Navigating the Holidays

Dealing with Family Gatherings After Being Abused by a Family Member

With the end of the year around the corner, survivors are preparing to spend time with family members and friends on New Year’s, Christmas, and other holidays. Family gatherings are at the core of holiday celebrations in our society, as invitations and text messages are beginning to circulate.

For survivors of sexual abuse by a family member, holidays can be especially hard to navigate. While managing emotions, high stress, memories, flashbacks, and triggers that may be brought to the surface, RAINN developed a tip list on how to respond to a family gathering invitation for survivors of sexual abuse by a family member.

  • “I was invited to another gathering with friends.”: Responding to an invitation while mentioning you have other plans and can’t attend is okay. Allow yourself time, space, and the boundaries you need to navigate this difficult time.
  • “I need rest.”: Take the time you need to rest. Responding in this manner honors what you need in moments of high stress.
  • “I will be traveling this year.”: Even if you are or are not traveling, this response can be a way to decline a family gathering. No one needs to know that you may be staying home instead, and that is okay.
  • If you do attend a family event, set a time limit: There is never a right or wrong answer in deciding to go, or not go, to a family event. If you do decide to go, be gentle with yourself and with that decision as well. Allow yourself the space to set a time limit and leave when you are ready to go.
  • You do not owe a response. You do not have to go to family gatherings in the first place: Although many feelings may be brought up in not attending nor declining a family gathering, you have the choice to accept or decline a family event. Remember to be gentle with yourself if you decide to decline a family event, especially if it is your first time doing so.

Deciding to not go to a family gathering can be hard and difficult to navigate. Below are other ways you can enjoy yourself instead of attending a family gathering.

  • Host a friendsgiving
  • Make it a movie day or spa day
  • Volunteer with a local charity organization
  • Spend time with your spouse/partner or child/children
  • Go to another family gathering (where the abuser is not present)

If you or a loved one ever requires support in matters concerning sexual violence or abuse, please, contact us at the National Sexual Assault Hotline by calling 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chatting at where you can receive 24/7 support.

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