“In the bleak midwinter
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.”
(In the Bleak Midwinter, a Christmas carol)
If the words above describe how you feel, my heart goes out to you. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say just the right words, but I know there’s nothing that will fix it. I just wanted you to know I care and am here with you.
The holidays can be can be a season of deep loneliness and sorrow for those of you who are are going through trauma and grief. The season can trigger deep sadness and a sense that you’re alone, even in a crowd. The feeling that no one close to you understands what you’re dealing with can grow more acute. At gatherings of family and friends, you feel like you have to fake being happy when what you really feel is betrayal, abandonment and loss.
If your grief is overwhelming, take a year off if that’s what you feel you need to do. If you have children, ignoring the holidays isn’t possible. Otherwise, there is no rule that says you have to celebrate with your family and friends. Only say yes to things you really want to do, if anything. Embrace the quieter joys of the season, if you’re up to it. Feel the freedom to celebrate or not, in a way that enables you to make it through. Tell others you need some time for yourself this year and that you plan to be back in the festivities next year. It’s true, and you will.
Be sure to give yourself the gift of self-compassion this holiday season. What is self-compassion?
- Self-kindness, as opposed to self-judgment.
- Remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience—-that you’re not alone in your suffering.
- Mindfull awareness that you’re suffering, without which you cannot give yourself compassion. You have to say, “Wait a second. This hurts. This is really hard. This is a moment where I need compassion.”
Read more about it: The Self-Compassion Effect
Last year a reader said,
“I know how very painful this is for you. The holidays are very emotional, and when we are in pain it is even more wrenching. I know it is not the same as having us there, but I hope you will believe that many of us are supporting you and understanding how you are feeling, and wishing comfort and hope and healing for you in the new year.”
It’s true, and I hope you can feel it.
I’d like to share my favorite holiday song with you…
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
♥ My holiday wish for you is that you will bloom a little amid the cold of winter, as you feel the warm light that still burns within you. May it illuminate hope, compassion and healing.
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43 thoughts on “Blue Christmas”
Happy Holidays to everyone!
Thanks for ceaselessly enlightening, validating & empowering us!
Also many thanks to everyone who share their experiences here with us by commenting.
Thank you, Janes/Lady Vigilant 2, and happy holidays to you, too!
he ruined (or tried to) every holiday…my birthday, Xmas, Thanksgiving..especially the ones with church, family meals, gift giving..had to make a fuss on the trip TO the event, hobnobbed with family, ate HIS share of food, got his gifts..raised hell at me all the way home, after we left. I came to dread holidays. Once in a while, he would behave. I still feel anxious, vaguely sad, even now after years of divorce from him, at holidays. Most folks dont understand. I do the best I can; let the rest go.
Holidays are like minefields, filled with bombs from the past. I believe we may give them more importance than they should have, which works against us. Instead of simply being a time to celebrate, they somehow become the measure of all things, past and present. They demand perfection, which isn’t possible and only exaggerates every flaw from relationships to cookies to memories. Doing the best you can and letting go of the rest is an achievement you should be proud of, Vanessa xx
this year, I skipped Xmas Eve church service; since Xmas fell on Sunday, I skipped that service too. i cried through Xmas Eve services last year, I didnt want to go through that again. I maybe should have tried to go to something, didnt do it.
It’s OK, Vanessa. You’ll be back next year. I just had a thought: According to my mother, the wise men didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until January 7th. To her, it was still Christmas until then. Maybe it’s not too late to go to church. You missed the service, but maybe by sitting there when it’s quiet and still decorated for Christmas you can have your own personal Christmas service, by thinking thoughts and saying prayers that you would have on that day. Or listen to hymms that you would have heard in church. I’m not religious, but I used to go to the cathedral for the vespers concert every year. I couldn’t bring myself to go for two years. After I missed the second one (and wished I had gone, like you) I downloaded similar music to what I would have heard, and sat by the tree and listened. It wasn’t quite the same, but it was significant. It stirred my soul.
I’ll resume church going New Year’s Day. It seems to be that the holidays (church or not) which mean the most for family, cause me the most emotional pain. Its almost impossible to explain how I feel about holidays, to people who dont understand (or who have told me to ‘get over it and move on’.
