Children who grow up around domestic violence are affected,even if they are never directly abused. Sometimes they are assaulted when an abused partner throws things. Other times they to try to step between the batterer and the victim. They may become injured when trying to “protect” the abused parent from violence. And it is always emotionally damaging to witness psychological, emotional, and physical violence.
When young people live surrounded by fear, negative moods, family stress, and parental violence, there is a profound long-term impact. Research shows children who live with domestic violence often develop psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems.
The Center for Disease Control found that children who witness abuse are at greater risk of:
- alcohol and substance abuse;
- health conditions like cancer, depression, and diabetes;
- poor performance in school; and
- an early death.
Children who grow up around domestic violence also believe it is normal, and often repeat the cycle of violence in their own adult lives.
Children may experience a range of feelings about living with abuse, even if they don’t say it out loud. Depending on their age, they may:
- Feel responsible for the abuse, thinking, “If I had been a good girl/boy the violence wouldn’t have happened.”
- Carry guilt for not stopping the abuse.
- Experience constant anxiety.
- Grieve when they are separated from the abuser. They may also grieve for the positive image they had of the abuser before they knew about or experienced the abuse.
- Feel ambivalent. They may have positive and negative feelings about the abuser and/or the victim.
- Be afraid of abandonment. After leaving behind the abusive parent/guardian, they may be scared the victimized parent will leave them or die.
- Seek constant attention from adults.
- Fear being physically harmed. A significant percentage of children who witness domestic violence are also physically abused.
- Be embarrassed. Older children may especially be ashamed of how other people view the family.
- Worry deeply about the future. Because the violence is unpredictable, children learn to live in a state of constant uncertainty.
Note: Our intention is to provide the above information as a guide to understanding domestic violence in context. Because every situation is different, and the spectrum of domestic violence is broad, not all of these examples or theories apply to everyone.