No joy, no peace

The holidays are supposed to be joyous occasions for communion among family members and close friends. For many women and children, however, the winter-holiday season can be a terrifying and sometimes deadly experience.

The sad fact is, the incidence of domestic violence increases during the holidays, leaving families and friends traumatized with feelings of emptiness, fear and hopelessness that carry over into the new year.

Among the causes of the increased violence against women and children during the holidays are such stressors as financial pressures, feelings of isolation and distance, substance abuse and unrealistic expectations.

Instead of joyous times with family and friends gathered together in peace and harmony, loved ones are pushed away by aggressive and potentially lethal behavior. And as in all cases of domestic violence, the perpetrator — usually a man — refuses to accept responsibility for his behavior, blaming his violent reaction to holiday stress on the victims instead.

Domestic violence flourishes and feeds on itself due largely to societal attitudes that regard women and children as property and relationship violence as a private matter. This lays the foundation for future generations to continue the family legacy of violence against the very people they profess to love.

An estimated 3.3 million children who witness family violence at home are likely to grow up to be abusers or abused for, as it is written, the son will do what he sees the father (or male role model in his life) do.

I know from painful experience that domestic violence is a family affair affecting us all. When a woman or child is abused, we all feel the pain.

My only son, Brian, died at the age of 23 during a domestic dispute with his girlfriend over child visitation, and my oldest daughter, Nichole, died from childbirth complications 10 days after being savagely beaten by her husband, who then played defensive back for the Indianapolis Colts.

Warning signs of potentially abusive situations include:

• Financial pressures;

• Physical fatigue or illness;

• Escalating arguments or conflict avoidance;

• Increased restlessness and agitation; and

• Feelings of being controlled or lacking control.

Such experiences can occur at any time of year. Sadly, however, “Victims of domestic violence are less likely to report incidents of violence throughout the holidays as they cling to the image of a perfect Christmas and strive to keep the family intact,” reports a PsycPort news story titled ‘Domestic Violence Peaks Around the Holidays.’

But if the cycle of child abuse and violence against women is ever to be broken, this must change.

If you find yourself in an abusive situation, regardless of the season:

• Talk out your feelings without yelling, name-calling, or putting down your partner — especially in front of children.

• Observe your own physical reactions to escalating tension and conflict (such as shallow or rapid breathing, tightened muscles, increased heart rate, swelling and flushed face).

• Avoid alcohol and other mood-altering substances, as well as people under the influence of alcohol or drugs;

• If assaulted, seek medical attention immediately; and, most importantly,

• Report the incident to the police.

[Michael F. Craig is the founder of Heart of the Family, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering abused women and children through workshops, seminars, conferences and retreats on domestic abuse and teen-dating violence. He has appeared on several popular television and radio talk shows and travels extensively, working with youth organizations. He can be reached at heartofthefamilyinc@yahoo.com. For more information on his teen-dating violence-prevention initiative, visit: http://heartofthefamily.tripod.com.]

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