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A Holiday Guide for Abuse Survivors

stressHardly anyone would claim to be a stranger to holiday stress. From money woes to holiday travel, traditions, and family tension, at some point everyone has struggled to make it to January. But the holidays can be a particularly tough time of year for anyone with a family history of abuse, whether it’s emotional or physical.

The idea that one shouldn’t be alone during the holiday season is drilled into our heads and we want familiar people near, even if those people can be toxic to us. Memories of trauma may become more salient. Some holiday encounters could open old wounds. You’re not just trying to make it to January — you’re trying to avoid being retraumatized.

Stay on the healing path.

You’ve already done the hardest part; you survived the trauma. You are much stronger than you think you are. You are solely responsible for your survival, your endurance, your courage. Give yourself the credit and respect you deserve. You’ve done the impossible and you can do the holidays, too.

It’s normal to feel this way.

Stress, fear, anger, panic, and disgust are all normal emotions right now. You’re not crazy and you’re not overreacting. You are the only authority on your experience and you have a right to your feelings.

The holidays are always a stressful time of year. Add trauma to the mix and it can seem insurmountable. You must make yourself the top priority. You must learn to be “selfish.”

Maintain your routine.

Now is not the time to dive into fatty foods or increase your alcohol intake. Don’t stock up on holiday junk food with the intent to binge and don’t buy extra spirits for holiday parties. Don’t shop til you drop thinking that holiday bargains will be soothing. Stick to your normal routine. If you ever needed it, you need it now.

Stable moods like stable routines. When we get off track, more than just our waistlines and pocketbooks suffer. “Unhealthy or emotional eating and excessive drinking at this time of year can exacerbate depression, trauma, and other health problems,” according to the California Black Women’s Health Project (CBWHP). Fight the desire to throw caution to the wind.

Reinforce your boundaries.

Maintain your boundaries throughout the holiday season and know your own limitations. Don’t do something just because it’s tradition. Listen to your feelings. Honor them.

“One of the significant stressors for survivors at the holidays is having to see family members or others who abused you, or unsupportive family who blamed you or did not protect you from the abuse or assault,” writes the CBWHP.

If spending Christmas eve at your aunt’s sounds too stressful, don’t do it. If traveling across country to spend New Year’s with family in Florida doesn’t fit into your comfort zone, take a raincheck. If someone thinks you’re being dramatic or selfish, then they obviously haven’t walked a mile in your shoes. It’s not important for you to explain yourself. You get a pass here. Don’t let anyone else try to saddle you with guilt or shame. If you need your space, take it.

Don’t be drawn into ancient dysfunction, old arguments, or the same tedious and detrimental ways of dealing with relatives. Every family has a little of this here and there, but this year you’re definitely taking a pass.

Maybe you feel seeing your abusive or enabling family members is just too toxic but you’re afraid to turn them away. In a recent post, I wrote about how “You Have Permission to Cut Off Your Abuser.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for support.

Nobody wants to be in the abuse survivor’s club — I know I didn’t. I lived in denial of the sexual abuse I suffered as a child until I was 31 years old. I was afraid to bring up the abuse in therapy and horrified at the thought of participating in trauma group. In the end, what I was most afraid of — group therapy — has helped me the most.

Do not be afraid to reach out for help. There are many people out there just like you. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual or domestic violence, don’t hesitate to ask for support. Contact the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN): 1(800) 656-HOPE or Survivors of domestic abuse can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800)799−7233.

If you or anyone else has considered self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1(800)273-8255

Stressed woman image available from Shutterstock.

A Holiday Guide for Abuse Survivors

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). A Holiday Guide for Abuse Survivors. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.