The holiday season, generally classified as the week of thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, can prove to be a time more difficult than normal for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Survivors may experience additional stress and unique challenges over the holiday season and may find themselves in and out of crisis. In times of crisis victims might find themselves experiencing heightened emotional distress and the normal problem solving skill set that the victim usually depends on is no longer working to bring resolution. It is important that friends, family members, and advocates of victims are aware of this possibility and are prepared to provide some additional support during this time of year. Below you will read a few speed bumps that survivors and their families may experience during the holidays and some practical ways that you may be able to support them through those difficulties.
- Survivors may need additional emotional support from family members, advocates, counselors, and help-lines during the holiday season, especially if they are unable to be with their family, friends, or faith community. This is important for advocates and shelter workers to understand, but this is also important for social service workers and volunteers who may be assisting parents or children who are temporarily separated from one another.
- The holidays can be emotionally draining for survivors, and relaxation and respite could be very beneficial. Encouraging and/or participating in quiet talks, soothing walks, yoga, or meditation could be a tremendous help. Meditation can be as simple as taking a few minutes out of a busy day to breath or sit in quiet contemplation. Simply slowing down and taking a moment to relax and reflect may help survivors stay grounded.
- The importance of safety planning around the holidays should not be underestimated. Advocates can help keep the season safe for survivors by sharing with them some holiday-specific safety tips, including starting new holiday routines or meeting family and friends in new locations unknown to the abusive partner. Something else to consider, especially for survivors with children, is creating very detailed safety plans when in crowded shopping areas and/or holiday parades and events where survivors may unexpectedly see their abusers.
- Supporters in the survivors’ lives could be instrumental in helping the survivors and their families find new routines by encouraging them to start their own new holiday traditions. This might be holiday themed activities with their children or close friends, learning to cook a new dish each holiday season, or just vowing to enjoy a hot cup of cocoa in solitude each evening during the holidays. Starting new traditions doesn’t have to mean forgetting the past, so it may be beneficial to encourage survivors to talk about their holiday memories; validate any feelings that they may express and help them process their concerns going forward.
Survivors heal at different rates and each person’s journey is unique to them; but one thing is certain- every survivor needs some sort of support system in their life to assist them on their journey to healing. As survivors bravely take this journey, support is critical. It can be difficult to provide support when you don’t understand the decisions that a survivor is making, but it is important to remember that they are capable of making decisions on their own. During this time of year specifically, survivors may not feel comfortable or safe to attend usual celebrations; this is a decision that supporters must respect. No matter which avenue you use, vow to support those in your life who have survived domestic and sexual violence by offering them the best gift possible-YOUR PRESENCE and SUPPORT!