Content Warning: The following article discusses domestic violence in several contexts, including descriptions of violence toward women and children. If you have experienced or witnessed domestic violence and need help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) is available 24 hours a day.
Your home is supposed to be your safe space. If you have children, the home should also be a safe space to grow up, develop, and thrive in. Your partner is supposed to be supportive, love you unconditionally, and bring you happiness. Unfortunately, this isn’t how all homes or relationships function. For many people, a home is a place of fear, hurt, and confusion. Worse still is that the majority of the people in these situations find themselves trapped and don’t know where to turn. Some people may start in safe, loving relationships and homes that then turn for the worst. Other people have been in dysfunctional, unsafe, and unloving relationships from the start but never had the tools to get out of the situation.
These experiences are a terrible reality for approximately 35 percent of women worldwide who have experienced domestic violence or abuse. Domestic violence is not solely directed towards women, either; a reported one in four men experience some form of domestic violence, as well as one out of every seven children in the United States. Anyone can be targeted. If you have experienced domestic violence, please know that you are not alone, and abusive behavior is not your fault.
Domestic violence is a serious issue; it can leave physical and psychological scars and contribute to generational cycles of violence. Children who grow up in abusive households are more likely to experience abusive relationships as adults and may even become perpetrators of domestic violence themselves. Furthermore, unchecked domestic violence can escalate into life-or-death situations.
If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, finding help is key to long-term recovery, whether through legal action, a domestic violence hotline, psychological counseling, or some combination of the three. This article will cover the common effects of domestic violence on families and children and provide ways to get support.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Abusers can be intimate partners, spouses, parents, siblings, or other household members. They do not need to share a living space with their target for a situation to be considered domestic abuse. It’s not uncommon for individuals in domestic violence situations to make excuses for an abuser or deny that it constitutes abuse. Common forms of abuse include unwanted physical contact, ranging from occasional shoving to sexual assault or rape; emotional manipulation, including “gaslighting,” accusations of infidelity, or threats of harm; and asserting control through denial of financial support or other resources.
The abuser is often the stronger one in the relationship and can exert control over their weaker counterpart. Women and children are common survivors, as are the elderly. Still, men can and are survivors of abuse as well. When you don’t know what signs to look for, it can be difficult to recognize when abused at home. Even some survivors don’t know that they are experiencing domestic violence right away. Why? Many survivors of domestic violence believe at the time of the abuse that it is a one-time thing, especially if their partner assures them that “it will never happen again.” Unfortunately, domestic violence typically develops into a pattern of behavior that worsens over time; if someone has demonstrated abusive behavior, they will most likely continue that behavior.
There is no excuse for domestic violence. Some people believe that their partner is violent because they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Mistakenly, they think that the substance use issue needs to be dealt with, and then all will be fine, and the abuse will stop. While drugs or alcohol can worsen violence because of their effects on the body, they are not the primary cause of domestic abuse. There are plenty of people who use drugs or alcohol and treat their partners with respect.
Domestic violence looks different in every situation, so it’s important not to develop a one-sided view of it. For example, just because someone doesn’t have bruises on their body doesn’t rule out the potential for abuse. Much abuse is done behind closed doors and is emotional, verbal, or psychological. People can be stalked, both online or in-person, without anyone realizing it. Although there may be problems in a relationship or marriage, violence is never the answer.
If you are going through this situation, you want to find supportive people who won’t make excuses for your abuser’s behavior but will help you out of the situation with care and understanding. Domestic violence is never the abused person’s fault—steer clear of anyone who tells you differently. These situations require a high level of compassion and should be free of any judgment. These things only make the situation worse and can keep the person trapped longer than necessary.
Who is Affected the Most by Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence affects people from all backgrounds, races, and classes. Anyone can be a survivor, and looks alone can’t tell you whether or not someone is experiencing abuse. While domestic violence is a widespread, worldwide problem, people don’t always realize just how common it is because many people who experience domestic violence often hesitate to tell anyone. However, remember that approximately one in three women and one in four men have experienced domestic violence.
When generation after generation repeats cycles of abuse, it can cause the family unit to breaking down. Since the family unit affects so many other aspects of life, this is a huge concern. Once you consider family members and children who are also impacted by domestic violence, it quickly becomes a problem that affects society. If you have experienced domestic violence, you may have felt isolated or alone in your situation, especially if your abuser has kept you from other meaningful relationships. Still, you are not alone, and there is hope.
All this being said, domestic violence isn’t just a private matter for the family to deal with. Since its effects reach out into society, everyone must do their part to help (in a safe manner, of course). Consider all the ways society is affected by a singular family experiencing abuse at home. There are fees for lawyers, hospital or ER bills, court fees, medication costs, and possible time spent in prison. Those experiencing domestic violence often need to seek mental health services to help sort out the trauma they’ve experienced.
Sometimes abuse experienced at home makes its way to the workplace and puts even more people at risk of being hurt who weren’t even aware of the situation. On the flip side that, domestic violence also keeps people from going to work at times, which can have devastating effects on their financial situation, their place of work, and the economy as a whole. The more people there are experiencing domestic violence, the more people there are missing work. When one person suffers, society does as well.
