The Effects of Domestic Violence: Family & Society

Unspoken, destructive, and hidden from the outside world. Domestic violence. In grade school it is rarely talked about.

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October is Domestic Violence awareness month, yet no one said a word. In order to prevent this, we must first understand it. What is domestic violence? It is a pattern of controlling and manipulating behavior that is meant to subdue and take all the power in a relationship. Intimate partner violence is a more specific type of domestic violence, it is any abuse in the family by a romantic partner, this can include physical, psychological, financial, or sexual. More often than not it is physical. And even more often than that, the children are involved as well. Domestic violence is destructive to anyone in its path, however, it is the children that suffer the most. Their childhood and innocence is stripped at a young age and all they know is pain and violence because it is all they have ever seen in the most developmental stages of their lives. Childhood exposure to domestic violence has various negative effects on the child’s behavior, mental health, school performance, and future relationships. There are several theories as to why violence in the family occurs. The feminist theory is based on the patriarchal society whereas women are often objectified and seen as property to men. Violence occurs to keep the men in power and to keep the wife to stay in their domesticated place. Of course any gender can fall victim, however, the feminist theory seems to explain a large number of cases.

To begin with, even though the violence is primarily between the parents, the children observe, listen, and suffer the most. Childhood exposure to domestic violence occurs when children see, hear, or are directly involved such as attempting to intervene or being a victim physically and mentally, as well as experiencing the aftermath with the parents. (Evans, Davies, Derillo, 2008). In other words, the child may hear one of their parents yelling, seeing a parent get battered, seeing the abused parent cry, or the violence may be so fueled with anger it find a way to blame the children too. It affects millions upon millions of children every year, In fact, 17.8 million violent domestic acts are in the presence of children (Evans, Davies, Derillo, 2008). Children are usually born into an already violent household. Many people start to have children because they believe it will change the outcome of the relationship. However, it rarely stops or changes. Usually, the violence just extends to the children. According to the domestic violence hotline, 30-60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence abuse the children as well. Children who grow up in a violent household that is circled around patriarchal and anti-feminist beliefs have a set way of growing up. With a particular way of thinking, morals, and mindset. Violence is used to enforce gender norms, discipline, and as an expression of masculinity (O’hara, Namy 2017).

Childhood exposure to domestic violence is detrimental in virtually every aspect of a developing person. The mere threat that violence poses may be overwhelming for some children, producing a level of physiological and affective arousal that they cannot effectively manage. (Fosco, 2007). It interferes with the stability of their emotions, their behavior in society, and affects every aspect of their future endeavors. exposure to domestic violence may sensitize children to stress and undermine their capacity to regulate their effect; Difficulty regulating emotion, in turn, is likely to increase children’s risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Grych, 2000; Scheeringa & Zeanah, 1995). According to the national child traumatic stress report, some immediate effects of childhood exposure may include anxiety, depression, nightmares, angry outbursts, codependency on a particular parent, physical health problems, and physical pain with seemingly no cause. Witnessing violence between parents also may lead children to become hypervigilant to signs of anger and conflict in relationships outside of the family and to appraise them as more threatening than the situation would warrant (Grych 2007).

With each age of childhood exposure, comes it own set of damaging effects. While every child, situation, and reactions are different, the effects may be immediate or delayed as well as the severity can differ. Some examples of what a child may experience from age of birth to five years of age may include, being strongly influenced by one of their parent’s reactions (Days 2016). Meaning that if an infant witnesses either one of their parent reacting aggressively or violently to something. The infant may learn to react that way with little inconveniences or with something they do not want to do, this goes along with another common trait which is being easily irritable and fussy. An infant may also be easily startled (Days 2016). What is happening to them is incomprehensible at that age however, it is the most developmental stages of their lives. They will often hear loud and terrifying noises accompanied by the few people that the infant knows being either angry or injured. It leaves the child with the knee-jerk reaction of scared. Often times, the infant may cling to a parent. In most cases it is the victim of the violence, this may be due to sharing the same fear and anxiety. Some reactions that a normal infant may have may be deemed to be not masculine enough, thus starting the toxic masculinity early and encompassing in into a young impressionable child.

Domestic violence disrupts every developmental stage of a child. The next documented stage is elementary school age children, ages six to eleven. They most likely will have trouble concentrating in school, trouble with finishing schoolwork, and trouble with classmates (Days 2016). When a house is filled with domestic violence there is no home to go back to. The house is filled with walking on eggshells along with constant anxiety and fear. It is possible that school is one of the only peaceful and somewhat quiet places a child can escape to. Frankly, schoolwork is the last thing on their mind. One may even want to get detention and stay after so as to avoid going home. As for the trouble against peers, when children are the victims of violence, they may be more likely to view violence as an acceptable form of emotional expression or conflict resolution (O’Keefe, 1997). The act of violence is a seemingly normal reaction to the child. Therefore they are likely to exhibit violent behavior against friends or classmates as a way of solving issues or just simply communicating. In some instances, they may even enjoy inflicting pain on others. Social learning theory suggests that children who frequently witness violence in the home may come to perceive it as a normative way to resolve disagreements with others, especially if it results in some gain for the perpetrator, and argues that the behavior of the same-sex parent is especially salient to children (Goodman, Barfoot, Frye, & Belli, 1999; Marcus et al., 2001). Children may also become quiet and withdrawn (Days 2016.) This may be both at school or at home. If it is at home, it is because the child does not feel like they are at home, it is dangerous grounds and at times it is best to stay withdrawn and quiet. If it is at school, it may be because the child is distracted, embarrassed, possibly doesn’t know how to act or react and what is right and wrong anymore.

