Written by Remy Valentine
The holiday season is stressful for many people, but getting through the holidays while experiencing abuse, encountering a past abuser, or witnessing a loved one suffer from abuse can feel extremely overwhelming. Spending time with family and friends, dealing with financial stress, and traveling can make safety planning a challenge. In addition, family and friends of survivors may struggle to find ways to help or be supportive which, as a result, could cause increased anxiety and isolation. In order to get through the holidays without danger, it is important to prepare accordingly and have a safety plan in place. Although the holidays can be overwhelming and stressful, there are tips and techniques that you can read about and implement into your plan in order to create a less anxiety-ridden holiday.
There are many factors someone experiencing harm in a relationship must consider when preparing for the holidays. Traveling is a common part of holiday planning and many survivors don’t feel safe spending time with their partner in a small space, such as a car or plane. In this case, you may want to consider giving your itinerary, including where you’ll be staying and contact information, to a trusted friend or family member (preferably someone who doesn’t have close ties with your abuser).
Also, consider putting money aside for yourself in a safe place. That way, if you are put in a position where you have to escape your partner, you will have the finances to cover cab fare and a hotel room. It may also be a good idea to have a list of nearby hotels. In addition, become aware of available resources, such as shelters, in the area that you’re traveling to and keep their address and contact information readily available. Lastly, know the emergency number for the city/country you are traveling to.
If you’re currently with an abusive partner, reach out to a trained domestic violence advocate. Remember, reaching out does not require you to figure out an escape plan right away, you can simply call to talk. If you can’t call safely from your home, call from a trusted friend’s house, your doctor’s office or a public library. If you have children with you this holiday, check out The Hotline’s post on safety planning with children. The post covers unsupervised visitation, safe child exchange and ideas for children living with an abusive parent.
Creating A Safety Plan- If You’re Experiencing Abuse
Consider discussing ways to make parties or family visits safer. An example is asking if people can make a commitment to not have alcohol around, or limit the amount served.
If you’re a survivor who does not feel safe sleeping in the same room as your partner, consider talking with your hosts or family about finding a separate couch or sharing a room with other guests or family members.
Consider brainstorming reasons to get out, like helping someone with holiday plans or gift shopping; you can be creative with these ideas.
Try to make your own plans to get rest, get good nutrition, talk to supportive friends and do things you enjoy.
Encountering A Past Abuser:
Survivors can be especially fearful of the holidays when the abuser is a member of their family. As the holidays approach, it is normal for survivors to experience feelings of anxiety, guilt, worry, panic, and loneliness. If you are a survivor and you know your abuser will be present for the holidays, you are forced to face the reality that you will encounter your abuser, which can trigger traumatic memories. But it’s not always the abuser that the survivor is afraid of facing; in some instances survivors may fear family members who neglected to believe them about the abuse. It could be a mother who continued her relationship with a father or boyfriend as if the abuse never happened, or maybe you are going back to the home you grew up in that holds the memories of the abuse you experienced and witnessed when you were growing up. Facing these family members could bring on a variety of emotions.
It is important for survivors to remember that what they are feeling is completely normal and valid. You have a right to your own thoughts and feelings, you are not overreacting, and you are not making things up.
Creating A Safety Plan- If You’re Encountering A Past Abuser
Reach out to a neutral party, such as domestic violence advocates and hotlines. Survivors often feel isolated because of patterns of not being believed, fear of disclosing, or concerns about creating family tensions or division. It can be easier to talk to a neutral third-party that can offer support.
If you’re a survivor, consider brainstorming reasons to get out, like helping someone with holiday plans or gift shopping.
Try to avoid close quarters. For many survivors, family pressures or traditions do not permit them to stay outside the family home. In this situation, survivors should brainstorm ways to avoid the perpetrator during gatherings.
Make plans that involve leaving the home for an extended period of time, such as catching up with old friends or offering to run errands for the household.
Stick to common areas and public places within the home or building, such as a living room or kitchen, and try to avoid secluded areas.
Avoid talking to, sitting near, or standing around the person who hurt you. It’s okay to draw boundaries, even if it makes other family members uncomfortable.
Witnessing A Loved One Suffer From Abuse:
Seeing someone you care about being hurt is also stressful. Remind yourself that you can’t make decisions for someone else, but you can ask a survivor what they need and offer help. If you suspect someone in your life is experiencing partner abuse, watch for red flags, such as extreme possessiveness, jealousy, intimidation, humiliation, threatening and pressuring. To support this person, it is important that friends and family members remain non-judgmental and supportive. If you’re worried about someone who is experiencing abuse and you’re not sure what to say, remember that you cannot “rescue” them. Finding out that a loved one is in a harmful relationship may cause you to feel responsible for fixing their situation in order to stop the abuse and save your loved one from experiencing pain. Instead of trying to “rescue” them, acknowledge that they are in a difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen, encourage them to participate in activities outside of their relationship with friends and family, encourage them to talk to advocates who can provide them help and guidance and help them develop a safety plan.
Creating A Safety Plan- If You’re A Family Member or Friend
Ask the survivor to go on a shopping trip or errand with you, go for a walk or workout, invite them to a celebration or have them help you with a chore/holiday prep activity in order to give the victim space away from their abusive partner.
Offer to be on standby for the survivor’s texts or calls throughout the holiday season; have your phone on and fully charged at all times and keep it on you.
Assure them that they are welcome to take refuge in your home if they need somewhere to stay.
Check-in regularly: call or text your loved one once a day at a random time to see if they are all right.
For further information click here to learn more about how to provide support to your loved one.
If you are a survivor of intimate partner violence there are many organizations you can reach out to for help. We suggest taking a look at our resources page to learn more about organizations in your area. Remember that you can always talk to a domestic violence advocate at our toll free hotline (1.800.214.4150).