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Christmas - Festive or Fearful?

This blog was originally published for members of our Survivors' Network. We've made it publicly available so anyone can benefit from the suggestions. If you're a survivor of domestic abuse and would like to receive more blogs like this in future, you can sign up to our Survivors' Network.

The run up to Christmas is always busy.

And for many of us it brings mixed emotions and lots of challenges.

Perhaps family and friends are all partnered up and we find ourselves alone.

If we have children, we may have to divide our children’s time between ourselves and our abusive ex during the holidays. Or if your ex has abandoned your children, then the full responsibility of ‘creating Christmas’ for your kids falls on you.

Sometimes children whose families have broken apart due to abuse are struggling themselves around Christmas, and will lash out at us because we are around.

And if you are in church communities where both you and your abuser still attend, the challenge might be watching friends and family engage and celebrate Christmas with your abuser like nothing has happened, or pretend that the abuse isn't still going on. They don’t realise that the consequences of abuse (or indeed the abuse itself) never ends at the end of the relationship. Christians who think that the loving response is to give a 'free ride' to an abuser over Christmas don’t realise that this can be crushing to the survivor.

However, no matter how many tough days I have, I know the path outside an abusive relationship is better than the path inside an abusive relationship and this doesn't change for the Christmas season.

So I reach out and accept every loving offer of kindness from friends and family during Christmas because I am on a new path . . . and it isn’t the path I had planned but it is the one I am on now and I am trying to make it the best that it can be.

Sarah Newman from Psych Central provides a very helpful guide to getting through the holiday period for those who have experienced abuse. I outline her suggestions below:

Stay on your Healing Path

You’ve already done the hardest part: you have survived the trauma and you are now out. You have done the impossible and now 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.

Maintain your Routine

It’s easy to make poor choices over the holidays with extra food, drink, or too much shopping. Stable moods like stable routines - trying to stick to the healthy behaviours you have already established is very important.

Reinforce your Boundaries

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

If seeing family or friends who enabled or supported your abuser will stress you, you don’t need to see them. If attending church where your abuser also attends is too stressful, find a different service or church for the holidays.

If you have children, it is fine to maintain NO CONTACT with you abuser over the holidays. You do not need to pretend just because it is Christmas. Your safety, sanity and dignity always comes first. Don’t let anyone else try to saddle you with guilt or shame. If you need your space, take it.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Support

Reach out to those individuals who have been supportive to you and accept all offers of kindness during this holiday period.

I wish you all a peaceful and restorative Christmas.