Understanding and Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors during the Holidays

by Tammie Nielsen

For Friends and Family

The holiday season often conjures images of warmth, joy, and togetherness. However, for domestic violence survivors, this time of the year can be a haunting reminder of past trauma and a source of deep emotional turmoil. This blog post will delve into the complexities of the holiday blues that survivors may experience and discuss how friends and family can provide meaningful support.

The Unseen Struggles

For some survivors, the holidays may have never been a time of celebration. Growing up in an environment marked by violence and fear, the festive season holds no fond memories. Instead, it becomes a perplexing spectacle as they witness others reveling in joy while grappling with their history of pain.

On the other hand, some did experience the magic of the holidays in their childhood but find themselves mourning the loss of that innocence. As adults, they may struggle with regret for not being able to recreate the same joyful experiences for their children.

Understanding the Emotional Turmoil

Depression during the holidays for survivors is not just a passing sentiment but a complex interplay of emotions. It’s a reflection of the scars left by a traumatic past, the mourning of lost opportunities for happiness, and the perpetual fear that their own experiences will scar their children’s lives.

The pressure to conform to societal expectations of festive cheer can exacerbate these emotions, creating a profound sense of isolation and disconnect for survivors.

How Friends and Family Can Help

  • Create a Safe Space: Understand that survivors may need a safe, non-judgmental space to express their feelings. Encourage open communication without pushing for details they may not be ready to share.
  • Be Mindful of Triggers: Awareness of all triggers is impossible because everyone is different. When encountering someone responding inappropriately to a holiday situation, try to identify the catalyst for their emotional response. This could include songs, traditions, or specific scents associated with past trauma. 
  • Offer Practical Support: Help survivors with practical aspects of the holidays, such as shopping, decorating, or cooking. Sometimes, the burden of these tasks can be overwhelming, and your assistance can make a significant difference.
  • Suggest Professional Help: Gently encourage survivors to seek professional support if they are open to it. Trauma-trained therapists can provide coping mechanisms and strategies to navigate the holiday season.
  • Celebrate in a Low-Key Manner: Respect their boundaries and suggest low-key, stress-free ways to celebrate. This could include a quiet dinner, movie night, or other activities that allow connection without overwhelming them.

For Survivors

Know that it’s okay not to be okay. Your feelings are valid, and it’s essential to prioritize your well-being. Here are some strategies to navigate the overwhelming emotions:

  • Give Yourself Permission to Feel: Understand that it’s natural to experience a range of emotions, especially during this time. Allow yourself to feel without judgment, acknowledging that healing is a journey, and it’s okay to have moments of vulnerability.
  • Establish Boundaries: Clearly define and communicate your boundaries to friends and family. Let them know what you can and cannot handle during the holidays. Setting boundaries is an empowering way to take control of your environment and protect your emotional space.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to a trusted friend, therapist, or support group. Sharing your feelings with someone who understands can provide immense relief. You don’t have to face the challenges alone, and there is strength in seeking help.
  • Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care to nurture your mental and emotional well-being. Whether it’s taking a quiet walk, engaging in a favorite hobby, or simply spending time with a beloved pet, find activities that bring you comfort and solace.
  • Create New Traditions: Consider establishing new, positive traditions that align with your current journey of healing. This could involve activities that bring you joy and allow you to reclaim the holiday season on your terms.
  • Connect with Others: If you’re comfortable, connect with fellow survivors who may be facing similar challenges. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can foster a sense of community and understanding.
  • Give Yourself Grace: Remember that healing is a process, and it’s okay if the holiday season brings forth unexpected emotions. Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge the progress you’ve made on your journey towards recovery.
  • Professional Support: If the emotional toll becomes overwhelming, consider seeking professional help. Therapists specializing in trauma can provide tailored guidance and coping mechanisms to navigate the complexities of the holiday season.



Supporting Trauma Survivors during the Holidays is being aware of the unique struggles that domestic violence survivors face during the holidays is crucial for providing meaningful support. By fostering understanding, creating a safe space, and offering practical help, friends and family can contribute to making the season more bearable for those healing from the wounds of the past. In doing so, we extend a lifeline of compassion, reminding survivors that they are not alone in their journey to reclaiming joy and peace during the holidays.

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