What Are The Effects Of Domestic Violence On The Family?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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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?

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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. 

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, can frequently develop into a pattern of behavior that can worsen over time.

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.

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:

  • Low self-esteem

  • Nightmares

  • Apathy

  • Hypervigilance

  • Regression and withdrawal

  • Aggression and disobedience

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Anxiety disorder formation

  • Sleep difficulties

  • Bed-wetting

  • Stuttering

  • Thumb-sucking

  • Frequent crying

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

  • 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 

  • 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 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. 

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

Have questions about the effects of trauma?

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.  


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 can be made 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. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your area of need.
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