I remember telling my therapist I couldn’t go to the vespers concert. She said “Oh, why not? Just go anyway!” I told her I couldn’t, that I would cry through the whole thing. She said that was OK, and I knew she was right in a way, but still. I’m glad you’ll be back for New Year’s day, Vanessa. It’s hard to not be understood, but it seems to be a common part of this experience. It hurts!
Your blog found a chink in the wall around my heart and your words give me life, at least a hope for life with passion. Thank you, Adeline Birch. I love the art work along with your prose. I will continue to see you as my turning point on my path towards finding what’s alive inside although I’m having trouble finding words now, searching for feelings that belong to the words. I sense they’ll come. Please keep blogging and may all goodness find you this coming year.
OK. I sound like a Hallmark card, but I’m working to be unfrozen. The holidays bring sudden tears to my eyes while driving, gut sobs standing in a market so I have to race for the car and leave my basket behind. I can’t find a trigger or a mind photo that prompts this grief. I”m scraping by, going on pollyanna channel from PTSD reflex, then wishing I was normal. Sometimes can’t see a way out.
I remember abandoning my cart and running from the market, and the pain that made that happen. I’m sorry you’re going through it now. I didn’t see a way out either, Hilary, but I found it anyway by simply believing I would, and being determined to get there. You can do the same. It takes time, there’s no way around that; there’s a lot to process. You’re in a dark place right now—the dark night of the soul—but a little bit of light is already starting to find it’s way in. The light will always conquer the darkness. You can trust in that.
Hilary, it warms my heart to know you’ve found an opening in the wall around your own heart. Turning toward finding what’s alive inside is a beautiful path to be on; there is so much to be found! May all goodness also come your way in the coming year. Thank you. xo
Adelyn, I hope all
Is well with you. What is your opinion on prosecuting a criminal psychopath? It’s more contact in a way and in the “devalue” space it feels more dangerous to try to hold them accountable after manipulation (drug induced assault one I trusted him) when they have plotted and waged such a smear campaign. I know this person will continue their cycle and hurt more women but it has taken me nearly a year to heal and function again. Your site found me and was a guide to understanding what I experienced. Thank you again. Any advice on trying to hold them accountable in at this level is appreciated. I want to do the right thing but I also am not sure of the outcome given the monster that he is and being a continued tagrget of his illness.
Hi, Audrie. I’m sorry you’re the target of a smear campaign, and that you were assaulted. He should be held accountable for it and be stopped from hurting other women, of course. It’s a very serious thing that he did, and chances are good that he’s going to do it again. That kind of crime tends to be a serial crime. In reality, though, there are other factors you’re considering: How will a legal battle affect your life and your hard-won healing? That’s a very real concern. I’m no expert in these matters, but what I would do is speak with a criminal lawyer and run it by them. You want to find out if your case has a good chance of succeeding so you won’t be exposing yourself to stress and possible abuse for no reason. I think it would help you decide what to do if you knew that. A therapist with some expertise in this area might be of help as well. You’re dealing with a difficult situation, Audrie, and I hope my advice will help you to move forward.
It took me years following divorce, to realize how much he had damaged me; my emotions/my body/my mind, and that this began soon after we were first seeing each other. I was ‘targeted’ from the beginning. I am finding, building/growing the strenghts, that I thought were lost/gone forever. I am taking MUCH better care of myself, am a ‘work in progress’ at 65 going on 66! Its never too late!
Hi Vanessa. I’m so glad to hear you’re finding and growing your strengths and that you’re taking good care of yourself. You’re right, it’s never too late. You are not alone in being a work in progress. Post-traumatic growth leads to deeper self-insight, contentment and wisdom. Best wishes to you.
It sounds to say so, but I sat through a funeral at a local church this morning. It felt different to be there and NOT be rebuked/scolded/criticized for ‘bad behavior’ before, during and after the service, by an ex spouse. He would have found fault with some little thing I said or did during this time of being at a church, for a funeral. Funerals are sad, but at least I dont have to deal with him being there, with me.
It’s like being under a microscope. You’re feeling the freedom. You’re free to be you, without having your every move and word micro-managed and criticized.
