Several domestic violence organizations and hotlines report that calls for support services decrease around the holidays, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence; however, the holidays still cause challenges to survivors. The holidays might disrupt a survivor’s healing process, especially if their abuser is a family member. If survivors are unable to remove abusers from their lives completely, they might see their abusers at holiday gatherings.
For survivors, seeing their abusers can bring back traumatic memories, causing them to feel anxious and worried. Because of this, holiday gatherings create stress for survivors and deprive their ability to celebrate.
Survivors also face the possibility of seeing family members who refused to support their recovery process and don’t believe them about the abuse. Survivors might feel lonely during the holiday season, which might make them want to return to the abusers.
All survivors have their own healing processes. Regardless of whether survivors are beginning their healing journey or continuing it, it is important to acknowledge that their emotions are valid and normal. Although the holiday season might create challenges, it is necessary to remember that survivors have the power to overcome obstacles in their healing process.
There are multiple ways to help survive the holiday season. Domestic violence hotlines and organizations also have a separate list for suggestions about facing the holidays.
Plan for alone time.
When past memories and emotions overwhelm you, take a brief walk or take a short break to recover by excusing yourself to go to the bathroom. You can also escape by tuning out those memories through listening to music or practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation.
Surround yourself with positivity.
For holiday gatherings, surround yourself with supportive family members and friends. Celebrating with loved ones who have always supported your healing journey can help you avoid negative emotions and memories.
Everyone has different self-care methods, but practice whatever works best for you. Examples of self-care include painting, praying, drinking tea, lighting candles, and other activities that calm you.
Call in sick.
If you know ahead of time that the abuser will be at a holiday gathering, call in sick. You don’t have to attend. If other family members pressure you to come to the gathering, reinforce boundaries. If they repeatedly call you, ignore them.
Ask for help.
Remember to keep your therapist and support group on speed dial. It’s important to acknowledge if you need additional support during the holidays, so please call supportive friends, family, and your therapist. There is no shame in accepting and recognizing that you need help.
Participate in activities.
If relaxation techniques don’t help you block out painful memories and negative emotions, block them out by immersing yourself into festive activities. Help wrap gifts, plan an event like gift shopping or help with cooking.
Release your emotions.
After holiday gatherings are over, feel free to release all those negative emotions of sadness and anger by letting yourself cry or doing something therapeutic such as writing about how you felt in a journal. It’s better to release your anger and sadness instead of suppressing it.
Bring your family and friends with you.
If you are unable to avoid the abuser at a holiday gathering, bring your supportive family members and friends with you to remind yourself that you are safe. Bringing supportive people to gatherings will help minimize feelings of fear and loneliness by reminding yourself that there are many people who love and support you.
Use grounding techniques and other tips.
Another important technique is to practice tips and techniques recommended by your therapist. Examples of helpful techniques include visualization. Imagine yourself in a calm environment or your dream vacation to ground yourself. Bring yourself back to the present by touching three objects in the room and saying their names aloud. Practice breathing exercises to release muscle tension and anxiety.
Following the above solutions will help survivors face the holidays and overcome negative emotions. Even if survivors might stumble in their healing journey during the holidays, it doesn’t make them weak or failures. Healing is a complicated process, but survivors have the power to overcome and continue their journey.
For more tips on navigating the holidays as a survivor, check out this blog post from Dr. Kathleen Young.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.