Overcoming Past Hurts

The holidays are one of the most important and meaningful times of the year for families. There are periods of celebration, fun, worship, and connection. In addition, there are wonderful teaching times of reflection and appreciation of who God is and all of the good things He does.

At the same time, the holiday season can be accompanied by sadness and hurt feelings. Sometimes people can become depressed, moody, withdrawn, and unable to enter into the spirit of the season the way they would like.

Holidays and the past

Why are people sad at this time of year? It has to do with the nature of your memory and your heart. Holidays are anniversaries which occur on a regular, yearly basis. And during holidays, it is natural to review, remember, and reflect on what has happened in the previous year. You not only remember the good but the negative and painful as well.

For example, you may have lost a loved one. During the holidays, it is natural to find yourself remembering that person and wishing they were there in the celebration and festivities as in years past. Or a difficult circumstance might come to mind, such as moving the family to a new place, a financial burden, or a marriage problem. You may remember how hard past months were or the hurt someone caused you.

Most people do not dredge these memories up on purpose. It is just natural that you remember reality - good and painful - during the holidays.

Expecting the ideal

On top of these memories or challenging circumstances, you may expect yourself to be happy and joyful during the holidays, sometimes to a fault. You think, “What is wrong with me? Don’t I appreciate all that God has done for me?” So you begin to compare your feelings and experiences with the ideal and standard of the holidays.

The gap you see between how you really feel and what you think you should feel can make things worse, rendering guilt for not being happy enough. Often, a downward spiral then begins.

Unfruitful attempts

It is common to deal with these hurt feelings and memories as best you can, because no one wants to be sad on a holiday. However, your attempts do not always bear good fruit. For example, sometimes you may try to ignore your heart and get busy with the season. You hope that if you do not think about what you are feeling, it might go away. Unfortunately, that is not the way life works. What is inside of you does not disappear if you look the other way. In fact, it often gets worse, just like an infection in the body continues growing if you do not get an antibiotic.

Another strategy is to compensate. That is, you may try to act the opposite of what you feel, hoping that will balance things inside. So if you are feeling really depressed, you may try to act just as cheerful as you are depressed. This actually can make things worse, by simply pretending and not being honest.

Becoming real and loved

The best solution is God’s solution. He never says to ignore reality or to compensate for a real hurt. Rather, He validates that you have been hurt and have had difficult times, and He wants to help you.

During holidays, you need two things.

First, you need permission to be honest about what you are remembering and feeling. Sad things do happen to people, and God knows and cares. This process is called confession, and simply means to agree with the truth. Confess your mistakes, hurts, past, and sins in order to be healed (James 5:16).

Secondly, you need love and comfort. When you are real about a pain, God brings you His grace and comfort to console and heal you. He does this directly, and He does this through His people: “Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). Love and comfort do their work, and you become reconnected to life and can move on. You can trust God, be real with Him, and get the good that God wants for you that can transform sadness into joy.

Dr. John Townsend is a clinical psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and engaging and informative speaker. He has authored or co-authored numerous award-winning books including God Will Make a Way and Boundaries.

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