PTSD Spirituality: Why is Christmas Hard for PTSD Survivors?

Why is Christmas hard to live through if you have PTSD?

Holidays can easily exacerbate the symptoms that go with the PTSD Identity. Often our feelings have been numbed and we just can’t experience or enjoy the holidays the way we used to. Our sense of self has been damaged, and thus our relationships with others are also damaged. Those around us usually cannot understand why we are different. And, sometimes, they will make you suffer for it.

PTSD and Christmas: What a combination to have to live through! Holidays are hard times to endure if you have PTSD. Given the commercialization of Christmas, it is already a difficult time of the year to get through on an even keel. Christmas is the time of the year where I am most likely to be knocked down in a mall and stepped on. It is also the time of the year where I am most likely to be criticized for being too slow as I move through the mall on my walker or using a cane.

This is the third time (now the fourth time on a different day) I am attempting to write a PTSD Spirituality post about Christmas. Why am I having such a hard time? In the big picture, this is a day which celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus, Second Person of the Trinity. Without the Incarnation, then there is no ministry of Jesus, no Passion, and no Resurrection. As a traditional Catholic, I believe the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ ministry, his death by enhanced interrogation techniques, and his Resurrection. The meaning and reality of Christmas are not totally lost on me.

Yet, since my time overseas and my time caught up in the American Medical Industry, Christmas in America has been a difficult time for me. I know I am bothered by the hypocrisy, drive-by caring, and commercialization of an otherwise meaningful religious celebration.

So what is it about Christmas in America that aggravates my PTSD?
-Isolation: Major holidays and personal days of importance are days I want to avoid. They heighten the PTSD Identity’s penchant for isolation. People who matter to you are either dead or distant. Often those who you do love and who love you are kept at a “PTSD-Distance” almost against your will. You want to be more open, you want to be more feeling and receptive, but your PTSD smothers you. It is a time when you really need some understanding because you may not even understand what is happening to you yourself. Sometimes the best you can do is just be present in the same room or residence with your loved ones, not because you are so unsociable, but because PTSD has crushed your ability to interact the way you used to. If your loved ones tend towards selfishness or they just plain don’t get it, they can make this very hard on you.

-Anger: Having survived trauma and having their outlook on life forever changed, survivors deal with anger on multiple levels. We might feel anger at the spoiled people who have been fortunate enough – or greedy enough – to have avoided trauma. These are the people who usually tell us to get over it, or it’s our own fault that we suffer. And, paradoxically, we may feel anger at ourselves for having PTSD. It is not unusual to become angry at the fact that I am angry.

-Guilt & Shame: Trauma survivors often feel guilt or shame at having lived through their afflictions. They may no longer feel worthy to enjoy the mundane giving of gifts and reunions with friends. They may feel unworthy of embracing a God who so loved the world that he became a human being through the incarnation.

– Crowds: For some of us, we have been trained to avoid crowds. That way a grenade won’t get all of us. If I avoid crowds I am less likely to be knocked to the ground by shoppers. If I avoid a crowd I am less likely to be either mocked for being slow or have to endure drive-by caring.

– Noise: PTSD sufferers are often susceptible to noise. Noises (and smells) often take their memories back to places they just as soon forget.

Holidays are usually hard days for people who have PTSD soul damage. They can be difficult to get through even for people who have not endured and survived trauma.

Yet, we can get through the holidays and not get destroyed by them. The next PTSD Spirituality blog post will address some ways to deal with PTSD during the holidays. If you read it or not, know that you matter. You have value. God made you in his image and likeness, just as he did his only begotten son.

If you like, leave comments on how the holidays impact your PTSD or how they affect people you know who have PTSD.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Thanks, Dr. Z, for your insights on the dynamic. It was something that I thought I’d placed behind me but this Christmas season has been particularly rough for me. This year, I first started noticing the feelings of wanting to move to “the hill behind the hill” that I thought that I’d reconciled decades ago. I was mystified. “What?”, I asked myself, “was the trigger this time?” It didn’t take too much introspection to discover that it was the death (two weeks ago) of a friend. This friend, unlike other more recent friends, and I had experienced life-threatening combat situations together. Later, he had been one of my Lay Presenters to the bishop for ordination.

    Phone conversations with others from the unit solidified my conclusion that Ed’s passing into a beatific life had affected them as well. We could say to each other “I feel the same way” and each knew the other wasn’t just rattling semi-pious crap. My next step will be to ask Ed for his intercessions.

    • Hello Frank,
      Ed’s passing is a loss for his friends and family, he was a man who made life worthwhile and precious. He now continues amongst the Community of Saints, where he continues to look out for you guys.
      Even when we know someone joins the Community we still grieve. His passing is certainly an event which can serve as a heightened sensitivity towards our PTSD. Ed offered your name to the bishop and now he offers your name to God in the Community of Saints. While memories and events can be painful, you and your mates are blessed to have walked the mission together.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Im mexican american. Mexicans celebrate christmas the 24th. My family is inside a small apartment, once again i reiterate im part Mexican….. im sitting outside trying to breathe my cigarettes and drink my beer as quickly as possible. Ive gone inside the apartment multiple times to be with my loving family but there is just far too much noise and yelling even laughing heightens my anxiety. I go inside for 10 minute intervals if 10 minutes is even possible. I miss Christmas and the love and warmth. It is now replaced with anxiety and torture. Heck, im outside with my smoke in my hand on the internet need i say more?

    • Hello Ben,
      I don’t think I could even last ten minutes in a small apartment with a Christmas celebration going on, so you are probably better adjusted than you give yourself credit for. You are a smart guy: you know your limitations, you know what you’d like to do and you know what you actually can do at the present time, and you have a relief plan where you can pop outside when you need to…all sounds pretty smart to me. Many of us would like to be able to be inside with the family and celebrate, but the facts is, we are wounded and have to respect our PTSD wounds. If we don’t respect our wounds, then they will get worse and the PTSD just laughs at us. You are not alone, Ben. Many of us experience Christmas as you do, we remain an invisible community that respects one another and prays for our healing and mutual well-being.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. My problem with the holidays is that I always feel like everyone else is having a Hallmark card Christmas and I’m having a hard time just getting through the season without falling into despair. One of my friends said to me the other day, “We’re all miserable, ya know” and we laughed and laughed. It was nice to hear someone else say it outloud instead of pretending to be perfectly contented all the time. It seems like at some level I’ve bought into the idea that if I buy the perfect gifts or have the perfectly decorated house all will be joyful. Pretty dumb.

    • Hi Quieta, Yes, society sets us up to think that everyone else is having the Norman Rockwell/Hallmark Card Love Child Christmas! That particular Love Child would be pretty ugly, too…probably looking like even more credit card debt while the banks go Ho Ho Ho! I am glad you had someone realistic to talk to. We get set up to have unrealistic expectations for holidays and then we get zapped and out PTSD gets even worse. Talking and writing always help. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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