Between the pressure of preparing an amazing meal or buying the perfect gift the holiday season can be stressful for many of us. Particular stress can arise when family and friends come together that normally don’t gather regularly. There can be differences between family members on values, beliefs and opinions that can cause tension. Sometimes there are certain members of a family that are not speaking to one another which can make some difficult navigating in planning any holiday gatherings. It can also be quite stressful to spend time with family members that exhibit unhealthy relational dynamics. These could include poor boundaries, untreated mental illness, addiction, neglect, emotional, verbal, physical, financial, religious or sexual abuse. Now those don’t even have to point to a history of that but even conversations in differing opinions on those topics.
Some survivors may be going home to the place they were abused or seeing the people who abused them. Or perhaps they are going to be face to face with people who know but have been dismissive of the incident. Everyone wants the holidays to be “perfect” but sometimes this ends up meaning dropping self-care in order to benefit the family or holiday gathering. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. And if it is then be selfish. Do what is best for you. Don’t get down on yourself because you think you should be ok by now or it shouldn’t bother you. Everyone heals differently.
Listed below are some steps survivors can consider when trying to keep themselves safe and healthy during the holidays:
1. Don’t go. If you are going to be made to feel anxious and uneasy at a gathering deciding to not go may be the best option. And if you do go to the holiday gathering but begin to feel uncomfortable do not be afraid to leave. And upon leaving know that you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
2. Set boundaries. Both physical and emotional boundaries help to prevent stress. Start and finish times can be set and clearly communicated around holiday activities.
3. Avoid discussing triggering topics. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be a part of any discussion that makes you uncomfortable.
4. Figuring out where to stay. Maybe going to a dinner is one thing but staying in a place that the abuser lives, the abuse took place, or just isn’t healthy is a whole other level. Find a friend, other relative, or if finances allow a hotel or hostel.
5. Have a plan. Write it in a journal. Tell someone who will know where you are and be ready for a call.
For those who have survivors in their lives there are ways you can be supportive during this time:
1. Listen to what they need. Even asking, "how can I be helpful today?" can make someones nightmare become a little more bearable.
2. Let the survivor be the guide. If they need to leave the room, don’t question it.
3. Be a buffer. If you can tell someone feels uncomfortable change the topic of conversation.
4. Encourage self-care. Ask that person what they’ve done for themselves.
5. Help them create a safety plan for the day. If you're not going to be there call them that night to ask how it went.
Feelings of anxiety and depression can make someone feel alone but we at the Violence Prevention Center are here to assure that you are not. Don’t be afraid to reach out to help in whatever healthy way that makes sense to you. We are always here to believe and listen. If you have any questions or want to reach out to an advocate please call 218.387.1237 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.