Last week my column focused on Lilly, a domestic abuse survivor. What about her children; how do they survive witnessing domestic violence. Now lets talk about the children.
The statistics reveal that 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence, 90% are eye witnesses. Men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are 3-4 times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence as adults than men who did not.
Witnessing can mean SEEING actual incidents of physical/and or sexual abuse. It can mean HEARING threats or fighting noises from another room. Children may also OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, etc. Finally children may be AWARE of the tension in the home such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway.
Children who are exposed to battering become fearful and anxious. They are always on guard, watching and waiting for the next event to occur. They never know what will trigger the abuse, and therefore, they never feel safe. They feel powerless.
They grow up with secrets, chaos and craziness. They feel isolated and vulnerable. They are starved for attention, affection and approval.
The emotional responses of children who witness domestic violence may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, and anger (at both the abuser for the violence and at the mother for being unable to prevent the violence).
Physical responses may include stomach aches and/or headaches, bedwetting and inability to concentrate.
The behavioral responses of children who witness domestic violence may include acting out, withdrawal, or anxiousness to please. The children may exhibit signs of anxiety and have a short attention span which may result in poor school performance and attendance. They may use violence to express themselves displaying increased aggression with peers or mother. They can become self-injuring.
Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems.
So the cycle continually repeats itself until the cycle is broken. AND IT MUST BE BROKEN!!!
Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City
If you would like to send a question to Vicki, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org