Domestic Violence & Children

Children have a high propensity to misinterpret situations, and need their perceptions about events validated. Different kinds of events call for different kinds of intervention and the insidious effects of chronic domestic violence have impact on the development and mental health of children exposed to abuse. We reviewed some of the methods for addressing the behavior during/ post abuse and consider here some of the generalities about the many conflicts that can arise in shared custody relationships.

According to Lundy Bancroft in his book, When Dad Hurts Mom, Helping Your Children Heal The Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, the deeper you delve into the child’s experience, the more you will be able to make them feel that you are holding them through their confusion and distress. Children experience domestic violence by seeing incidents happen or witnessing the after effects of an altercation, hearing the incidents take place, witnessing the impact on the survivor, and sensing the atmosphere of intimidation. But children’s interpretations and perceptions matter as much as their experiences. Children will often blame themselves for parental disputes and so it is important to learn what they understand about what had happened and to clarifying the feelings/meanings which they had assigned to events witnessed. Without exaggeration or over promising validate, reassure and clear up misconceptions. Most children hide their feelings, and as a result may exhibit abnormal side effects triggered by things that happen around them, confuse, or generate a strong emotional reaction. Researchers have found that a range of behavioral problems is common. Therefore encourage children to talk about their feelings and traumatic events explicitly to validate their sense of reality.

In fact, the emotional effects of witnessing domestic violence can be similar for children exposed to violence on a battlefield in that both groups endure loss, uprooting, and separation. But it may come as a surprise that the effects of domestic violence should be looked at as potentially more emotionally damaging to the survivor. Consider “symptoms of PTSD from crisis and domestic violence fall into 3 groups (Re-experiencing, Avoidance & Numbing; & Increased Arousal) here “Type 1 Traumas” are defined as responses to single, sudden, unexpected stressors and “Type II Traumas” long-standing, chronic stressors (e.g., chronic family violence). That “Type II traumas may result in secrecy and silence, (i.e. sexual abuse) Contrasts clearly with dramatic public events (i.e. disasters), Type II traumas.

Where children of war suffer along with adults collectively in an open setting, domestic violence survivors suffer privately and leading to stresses associated with disenfranchised grief. One can imagine the isolating effects embarrassment of sharing feelings may put on the survivor, and therefore recover take more time and additional therapy. “When much of what they heard and saw was remarkably similar to what the children of war heard and saw, these children were forced to endure their pain and sorrow in secrecy, silence, and isolation.” “Children Exposed to Domestic Violence” Helene Berman. Note, children who are able to “renew ties with at least one family member experienced fewer post-migration difficulties than those who lacked any family contact.” It reinforces that even though the separation of the abuser/survivor may be unavoidable for the adults involved, and even though the most dangerous time for the survivor is the period in which they are leaving the abuser, It would still very important for the children to maintain some semblance of the family unit. In allowing a child to maintain their relationship, we keep them feeling secure in their identity as apposed to separating children from an abuser can cause a fixation of thought, and that it is healthier for children caught in domestic violence situations to maintain contact and visitation (although forbidding communication with the survivor). Further, “Children of war typically experience “Cultural Bereavement” and subsequent identity problems as they strive to reconcile conflicting cultural values and beliefs” (Eisenbruck, 1988)

Sometimes an abuser may use visitations to undercut the survivors efforts, and attempt to create post-separation difficulties on the survivor. Survivors are encouraged not to speak badly about the abuser to their children. Researchers have found that the closer children feel to the abuser the more deeply hurt they are by their mistreatment. Here children may do an about-face and blame the survivor reproachfully asking them to forgive the abuser. Studies have also found that the closer children feel to the survivor, the better they do and that the better the children understand what is happening, the easier/healthier the situation can be. More work must be done to investigate the scope of broad effects domestic violence, and recognize the seriousness of the attention needed to access its effects on society.