Coping with Verbal Abuse This Christmas
Christmas is celebrated as a time of peace and joy, but for anyone coping with verbal abuse, the holiday season can be quite the opposite. Perhaps you're forced to spend time with a manipulative or criticizing family member you wouldn't normally see, or maybe the emotional vampire lives under your roof. Either way, verbal and psychological attacks can become more frequent and intense over the holidays, causing anyone in the firing line to become drained and withdrawn. Here's why abusers act worse at the holidays, and how to cope with verbal abuse when it begins.
Coping with Verbal Abuse Because Your Abuser Is Stressed
Are Verbal Abusers Unable to Cope with the Stress of Christmas?
It's not uncommon for stress levels to increase during the holidays. Most of us find shopping for gifts, cooking Christmas dinner, and hosting family events to be emotionally taxing, and none of us feel at our best. Throw alcohol, bad weather, travel stress, and junk food into the mix and you've got a recipe for conflict for even the healthiest relationship.
Anyone with a controlling personality will find Christmas almost impossible to cope with. There's the sensory overload, the financial burden, and the lack of alone time away from family members -- all of which can be overwhelming to someone who's used to making the rules. That's not to say that all people who crave control are abusive, because they're not. But the stress can trigger verbal abuse from someone who is predisposed to abusive behavior or cause existing abuse to worsen.
From my experience, stress makes verbally abusive behavior worse, which is why Christmas seemed to cause far more problems for me and my ex than any other time of year. He wanted us to visit his family rather than mine (despite having problems with his mother that always made him miserable and hostile toward me), he put in long hours at work but didn't want me to go out with my friends, he withheld physical contact, he refused to let me spend money on gifts -- the list goes on. Sufficed to say, his behavior over the holidays didn't make for a particularly merry time for either of us.
How to Cope with a Verbally Abusive Christmas
If you're stuck with a verbal abuser this Christmas, here are some strategies to help you cope:
- Take care of yourself: The nature of abuse is inherently selfish. Your abuser is unable to take your feelings into account and he or she cannot be reasoned with. It's common to feel as though you have no voice, like you don't matter. If you're not careful, you will exhaust your energy trying to meet this person's demands, so make time to care for yourself in between the inevitable conflicts when coping with verbal abuse.
- Confide in others: Abusive relationships isolate us from those closest to us, even during the holidays. Your partner might not be happy about you spending time with your loved ones (as this lessens his or her hold over you) but it's important that you confide in at least one person about what's happening.
- Set boundaries: If you're not willing to shut an abusive person out of your life, you need to put some boundaries in place. When the verbal abuse starts, tell the person that what is being said or done is out of line, and you expect to be treated with respect; say it even if you have to say it over Christmas dinner. Calmly explain that you will walk away if that person can't reason with you, and follow up on this threat when coping with verbal abuse -- even if it's just for a few minutes.
- Create a safety plan: Sadly, there is a fine line between verbal and physical abuse at the best of times, so you're never really safe if your partner exhibits controlling or manipulative behavior. Many victims find that when they try to regain control (either by setting boundaries, refusing to do what their abuser demands or by leaving the relationship) the abuse gets worse, so you need to tread carefully if you're in this situation. Have a plan in place in case you need to leave this Christmas, and factor in that transport may be disrupted and banks will be closed for a few days. Arrange to stay with a friend and store some money somewhere safe so you can make a quick exit.
Don't Try to Cope with Verbal Abuse Alone This Christmas
Not only does verbal abuse lead to anxiety and stress for the victim, but it can also be triggering for perpetrators of abuse. Make no mistake, there is no excuse for abuse of any kind, but there is usually a pattern of behavior and it helps to understand it. Often an inability to cope with anger, failure, or difficult emotions can cause an abusive person to lash out -- so it makes sense that verbal abuse is most prevalent during the holidays.
If you're worried about your safety, please visit our hotline numbers and referral resources page for numbers you can call. Don't wait for the abuse to get worse before you tell someone that you're coping with verbal abuse. As ever, thank you for reading, and please stay safe and well this Christmas.
Smith, E. (2017, December 12). Coping with Verbal Abuse This Christmas, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/12/coping-with-verbal-abuse-this-christmas
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
I am glad I came across this article. It's the day before New Year's Eve and I am lying in bed, crying, wishing the pain would end. I spent Christmas alone because my significant other had become angry at me. Cursing at me, calling me names, telling me to leave him alone and not to speak to him, telling me I am a waste of life. I didn't go see my family for the holiday, they have seen a little of what I go through and want me to leave him. I did two years ago, but he talked me in to coming back and it's been worse than before. I'm exhausted from never feeling peace. It doesn't matter how hard I try, it takes the smallest thing to set him off. He has said things to me that shakes me to the bone, I would never repeat the words. Then, he tries to convince me that I am the one doing it to him and if I don't agree and apologize, then it's like he punishes me. I do love the person he is when he's not upset, but it's becoming not worth it any more. I'm bonded by my heart and my brain is numb. I can't even be myself any more. I miss my family most of all but too scared to reach out for help. Any time I've vented to a person, he has found out and has made me regret it. This is the closest to sharing my experiences I'm willing to get at this moment. I apologize for doing so on your blog post. I feel so alone and want it all to end. Your post has warmed my soul though my body is cold.
Emma- Marie, Great article! I imagine this will mean so much for a ton of people out there needing to see this. -Emily
I guess my position is a little different. My boss is the one who is verbally abusive. I'm afraid if I try to set boundaries, I will get fired so I haven't said anything to him. The crazy thing is that everyone acknowledges this behavior from him but no one will do anything about it. I need the job for the money so all I can do is look for another job and just take his abuse in the mean time.
Megan, I'm so sorry! Thank you for reaching out. Every situation is different and in the case of a verbally abusive boss -- you can't just leave, you have to support yourself of course. Stay strong Megan! Good luck in your new job search and hang in there in the meantime. Thanks for reaching out and please do so anytime. -Emily
* There's an article I think may be useful for you about coping strategies for when you can't just leave.
I think this is such a wonderful and important read. Most people slap the label of "merry and joy" on the holiday season without really acknowledging all that goes into it. The holidays are a totally normal time to feel stress, and it can definitely make some tricky situations arise. I love your suggestions for coping and healthy management. Wishing everyone a truly blessed holiday season.
Thank you Lizanne! I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year :)