Understanding how the Holidays Influence Abuse
There is a misconception that domestic violence rates spike during the holiday season – generally from Thanksgiving through the New Year. A rise in stress levels, combined with family spending so much time together, often creates this idea that physical violence rates increase. However, the reality seems to paint a very different picture.
While it makes sense to assume a rise in stress levels and holiday drinking would lead to more domestic violence, the reality is that abuse is never really dormant. If someone has an abusive family member around the holidays, they are still experiencing that same abuse in the summer months. In fact, according to call data collected by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, contact from victims drop From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, and is particularly low on the specific holidays.
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Should you Stay in an Abusive Relationship through the Holiday Season?
The simple answer is “no.” However, we understand that domestic violence – whether it’s physical, emotional or psychological abuse – is far more complicated than people generally understand.
The holidays bring up all kinds of emotions for different people. That combined with the emotional trauma from abuse will make seemingly easy decisions extremely complicated. Maybe you’ve decided to stay because the abuser seems better this year than they did last year. Maybe you don’t want to take your kids away from their home on Christmas night. These are all valid reasons, but they also will not end the violence, no matter how promising it seems.
What to do if You Suspect a Loved One is in an Abusive Relationship
1. Remain non-judgemental
The holidays can be extremely lonely for people who are in unsafe relationships. When people are in abusive relationships, they get used to being on the defense. This is completely warranted and should not be taken personally. It’s just how they stay safe in their day-to-day lives. The best thing you can do when approaching your friend about a topic as sensitive as their unhealthy relationship is to make sure they understand you support them above everything else.
2. Start a calm conversation
Do not approach the topic in an accusing or aggressive way. Stay calm and supportive. The holidays are stressful enough, but if you combine that with the constant stress of dealing with abuse, even the slightest sign of accusation can trigger a victim. Be supportive. When in doubt, say nothing and just let them speak. Don’t push the situation or get frustrated with them. If you do, you run the risk of losing their trust, and it will be even harder for you to be there for them in the future.
3. Do not blame the victim
People who stay in abusive relationships can inadvertently cause a lot of pain for the people they care about. Loved ones may feel neglected, betrayed and unheard. These are valid feelings, but it’s important to understand that the victim doesn’t always have a choice to leave. In many cases, it may seem to them that it’s safer to stay in the situation than it is to try and get out. Stay supportive. Do not force help on them, but don’t stray too far away either. Remind them that you are there for them and then follow through when they do decide they are ready for help.
4. Let them make their own decisions
It will be tempting to try and force them into doing things your way. Perhaps this has lasted a long time and you’re getting frustrated with them not doing what you think is best. Keep in mind you don’t have the whole story. Things could be a lot more complicated than the victim is disclosing. While of course we want our loved ones to be safe, it’s important for you to empower them to make their own decisions so they can maintain what little independence they think they’ve lost in their relationship in the first place.
5. Stay positive
Being a witness to abuse has its own challenges separate from those the victim faces. It may seem like you are losing a friend to something you cannot control. You may feel hopeless or scared that there’s nothing you can do. When you feel that way, remember the best thing you can do is just be there for them in whatever way they need you to be. It’s good to have a support system of your own so you can stay strong for your loved one. No matter what happens, the best thing you can do is to stay positive for your loved one and be there for them no matter what.