for everyone.

 TRIGGER # 9 Grief
Grief does not follow a convenient schedule or external calendar. In fact, it can catch us off guard especially during joyful times such as the holidays. The missing and longing can be excruciating and so can the guilt. People often stuff their grief at this time of the year so as not to ruin other peoples’ holidays.

TIP #9 —
Helping people create a balance between experiencing their grief and  the rightness of sharing it when the moment allows with finding contentment, soothing or even glimmers of joy is important.

 TRIGGER #10 Trauma and Traumatic Anniversaries
As much as the holidays have great PR for all the happiness and good cheer they bring, they are often fraught with traumatic events or anniversaries. After reading this list of common entanglements, it is not hard unfortunately to see why.

Because trauma is the flipside of wellbeing, renewal, interconnectedness and joy, either the anniversary of traumatic events surface at this time, trauma triggers, or traumas themselves occur. This is another reason I don’t go on vacation at this time of year. Trauma and its ill effects don’t just go on vacation because it’s the holidays.

TIP # 10 —
In fact, it can be a very important time to establish trust and create safe vulnerability for others by being present and helping to resolve what is coming up without any time lag and continued instability in their lives and nervous systems.