Surviving Hanukkah

From the Awareness Center:

Hanukkah is for many a time filled with wonderful memories of rushing around to purchase gifts and cards for loved ones; of families and friends getting together, lighting the Menorah, eating potato pancakes, and singing the traditional songs.

However, for survivors of childhood abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse), this festive time can be a time where painful memories reemerge. It is not unusual for survivors to need to make decisions about how to best keep themselves safe during the holiday: some may need to spend time with friends who understand their conflicted emotions toward the holiday, some may need to limit their time with their families, while others may not feel safe spending the holiday with family at all. Even for those who make alternate plans, there is often a sense of loss of the loving, healthy family they never had or the memories they wish they’d had. Hanukah–like other times where families traditionally get together–can be a difficult time for those who no longer have contact with family members due to the degree of dysfunction that was (and often still is) in their family.

This is a time of year when a survivor may find it safer to retreat than to participate in holiday functions–the associations and memories may be too painful, too emotions too close to the surface. This is not a failure or wrongdoing, but can be seen as yet another aspect of the aftermath of abuse in the family. It is important that each individual survivor finds what works best for him or her so that they can optimize their ability to stay emotionally healthy. If you decide to be with your family and are nervous about how you’d feel about it, it can be helpful for you to designate ahead of time a ‘safe person’ with home you can debrief afterwards or call if things get tough while with family. It is vitally important that each person be kind to themselves about the decisions they make for holiday plans. The rest of us need to respect the survivor’s decisions, and to understand that they may decide not to participate in Hanukah events.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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