Thanksgiving With Abusers: A Survival Guide
So you’re going home for Thanksgiving… and your abusers will be there. There are many different types of abuse and many reactions to it, but the fact is, many of us will be in the presence of those who have abused us tomorrow. Here’s how to deal:
- Make a list of what they’ve done to you.
Before spending time with your family, list out things they’ve done that were abusive. Literally write these down somewhere, maybe publish them on your blog. That way, when the confusion and victim-blaming attitudes set in, your mind won’t be clouded by other people’s misconceptions.
- Avoid abusers.
Stupid, you say? You can’t? I know, or you wouldn’t be going home. But being there doesn’t always mean you have to spend a lot of time with your abuser. If there are kids at your celebration, why not go off and play with them? Offering to help set the table or cook can also get you out of their vicinity. And bathroom trips make for a great emergency break or opportunity to leave the conversation.
- You don’t have to love abusers.
One thing that can make holidays really hard for the abused is the expectation of saying, “I love you,” to the person who has hurt them. You may be obligated to say it, but that doesn’t mean you mean it. Some love may even exist, but here’s what you have to keep reminding yourself of: loving someone is not consenting to be abused. And if you don’t love them? Great! That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
- Try disagreeing with abusers.
It may not always be safe to disagree, but for many it can be an excellent step towards independence to realize that you can have your own opinion. If you’re stuck in a conversation with an abuser and they’re asserting that cranberry sauce is the best part of dinner- why not try saying, “Ew. I hate cranberry sauce. I think pumpkin pie is the best part”? It signals to your brain that you are a separate person who is allowed to have separate feelings.
- Don’t drink.
It may be tempting for many to get through a rough day like this by drinking a lot. That’s unwise. Drinking makes you say things you might regret, reveal feelings you don’t want known and worst of all- it could put you in danger. The day you’re going to see your abuser is not the day to get drunk.
- Protect yourself.
If you have mace or pepperspray, keep it in your pocket or purse. No, you probably won’t need to use it, but (especially if your abuse was physical or sexual) it will make you feel safer to know you could use it. Even a pocket knife could be reassuring in a pinch, but if an attacker tries to hurt you, don’t wield one unless have some idea what you’re doing or you may get hurt.
- Don’t be alone.
Avoid wandering off by yourself where an abuser can get you alone. Even verbal abusers are dangerous to be alone with, and going to the bathroom or fetching something from the kitchen is much safer if you can get someone to keep you company. If you have to go somewhere alone, hold your cell phone to your ear and pretend to be talking to someone. Many abusers will back off if they see this.
- Be ready to leave.
It’s Thanksgiving. You went through all this work to be here. They’re you’re family. You can’t leave, right? NO! As important as this is to you, it’s crucial that you set boundaries. There should be a point at which you are willing to walk out: decide what that point is ahead of time, if possible. Whether you have to make up an excuse about being sick, leave unannounced or even start “drama,” the ability to leave will protect you mentally and physically.
Remember: going home does not justify past abuse. Although not going might be healthier, if you don’t feel that’s an option, it doesn’t mean your abuse wasn’t so bad or that you liked the abuse. It doesn’t mean you’re consenting to being abused again. It means we live in a culture where family is treated as the most important thing and that you’re trying to build a normal life for yourself. Nothing that happened was your fault.
(like and reblog to help victims survive the holiday!)