Many believe that the home is supposed to be a safe space in which to grow up, develop and thrive. After all—we might often rely on those closest to us for support, compassion and guidance as we get our start. With this in mind, when the home is a setting for violence, there can be severe and wide-ranging effects across the family.
Domestic violence—defined by many as violent behavior on the part of an intimate partner, family member or other close relation—can lead to serious mental and physical effects, some of which may not be readily apparent. While people who are in abusive relationships might have a hard time removing themselves from the situation, there can be options made available that can help them take the next steps toward having a healthy, safe home environment.
This article will cover many of the effects of domestic violence on families and provide possible options for survivors to get support.
What Is Domestic Violence?
To understand the effects of domestic violence on the family, it can be important to understand what is meant by the term “domestic violence”—also called intimate partner violence when involving a romantic relationship. In short, it can involve the physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse of one person (or people) by another (or others).
Common forms of abuse can include unwanted physical contact, ranging from occasional shoving to sexual assault or rape; emotional manipulation, including “gaslighting”, accusations of infidelity or threats of harm—as well as asserting control through denial of financial support or other resources.
The abuser might be the stronger one in the relationship in many cases—and through violence, they might use this strength to exert control over the other person. Though women and children, along with the elderly, are generally regarded as the most common survivors of domestic violence, men can also experience abuse.
If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, finding help can be key to long-term recovery—whether through legal action, a domestic violence hotline, mental health care or other channels.
Who Is Affected By Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence can affect people from all backgrounds, races, and classes. According to the CDC, domestic violence is a reality for approximately 41% of women in the US, while a reported 33% of men experience intimate partner violence in their lives. Additionally, one out of every seven children in the United States will experience abuse or neglect.
Though domestic violence is generally regarded as a widespread issue, it often goes unreported—making its true prevalence hard to grasp. Many people who experience abuse do not report it due to various factors, such as fear of retaliation, lack of reach to resources and concern regarding the response of others.
Having conversat ions about domestic violence and listening to the stories of survivors can be a vital part of addressing the issue successfully. Making domestic violence a societal concern rather than a private one can help increase awareness and reduce the number of incidents.
Effects Of Domestic Violence On Adults
It can be important to note that people can respond to traumatic events in different ways, and that the effects of abuse can vary from person to person. However, understanding the general effects can create a more empathetic and supportive societal experience for abuse survivors. We’ve listed possible effects of abuse below:
Many who experience domestic violence can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research shows that women, for example, who experience intimate partner violence statistically develop PTSD at a rate of between 51% and 75%—which is well above the approximately 10% rate experienced by the general population of women.
Other mental health concerns that can develop following abuse include depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorder. Additionally, the person being abused may feel that they’ve lost control—or in some cases, start to believe that they deserve it—which can lead to self-esteem struggles in general.
The physical effects of abuse can include bruising, fractured bones, tension, disruptions in dietary or sleep patterns and exhaustion. The survivor may try to cover up these signs of abuse with long clothing or makeup, so as not to draw attention from other members of society or the home.
Additionally, individuals who are experiencing abuse might exhibit behavior that is uncharacteristic. For example: Someone who is normally happy and energetic may become withdrawn and reserved.
If you notice that someone in your life is displaying some of these signs or experiencing the above effects, you might consider reaching and offering support in a safe and appropriate manner.
Effects Of Domestic Violence On Children And Adolescents
Children can experience the symptoms or signs of abuse listed above, as well as others.
Even if a child is not directly abused, when they grow up in an environment of domestic abuse or violence, they may live with fear and intense feelings of sadness. This can lead to the formation of mental health conditions later on, such as depression and substance use disorder.
A child growing up in an abusive environment may also struggle to visualize or prepare for the future, possibly leading to challenges in school and behavioral concerns. Children may also internalize the negative effects of abuse. The effects of domestic violence are not always easy to see. Some children experiencing domestic violence may try to hide it. Additional signs to watch for can include:
Regression and withdrawal
Aggression and disobedience
Anxiety disorder formation
Experiences of domestic violence may also manifest as physical symptoms. For instance: Anxiety disorders 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:
Poor grades, numerous absences, or dropping out of school entirely
Becoming abusive themselves, either to their peers or their parents
Substance use disorder
Physical injuries sustained from standing up to their abuser
Running away from home or looking for excuses not to go home
Suicidal thoughts (If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling or texting 988, or by chatting with a representative.)
Symptoms of trauma
Engaging in risky behaviors
Getting in trouble with the law
Trouble making or keeping friends
The severity of a child’s symptoms can increase over time and might depend on the length of time the child has been exposed to abuse, the extent of the abuse and the age of the child. However, with the right approach, a child can begin to heal and recover from these symptoms.
Support For Child Survivors Of Domestic Violence
Children deserve a home life that is safe and nurturing. Many may find that one of the best ways to support a child experiencing the effects of abuse is by helping to build their resilience. You can do this by helping foster a positive mindset, letting them know you’re there for them, giving them an outlet for their emotions and modeling healthy relationships for them.
Therapy can also be a healthy way for children to work through trauma or other effects of domestic violence. Counseling can help children process their feelings, develop tools to control their emotions and find healthy ways to cope with their memories.
Support For Adult Survivors Of Domestic Violence
If you are in a situation where you are experiencing, or are a survivor of, domestic violence, help is available. The following resources can connect you with support and guidance.
National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233)
National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline (1-866-331-9474) or TTY (1-866-331-8453)
RAINN | National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) Choose #1 to talk to a counselor
RAINN’s online private chat
US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health– Provides a list of resources for domestic violence based on where you live.
These resources can help you develop a plan for removing yourself from whatever situation you are in, and can give you tips on keeping yourself safe.
Telling someone what you’re going through can often be the first step toward getting help. You may consider contacting a trusted friend or family member who may be able to give you help in the form of a place to stay, financial support or advice.
Online Therapy Can Support You
If you’re living with mental health challenges related to domestic violence or similar concerns, know that help can be made available. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can choose to participate in therapy anonymously, which can make it more comfortable if you are living with domestic violence.
You’ll also have the option of contacting your therapist outside of sessions; so, if you forgot to mention something during therapy or you have a question about trauma or abuse, you can send them a message, and they can respond when they’re able.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
Studies suggest that online therapy can help individuals cope with the effects of domestic violence. In one study, researchers examined the effectiveness of online therapy for people who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression after surviving intimate partner violence.
After treatment, 41.7% of participants no longer fit the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
The study also references and confirms the ability of online therapy to help many to overcome barriers like perceived stigma, which often prevents survivors of abuse from seeking help.
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