As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the festive spirit. While the holidays can be a time of joy and community, for some the holiday season presents a complex mix of emotions and potential triggers – whether it be as a result of current or past trauma, challenging or unsafe family dynamics, a difficult relationship with food, or other factors.
For people in unsafe relationships, the holidays can heighten stress levels and create dangerous situations. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides a helpful compendium of tips for safety planning for the holidays, both for people in abusive relationships and for family members. They include things like managing alcohol availability, discussing triggers for abusive behavior, creating a plan for check-ins throughout the holiday, and predetermining plans to get out of the house.
While being in a currently unsafe relationship certainly presents complex physical and emotional hurdles during the holidays, so too does past trauma that may resurface when returning home or spending time with family. This could be as a result of being in forced proximity with a past abuser or being physically in the place the abuse happened, or it could just bring difficult memories to the surface. The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect discusses ways to handle triggering events, like setting boundaries in advance and establishing a support system.
Another difficult aspect of the holiday season can be the heavy focus placed on food and communal eating. For people struggling with eating disorders the idea of sitting around a table and eating for hours on end can prove incredibly daunting. Additionally, or those who have a loved one who has experienced sexual violence, they should be aware that the resulting trauma can manifest in many ways, including eating disorders. If someone fears that a survivor in their lives is struggling in this way, tell them that they’re not alone and that there are resources available to help. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders provides tips for those who struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating, like maintaining your regular therapy schedule, following your normal meal plan, setting limits with family members and identifying a support person.
As the holiday season quickly approaches, above all else it’s important to consider where others are coming from and give them grace. Acknowledging that others might feel stressed or upset by aspects of the season and creating space for those feelings goes a long way towards making those you love feel more comfortable and able to enjoy the holidays.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.