Im still ‘reclaiming’ who I am, who I WAS, before and after him. I dont hide myself, I am who I am now. I wont give up anything to make someone else ‘happy’. Others can accept me, or leave me go if they choose.
I’m so glad to hear it, Vanessa. Being accepted for who we are is what creates a genuine connection. which is based on real emotional intimacy. Hiding for fear of being rejected leads nowhere, as so many of us learned the hard way!
I wanted to comment on your blog post on manipulation but it’s closed.
I wanted to share this, it explains why Psychopaths have amazing cognitive empathy despite lacking emotional:
“Psychopathic Criminals have empathy switch”.
They literally can turn it on as long as they want then shut it off.
Hmm. Like the reverse of a narcissist who represses empathy, instead of flicking it on.
Even the narcissist can feel pain! The psychopath has no anxiety or fear ,that reptililian part of our brains is shut off in them, zilch, no fight or flight or that little painful lump on the roof of your mouth standing at the edge of a tall building, zero, just bliss. And their success at rising to the top, no freezing up, no anxiety, they can plan perfectly, they make perfect serial killers (or CEOs…).
It’s almost a joke, evil people have always existed, but this, this is a breed of humans who…..I have no words. They sound like they were bred in laboratories.
My cousin got into a relationship with one. Just looking at him when I remembered seeing his malicious face, everything inside that head of his is designed to be pure heaven. And the rest of us do yoga or pilates to ease our daily pain.
Hi, George. It’s so good to see you supporting your cousin! So many of us had no one who even *tried* to understand; it just sounded too crazy, to unbelievable.
They really are a different breed. They’re human predators (meaning they prey on humans) who are perfectly camouflaged and ideally equipped for the job. It is rather mind-blowing once you’re able to wrap your head around it, and it sounds like you’ve done that.
When I read the word “bliss,” I thought of Kevin Dutton, PhD. He studies psychopaths, and he wanted to know what it felt like to be one, so he had his brain stimulated with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), the basic premise of which is that the brain operates using electrical signals, and that, as with any such system, it’s possible to modify the way it works by altering its electrical environment. By passing an electromagnetic current through precisely targeted areas of the cortex, those signals can be turned up or down.
Here’s how he described his experience:
“The effects aren’t entirely dissimilar [to an alcohol buzz]. An easy, airy confidence. A transcendental loosening of inhibition. The inchoate stirrings of a subjective moral swagger: the encroaching, and somehow strangely spiritual, realization that hell, who gives a shit, anyway?
There is, however, one notable exception. One glaring, unmistakable difference between this and the effects of alcohol. That’s the lack of attendant sluggishness. The enhancement of attentional acuity and sharpness. An insuperable feeling of heightened, polished awareness. Sure, my conscience certainly feels like it’s on ice, and my anxieties drowned with a half-dozen shots of transcranial magnetic Jack Daniel’s. But, at the same time, my whole way of being feels as if it’s been sumptuously spring-cleaned with light. My soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher.
So this, I think to myself, is how it feels to be a psychopath. To cruise through life knowing that no matter what you say or do, guilt, remorse, shame, pity, fear—all those familiar, everyday warning signals that might normally light up on your psychological dashboard—no longer trouble you.
I suddenly get a flash of insight. We talk about gender. We talk about class. We talk about color. And intelligence. And creed. But the most fundamental difference between one individual and another must surely be that of the presence, or absence, of conscience.”
You can read the rest here: The Psychopathic Makeover
Psychopaths don’t always feel like this, though. They have trouble with boredom, which is a different experience for them, really unbearable, and it causes them to go in aggressive pursuit of stimulation in order to get a surge of dopamine and feel good again. They need intense stimulation, and when they get it, their brains release four times more dopamine than ours do, so they really get a high. (that was determined by giving psychopaths and non-psychopaths amphetamines and then measuring it). You can read more about it here: It’s Not You, It’s Me and My Hyper-Reactive Dopaminergic Reward System As you said, they don’t have trouble with anxiety or stress, but they can feel excitement from intense stimulation. Things like finding a new lover, doing some extreme sport, robbing a bank (or something far worse).