If someone confides in you about the abuse they’re experiencing; it’s important to listen to them. Since many people keep quiet in fear of repercussion, believing people when they share their stories is also essential. Making domestic violence a societal issue rather than a private one makes it more likely the problem will garner attention and, hopefully, reduce the number of incidents we see.
Domestic Violence and Children
Even if a child is not directly abused, when they grow up in an environment of domestic abuse or violence, they live with fear and anxiety that something will set the abuser off or spark a violent episode. They are more likely to grow up thinking this type of behavior is normal or necessary, and as teenagers and adults, they may try to replicate that behavior.
For children experiencing or living adjacent to domestic violence, their development can be deeply impacted by the constant need to protect themselves and other loved ones from the abuser. A child growing up in an abusive environment may struggle to visualize or prepare for the future, leading to challenges in school and problematic behaviors.
Children may also absorb the negative actions of abusive adults in other ways. An abusive parent may manipulate a child into turning against the non-abusive parent, acting as a “spy,” or monitoring another family member’s behavior. The child might then begin to feel as if the abuse is their fault. A child may be spared from direct abuse at a young age but be targeted during adolescence, especially if they try to stand up for loved ones already receiving abuse. Any child who experiences domestic violence will benefit from counseling and support to recover from the trauma that has been inflicted.
Some children experiencing domestic violence may try to hide it, while others may be unable to do so. Common symptoms seen among children subjected to domestic violence include:
Experiences of domestic violence may also manifest as physical symptoms in both children and adults alike. For instance, anxiety may present in the form of diarrhea, nausea, or hives. Symptoms may also change as children grow. Adolescents who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence may exhibit such symptoms as:
The severity of a child’s symptoms can increase over time and often depends on the length of time the child has been exposed to abuse, the extent of the abuse, the age of the child, and whether that child has support from others, including parents, friends, teachers, coaches, and other supportive adults. However, once a survivor of abuse has been removed from the abusive situation and receives therapy and support in a secure environment, they can begin to heal and recover from these symptoms. This is true for adults as well as children.
Support For Child Survivors Of Domestic Violence
No one deserves to be abused, and no one should have to put up with it. You and any children in your care deserve a home life that is safe and nurturing.
A parent still living in an environment of domestic violence should remind their child that the situation is in no way the child’s fault and should try to provide their child with a safe place to stay out of harm’s way if a conflict erupts. A parent should also teach their child to call 911 in an emergency and connect them with other trusted adults who can intervene if needed.
After the fact, adults who have experienced domestic violence situations alongside their children have the added challenge of helping their children survive and recover. Either individual or family counseling can help family members recover together and lead happier, healthier lives moving forward.
Every child will respond differently to domestic violence and trauma. Therefore, their reaction to counseling will also vary depending on the child. In general, if kids have supportive adults in their life, healthy friendships, and can develop a strong sense of self-esteem and confidence, they are more likely to be resilient in their recovery. Counseling is all about helping children process their emotions, giving them tools to regulate what they’re feeling, and finding healthy ways to cope with their memories.
Support For Adult Survivors of Domestic Violence
If you are in a situation where you or your children are survivors of domestic violence or abuse, help is available. Your privacy will be respected, and any information you share will remain confidential.
If you are in a home or relationship with domestic violence, it’s important to tell someone. Find a trusted friend or family member or call one of the hotlines listed above. Although you feel trapped now, telling someone what you’re going through is often the first step to getting help and getting away from the situation. Even if you are not ready to leave the relationship, telling someone is still important. You should always have a plan in place to leave safely). Your safety and the safety of your child(ren) are what matter most.
BetterHelp Can Support You
Whether you are concerned about the logistics of getting to appointments with a therapist or about an abuser stopping you from those appointments, BetterHelp provides a safe, flexible alternative through online counseling. You can arrange confidential sessions with a licensed mental health professional around your schedule when you have privacy, and you can meet through whatever format works best for you: phone calls, video chats, emails, or even text messages. A therapist can talk with you about the effects of domestic violence on your family, including any children in your life, and equip you with tools and strength to find the way forward. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
“Dr. Wal“h has been very supportive in helping me with abuse issues and depression. She has taken lots of time with me, and I appreciate how far I’ve comI’veth her guidance.”
“Sharon” “ Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things; I have moved away from abusive relationships and gained the skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all, my company. I like how direct she is; it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can’t wait to see where I am after working with her for a year!!!”
Finding a way out of a domestic violence situation may seem like a near-impossible task at the moment, but you can start with small steps. You don’t have everything figured out right away. Talking with a professional therapist about what you’re going through can help you regain control over yourself and your life. You may find that talking with a supportive expert will help you build courage for the road ahead.
You deserve a good life, and any children in your care deserve a happy home. Every step you take toward changing a domestic violence situation will bring you closer to those important goals. Take the first step today.
If you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, know that they probably feel very alone. Often, an abuser will isolate the person they’re they’re from their friends and family. This is a major reason survivors don’t reach out for help; they have no one to turn to. Seeking the right kind of help is imperative, so be sure to take the appropriate and safest steps should you learn about someone experiencing domestic violence. You can be the difference between someone remaining in that situation or finally becoming free of it, but it must always be approached with careful thought and safety in mind. Remember that if something seems off or doesn’t seem normal, there’s a chance something is wrong. Trust your gut and get the right people involved right away.