The holidays are often associated with joy, celebration and spending time with loved ones. However, for many sexual abuse survivors, it can trigger memories of traumatic events or place them in front of people who are unsupportive or apathetic to their situation.

While dealing with these matters can be difficult, there are ways you can set boundaries, care for yourself and navigate situations you find uncomfortable during the holidays.

How you can manage holiday gatherings

Whether you faced sexual abuse recently or years ago, here’s how you can cope:

  • Prioritize self-care: Family gatherings and the social expectations of others can feel taxing – especially for sexual abuse survivors. Even if you plan to attend gatherings, factor in time for things that spark joy. Take long walks, listen to your favorite music or take extra time off work if you can. Any activity that’s healthy and reenergizes you is worth it.
  • Plan ahead: If you plan to attend holiday events, there’s a chance you could run into someone who knows, is associated with, or is even related to your abuser. If so, devise a strategy to avoid interacting with people who make you uncomfortable. However, if you run into them or someone you meet asks about your previous trauma, remember that you’re in control of your story. If you don’t want to talk about your trauma, you don’t need to. You can also rehearse some responses to help change the subject.
  • Know when to say no: While you may feel obliged to attend holiday events and gatherings, you are the only one who decides whether you go or not. However, you may also feel guilty for rejecting an invitation. Doing what is best for you is what’s most important. And while you may feel mean, rude or dismissive for saying no, you can rehearse ways to decline an invite politely and respectfully.
  • Lean on your support system (and tell them what you need): You know the people who have been by your side during tough times. Whether they’re a family member or a close friend, leaning on them for support and comfort can provide you with peace of mind. However, only you know how others can best support you. If you know how you would like to receive that support from loved ones, tell them. Then, you can get what you need, and they know what to give you.

Make the holiday season easier on yourself

While the holidays are associated with joy and good cheer, sexual abuse survivors can associate it with fear, anxiety and dread. How you navigate this time of year can impact your mental health and well-being. Even if it’s a challenging time for you, you can navigate the holiday season with peace of mind by understanding your needs and setting boundaries.