Emotions act like a cloudy lens we see the world through. When you take emotions out of the equation, you are right in the present moment and able to see clearly. That’s what Dutton was describing when he said he had heightened, sharpened awareness and like he was “spring-cleaned with light.” The continual “noise” (like static interference on a radio) is turned off, and things become crystal clear.
I’d read about the supposed “empathy switch,” and I don’t buy it for a minute. It just doesn’t make sense to me; when I first came across it, my reaction was “no way.” The definition of empathy is recognizing how someone else feels; understanding it; feeling it to (to some extent); caring about how they feel; and then expressing that care. I believe psychopaths can only do the first two things–recognizing how someone feels and understanding it. They just don’t have the emotional apparatus to do the rest. Empathy is all about an emotional connection, and psychopaths can’t connect emotionally. They’re like lizards. They can do a good job acting like they do, though.
There are two kinds of empathy–cognitive and emotional. Psychopaths do have cognitive (or “cold”) empathy, meaning they know how you’re feeling and why, but they don’t have the emotional (or “warm”) empathy that leads us to feel sad, for example, if our friend is sad and caring about how they feel, which moves us to offer our support. What they do with the cold-empathy information about your feelings is to use it against you, to deceive or manipulate or victimize.
OK, so back to the empathy switch. Beside seeming impossible, the study–Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy–had a number of limitations (listed at the end of the text). A big one is the lack of a control group. Another is that it was a very small study. Another is that they *included subjects with ASPD,* which is a very different disorder. A psychopath on Quora wrote a detailed critique along with insider information, if you’re interested. She has that irritated, contemptuous attitude psychopaths are prone to, which never fails to annoy me but maybe you’ll do better with it. Does a psychopath/sociopath have an empathy switch? Her name is Athena Walker.
Please give your cousin a huge hug for me, OK? All the best to both of you.
How is it they can have that cold empathy, but not the warm? How can you know what another person feels and read them without any reaction?
I dug a bit so maybe if it’s not an empathy switch like with narcissists, it’s that lack of cloudiness. They said when younger they never understood people around them being so caring or concerned, but as they got older they learned to fake and memorize emotions, expressions, reactions. And that lack of that cloudy lens you describe we all live with, it makes them perfect, no distractions, great at faking, memorizing how to react, how to blend in, and consciously reading people until it is instinctive. It’s created cognitive empathy?
My cousin still suffers, she couldn’t get custody of her child and only is allowed visits. I swear, if that one’s son grows up to be like him because of how he treats him! I swear, he needs to be with his mother more so she can prevent him from making another potential psychopath!
Sorry for the anger.
I’m terribly sorry to hear your cousin didn’t get custody of her son! I understand why you’re angry, and why your cousin still suffers. I really hope she and the boy will be OK.
Normal people have both cold and warm empathy, working together. What enables psychopaths to manipulate people is cold empathy without warm empathy. It’s analytical, not emotional. And when you combine that with the lack of a conscience, amorality, and the inability to feel remorse, guilt, shame or love, adds up to trouble.
This psychopath describes it perfectly:
“Observe, Analyze, Resolve. Those three words are what guides my social interactions. Observe the mark, search for abnormalities in belief, appearance, speech etc. Analyze and create a profile based on observations. Resolve — determine the most ideal social match for the mark and imitate. Based on the goal of my social interaction I may choose different ideal identities to suit my needs. Let’s say I want to make someone cry. How would I do that? Observe, Analyze, Resolve. Say I observe a lady with certain key traits that are all I would need to solve my problem. I observe her black slacks are covered in a thin layer of animal fur and there is no ring on her ring finger; she claims after some trivial conversation to have four dogs — all from the pound. Analyzing this data I assume she is an animal empathizer as well as an animal lover. To resolve, I see that her greatest love must be her animals — she has no one else.
The perfect profile to achieve my goal would be a pathetic animal lover like herself, who recently lost the only creature in the world who ‘truly understood her’. First I would create a quick bond by relating a humorous story about my last pet. I would endear her to him and then reveal his passing. I would relate his importance to me and my resulting loneliness at his passing. It would remind her of herself, which is apparently a key component to empathy. This connection between her and I would set her mirror neurons aflame and she would be as glossy-eyed as a doped fish. This was a recent experience I had waiting in line at the post office. My point is, control is the key to any successful endeavor.” (ZKM, Sociopath’s Domain)
Pretty heinous, huh? Perfect, yes… prefect predators.
