The holidays are here and each year many of us hope for a peaceful, cheerful season. For some of us, the stressful side of the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is exacerbated by the occurrence of intimate partner violence. We often acknowledge that being around family can be challenging for anyone, but in families where abuse is occurring the problem is more than sibling rivalries and annoying relatives.
The problem is that one person in the family makes a choice to try to have power and control over their romantic partner and they are willing to hurt their loved one in order to have power and control. They may use anything from words to fists but their goal is the same: power and control.
Survivors of domestic violence are very good at surviving. They endure harmful, hateful words meant to demean and strip them of their self-worth. They carry on despite being intimidated and threatened by the person who is supposed to love and support them. They do their best to heal bruises and broken bones. “Surviving the holidays” may mean doing whatever they can to get through, putting on a happy face for their children, and hoping that this year will be better.
This time of year can often foster safety risks for a survivor. The abuser may be home from work more often or family members who collude with the abuser and blame the victim may be around more. While alcohol never causes domestic violence it can make it worse. Many batterers blame their abusive behavior on their drinking. The same goes for financial stress. It is not the reason why some individuals are abusive, but it can make them more volatile. Some people, and some children, may have to go to a shelter for a safe haven from the violence. It is a courageous decision with which most of us will never have to be faced.
Here are a few holiday specific safety tips and resources for survivors. These may be especially pertinent for those who have or are trying to end the relationship as leaving can be a dangerous time. A HAVEN advocate is available 24/7 throughout the holidays to discuss safety, options and resources. The advocate can be a safe person to vent to and get kind, supportive encouragement from.
TIPS FOR SURVIVORS
If you are a survivor looking for ways to cope you may wish to practice emotional safety.
Tell yourself it’s ok to have your feelings, that it’s normal to feel worried, confused, or angry.
Try to reassure yourself, self-sooth, and say positive things to yourself when you need encouragement.
Try doing little things for yourself. Self-care can be slowly, intentionally putting lotion on or eating a piece of chocolate. Finding ways to control any part of your life, like taking pleasure in a routine task, can be helpful. Listen to your gut feelings and instincts and try to build awareness of what your body is telling you. You are human. You may not be perfect but you certainly deserve respect, validation, love, and whatever else you need and you can give these gifts to yourself.
TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO BE SUPPORTIVE OF A SURVIVOR
As friends, family members and loved ones of people we may know or suspect to be in abusive relationships we can offer our love and encouragement so the survivor does not feel isolated or judged.
We can avoid being nosy or pushy which can further disempower a survivor.
We can educate ourselves and be patient, reassuring ourselves that survivors are doing the best they can with what they have to keep themselves and their children safe
We can also call a domestic violence hotline like HAVEN and express our worries and discuss ways to help. This is a healthy way of dealing with our fears and getting the support we need and deserve.
We all want to be loved, and none of us want to be hurt. As citizens who imagine ending violence we can be examples of accepting, loving people and individually strive for peace in our hearts, minds, and actions. We can collectively reject violent, abusive behavior and hold those who choose to perpetuate it accountable. We can educate ourselves about the experience of survivors and the challenges they face. As communities we can support organizations that are providing services to domestic violence survivors that may need additional support during the holidays. Each year during the holiday season we hear songs and prayers for world peace, and we can begin to work toward that goal at home.
Happy holidays and best wishes from everyone at HAVEN.
– Jessica Kotula, Court Advocate