What Are The Effects Of Domestic Violence On The Family And Children?

Updated March 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

The home is supposed to be a safe space in which to grow up, develop, and thrive. We often rely on those closest to us for support, compassion, and guidance. So, when the home is a setting for violence, there are often severe and wide-ranging effects. Domestic violence—violent behavior on the part of an intimate partner, family, or other close relation—can lead to serious mental and physical effects, some of which are not readily apparent. While people who are in abusive relationships often have a hard time removing themselves from the situation, there are options 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 options for survivors to get support. 

What Is Domestic Violence?

Have Questions About The Effects Of Trauma?

To understand the effects of domestic violence on the family, it is first important to understand what is meant by domestic violence. , also called intimate partner violence when involving a romantic relationship, involves the physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse of one person by another.

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 through violence, they use this strength to exert control over the other person. Though women and children, along with the elderly, are the most common survivors of domestic violence, men also experience abuse. When you don’t know what signs to look for, it can be difficult to recognize abuse. Even some survivors don’t know that they are experiencing domestic violence right away. Many believe at the time of the abuse that it is a one-time occurrence. Domestic violence, however, frequently develops into a pattern of behavior that worsens over time; if someone has demonstrated abusive behavior, they will most likely continue that behavior.

Domestic violence is a serious issue; it can damage the mental, physical, and emotional health of the individual and contribute to generational cycles of violence. Children who grow up in abusive households are more likely to experience abusive relationships as adults, and adults who experience it experience significantly higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, unchecked domestic violence can escalate into life-threatening situations.

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. You can simply search for "domestic violence counseling near me" to get the list of your nearest options.

Who Is Affected By Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence affects 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 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 resources, and concern regarding the response of others.  

Having conversations about domestic violence and listening to the stories of survivors is a vital part of addressing to the issue. 

Effects Of Domestic Violence On Adults

Because people respond to traumatic events in different ways, the effects of abuse will vary from person to person. One common impact of domestic violence is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research shows that women, for example, who experience intimate partner violence 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 often develop following abuse include depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder. 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. 

The physical effects of abuse 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. Additionally, individuals who are experiencing abuse often exhibit behavior that is uncharacteristic. For example, someone who is normally gregarious 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, consider reaching and offering support in a safe and appropriate manner. 

Effects Of Domestic Violence On Children And Adolescents

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 anxiety. Experiencing abuse as a child can lead to serious mental health challenges later in life, such as depression and substance use disorder. 

child growing up in an abusive environment may struggle to visualize or prepare for the future, leading to challenges in school and behavioral concerns. Children may also internalize the negative effects of abuse. The child might begin to feel as if the abuse is their fault. Commonly, abuse leads to a disruption in the family structure. Divorce or separation is a frequent result, which can cause further challenges in the lives of a child. 

The effects of domestic violence are not always easy to see. Some children experiencing domestic violence may try to hide it. Common   include:

  • Low self-esteem

  • Nightmares

  • Apathy

  • Hypervigilance

  • Regression and withdrawal

  • Aggression and disobedience

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Anxiety

  • Sleep difficulties

  • Bed-wetting

  • Stuttering

  • Thumb-sucking

  • Frequent crying

Experiences of domestic violence may also manifest as physical symptoms. 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:

  • Poor grades, numerous absences, or dropping out of school entirely

  • Eating disorders

  • Depression

  • 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

  • Low self-esteem

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 adults. 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. Every child will respond differently to domestic violence and trauma. One of the best ways to support a child experiencing the effects of abuse is by helping 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 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. 

These resources can help you develop a plan for removing yourself from the situation and give you tips on keeping yourself safe. Telling someone what you’re going through is often the first step toward getting help. Consider contacting a trusted friend or family 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

Have Questions About The Effects Of Trauma?

Studies show 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 mentions the ability of online therapy to overcome barriers like perceived stigma, which often prevents survivors of abuse from seeking help.  

If you’re living with mental health challenges related to domestic violence or similar concerns, know that help is available. 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’ll respond when they’re able. A licensed mental health professional can help you develop the tools necessary to process your emotions related to abuse and move forward in life. Read below for reviews of licensed BetterHelp therapists from those who have sought help for similar concerns. 

Therapist Reviews

“Dr. Walsh 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 come with 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!!!”


Domestic violence can have far-reaching impacts on the individuals who survive or witness it. It can negatively affect one’s physical and mental health, as well as their ability to function and embrace life. If you’re living with the effects of abuse, trauma, or similar concerns, know that help is available. The above resources can help you determine what next steps to take in order to address the situation. You deserve to have a safe, nurturing home life and to experience the mental and emotional well-being that often accompany it.   

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