My cousin is doing a good job of making sure he turns out well. I’ve seen my second cousin (he is really closer to a nephew to me). So far no signs of psychopathy, and I credit her for preventing him from developing it from his psychopathic father.
She has overcome so much, and has now met a man who is very caring and warm. Only thing wrong with him is he is a trump supporter….but otherwise he is treating her with love and kindness. They’ve had several more children and are raising a happy family, she has the life she deserves, I don’t know if it is karma or whatever, but so much good has happened after her life growing up (I think my aunt is borderline! But she overcame the setbacks, the lack of schooling, the years of pain and near poverty). She’s had identical twins, and one is autistic (never knew it’s possible, but I already know one identical twin can be gay and another straight, huh, God works in strange ways), It’s just normal autism, but I’ve seen your asperger posts, her child is probably too disabled to ever find a relationship, but you’ve made me resolute to keep in contact with her to make sure she gets early intervention and special education ASAP. My new little niece may not develop empathy, but there is hope we can train her to have sympathy and kindness at the least.
Yes the cold empathy, in the beginning to me it felt paradoxical. How can you have “cognitive empathy” if you have no emotional empathy? If you cannot feel a feeling, how do you know what another person feels? How does a colorblind person know if another person is seeing a red or blue object?
But now I understand.
Their “cognitive empathy” is not the same as a normal human’s or even really “cognitive empathy” to begin with but pure skills. It’s memorization of other people’s expressions, all observation, knowing how to recognize cause and effect, knowing to fake it, you don’t have to have ever felt sadness or happiness to memorize the signs another person has when they feel it, this cognitive empathy is all analytical, pre planned, and not natural like with us, as it’s revealed in those paragraphs, just the tone it’s been written in shows so much. (It’s unnerving to read, i got shaky after,).
Thank you so much for giving my cousin your sympathy Adelyn. I’ll make sure pass it on to her.
I’m so glad she found a man who loves her and makes her happy. She certainly has overcome a lot, a testament to her strength and resilience. It’s good to hear that her son shows no signs of psychopathy!
Early intervention and special ed are vital for autistic children, and too few get what they need. Sympathy and kindness are realistic and worthy goals. May she be treated that way by others in return.
(Interestingly, autistic people are said to have emotional empathy but not cognitive empathy, the opposite of the psychopath.)
I’m sorry you got shaky reading that, but not surprised–the ice-coldness of her words and her thinking are truly shocking. You’re right when you say that cognitive empathy comes naturally to us, but not to them. We don’t think it through like she said she does, like an algorithm running on a freaking computer using stored data about human behavior. It’s deeply disturbing, to the point of being viscerally repulsive.
Thank you for passing on my sympathy and support to your cousin.
Sorry, did you get my reply to your post on october 13 10:31 AM? The comment section on your blog seems to have some troubles, I like reading your written works, but some sections are closed off.
Is your site okay?
I just found your lost comment in the spam folder. It must have triggered something.
When you say “some sections” are closed off, do you mean comments or content? I closed all but a few of the page comments because it became too much for me to keep up with, but all content should be visible. Please let me know.
I posted your comment and my reply. You’ll find it in the middle of our convo.
he really did ‘switch off and on’..the rages, then the sudden sweet smiles (no apologies that meant anything), money (sudden spent, large sums), then the yelling at me, for the $5 item that I put into the shopping cart, or the $3 item forgotten on a camping trip. I couldn’t believe how a human being could go from dark to light, hot to cold, rages to sweetness and NOT miss a beat. Unbelievable!
Hi, Vanessa. I understand how they switch back and forth as you described, but it doesn’t mean he actually felt empathy or connection when he was sweet and attentive. Psychopaths are good actors, but the mask does come off at times.
I hope you’re doing well.
It took me a LONG time to figure this out, that the ‘sweetness’ of him, was just another facet of a disordered personality. It was just an act, just like the rages/tantrums/cold spells. There was, is, no ‘real’ him; just a mask, with NOTHING of value underneath. There ARE people, who are REAL..mine wasnt one of them. Its hard to put your arms around all of this. I, am real. What you see/hear is what you get.