When the child grows into preteen-teen years, their personality and the way they react in society and others may be a permanent personality trait. Ages thirteen to eighteen years of age may experience generalized depression, anxiety, and frequent nightmares (Days 2016). The child’s home is now a trigger for anxiety attacks and nightmares. It is hard to differentiate the reality at home with the nightmares, there may even be symbolic symbols of the violence and fear in the dreams. A child may often experience emotional numbing (Grych 2007). Domestic violence is a traumatic event, so much so that there were children diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, emotional numbing is a common effect. According to the childhood trauma center when children grow up in a violent household they are twice as likely to be in one when they are older as well. This includes both the feminist theory and the social learning theory. The boys grow into men, having the toxic masculinity and the need for a dominant mindset results in violent future relationships with their future partner. This scenario can also explain the social learning theory, whereas they saw their dad do it and learned that it is an appropriate reaction in relationships. On the other hand, due to the feminist theory the girls grow into women and have the mindset as being the subordinate to men, and therefore are likely to fall into relationships with dominant abusers. While the child may move out at when fully grown, the effects of growing up with domestic violence travel far into adulthood. It is a lifelong battle to overcome the damage it has done socially, emotionally, and physically.

Growing up in a household with domestic violence can be very lonely, especially if there are no siblings to turn to for support. A parents’ capacity to provide proper care may be compromised in violent families; Mothers in abusive relationships tend to report higher levels of parenting stress (Holden et al., 1998), feel less warm and effective as parents (Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001) and experience problems with depression, self-esteem, and psychological distress (Grych 2007). A developing child needs a support system, to be disciplined while still having proper emotional support. In a violent household, these are hard to come by. The abused parent is likely suffering as battered and they become the shell of what they once were. There may be small-scale personality, parenting, and childhood bonds. As for the other parent, the abuser, it has been shown to also have a low parenting rate. In the traditional case where the father is the abuser his maltreatment and lack of involvement with their children add to the impact of interparental violence for children (Holden et al., 1998; Holden & Ritchie, 1991), and that children’s self-concept is poorest when the perpetrator of violence is a child’s father rather than step-father (Grych 2007). There is a lot of blame in a violent household, the abuser blames the victim, the victim blames themselves, and the child blames just about everyone. Even more so with young age. Young victims of physical abuse routinely experience feelings of isolation, shame, fear, and guilt. (Herrenkohl 2008). A child may think that their bad actions caused the abuser to lash out. Often times the child may blame the victim, thinking they did something to deserve it. Especially the older they get they start questioning why they were put in this position, questioning why the parent married someone like this, why they have not left, why they have not loved them enough to protect them from the darkness of their father. It can be very easy to blame the victim. However, this is not the only case. There have been reports of more conflictual relationships with the fathers, blaming them for causing the argument (Grych 2007). Every family situation is different and it differs from each household. Though there is one thing that stays the same, just one decent relationship between child and parent can make all the difference. Maintaining a positive and emotionally nurturing relationship with at least one parent may help diminish the degree to which children feel threatened, anxious, or unable to cope (Grych 2007). Unfortunately, under most circumstances, this is rarely possible.

Despite all the darkness and severe childhood trauma, children are resilient. While there are many obstacles to overcome, mental stability, school performance, and outside relationships all become compromised. However, it is not impossible to heal, lead a normal life, and to break the everlasting cycle of violence. According to Unicef, one of the most vital things the child needs is a sense of routine and normalcy. Escaping from a violent household is difficult, though not impossible. Having a home to go back to is one of the first things a child needs to start the healing process. It is important to have some form of close relationship with an adult, someone to confide in and trust. Lastly, support services is a helpful and effective way to cope after trauma. Such as a therapist to help the child understand what had happened, to teach that there is more to life and violence is not the way. The cycle of violence is a whirlwind of destruction to get stuck in, though it can be escaped.

Domestic violence is unspoken, destructive, and hidden from the outside world. It destroys families and every single person in it. Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling and manipulating behavior that is meant take hold of all the power in a relationship. Intimate partner violence is when it occurs in a romantic relationship. There is never a good way to figure out what is going on behind closed doors. A family could seemingly be happy and loving. One would not have the slightest clue that every night the father hurts his family in ways that the outside world won’t be able to see the scars. Millions upon millions of children are exposed to domestic violence every year. Childhood exposure to domestic violence has various negative effects on the child’s behavior, mental health, school performance, and future relationships. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression also are found more often than the norm in abuse victims during and after abuse (Herrenkohl 2008). The feminist theory is based on the patriarchal society whereas women are often objectified and seen as property to men. Violence occurs to keep the men in power and to keep the wife to stay in their domesticated place. The feminist theory may not explain every case of intimate partner violence, though, it is the reason for most. In the traditional husband is the abuser case, it is because society has taught men since the beginning of time to be dominant over women. Violence occurs with a correlation to toxic masculinity. It will never cease to exist but it can be managed.

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