It is hard to comprehend, and deeply disappointing when we do. I’m sorry it happened to you, Vanessa.
Vanessa, that is a good thing to do when you said you don’t see him as human, he is not. We do not ever have to forgive, but we need to not let then linger in one’s mind still haunting us.
If you don’t see a human being, it becomes easier, we need to loathe them, not feel personal hate because there is no person. If you see a lion kill your friend, you will feel anger but you know it’s an animal, a predator, a beast.
The problem is psychopaths seem too human on the surface until they show their true face, and it already felt like we saw a human by then, not a lion or crocodile, and we are scarred even more.
And I bet he knows he hurt you, and he takes glee knowing that the hurt may not go away or become permanent like with his other victims. We cannot give them that satisfaction. We need to rob those cockroaches of that.
Good point, George, about not hating them. It’s perfectly normal to do so in the beginning; they certainly deserve it, but hate means there’s still an emotional connection. That’s normal too, of course, but after some time and healing that hate turns into indifference to them, which means the emotional bond is broken. It’s very freeing and empowering when that time comes. I have talked with people who remain stuck in hate, though, and I tell them it means they still have more healing to do and they need guidance from a good therapist who’s knowledgeable about pathological characters and the trauma they cause in these exploitative, abusive ‘relationships.’
If only it were so easy as to not want to give them satisfaction! No matter how much a traumatized person would like to be indifferent to them, healing takes time. Everyone is different, but it usually takes a good two or three years. The knowledge of what they are unfortunately doesn’t make it easier to move on. In fact, that’s where much of the trauma comes from–the person we believed in and thought we knew and believed loved us was actually a soulless predator. You may find one of my first posts, How to Help a Friend Victimized by a Psychopath,helpful as you try to support your cousin.
I hated him for a long time, hated what he did to me, hated why I let him do it for so many years, hated what he exposed our sons to, it was eating me alive..with bitterness and I HAD to let it go, HAD to. HATE corrupts you, marks you for life..no thanks. Now, he’s just another person, I have NO hatred, just a cold disinterest in him.
It’s so good that you were able to finally move past the hate, Vanessa. Becoming indifferent brings a lot of peace with it, although it can take a significant amount of time and healing to break the emotional bond (which is a trauma bond). I’m glad you made it, Vanessa, and I hope you and your sons are doing well and thriving ♥
Most days are better now; but our sons are still estranged from me; now the oldest one is going through his own divorce. this is the son who wrote me 2 letters, several exchanges in person, with added comments from his wife on Facebook, about my failures as a mother/grandmother. I’m not saying its karma, but he will get an education about the legal system and divorce. He had the most to say about me being a failure and now he will see what its like. Yes, I forgive him, and the other 2.
I’m sorry to hear your sons are estranged, Vanessa. I know how heartbreaking that is for you as a mother, and my heart goes out to you.
the holidays (i.e. Xmas, Thanksgiving, Easter) are usually geared towards families; its hard for me to be around these ‘happy’ groups’ of people, related by blood/marriage this time of year. I know all isn’t perfect, any family can and often does, have ‘issues’. Still, it isn’t easy to listen and be near these connected, seemingly together/loving folks. I keep my feelings to myself, I often avoid church activities that ARE oriented towards family. Singles groups aren’t common, not out here in rural Nebraska. I usually have my own holiday meal, at a restaurant or a church sponsored event for others like me. It helps me, to NOT be alone on that holiday day, but its not the same as being with family. My brother has his own family group, so does my younger sister, but I’m not included in these. Its hard.
I’m sorry the holidays are so difficult for you, Vanessa. It’s certainly understandable given your family situation. I hope you have good friends who value and appreciate you, as you deserve to be. If not, may you soon have them in your life. I understand it’s not the same as family, but good friends can be invaluable sources of acceptance, support and kinship.
Friends, church, bowling, house cleaning jobs, connections such as these are the reason I live in this small town. I know people who move to be closer to their families, as they get older; but it wouldnt do me much good, so I stay here.
It’s good you have a community you feel a part of. I wish you all the best, Vanessa.