In part one, I spoke about domestic abuse in general. In part two, I want to look at how disturbing domestic abuse is, not only to the victim, but to others.
Of course, after the adult partner (significant other, husband, wife, whatever the intimate partner may be), the next most obvious to be affected by domestic abuse are the children. I’ve spoken to many adults that were raised in households where one of the parents were abused and there’s usually two ways they’ll go…either become abusive themselves or they make themselves a promise that they will never treat someone the way they saw the victim being abused.
Many times, the children feel responsible for the adult’s abusive behavior, feeling that it’s their fault. The children may feel like they must take sides and they fear if they don’t side with the abuser, they will also become a victim. They may turn against the victim, seeing the abuse and thinking the victim is weak because they don’t stand up to the abuser. These are issues that are way beyond the scope of a child’s ability to process.
Sometimes the abuse is hidden from the children, so when the victim does speak out, the children don’t believe them because they never saw it. How could something so terrible be going on in the same house and they not know it was happening? Even if they haven’t seen abuse, there is no way to hide the tension and fear that abuse creates in the home. Children pick up on that and will deal with it in different ways. Some become withdrawn, quiet and timid. Some may start acting out to relieve the stress they are feeling, causing trouble with siblings, at school or in the neighborhood. But having not seen the actual abuse themselves, they may not realize why there is so much underlying tension in the home.
The victim, already exhausted from dealing with the many issues of being abused, may be extra stern, afraid that normal child activity will turn the abuser against the children, or the victim may become extra lenient, trying to over compensate for the actions of the abuser. Some victims try to protect their children from abuse by never speaking of it. Some confine in their children, hoping to gain their sympathy and concern, or simply to prepare them in case something drastic should happen such as if the abuser would kill them, or they would need to flee. Once again, the child may feel they need to take sides or have trouble processing these adult issues.
I’ve spoken with adults who thought, growing up, that their father beating their mother was the way all people lived. It was accepted in their culture and all their friends said it happened in their homes too. This is why talking about domestic violence and spreading the word that it’s not ok to be abusive is so important.
This is just a small summary of the very complicated issues that face children when they live in a household where there is abuse between the heads of the household. And I’ve only spoken here about abuse between the parents, not child abuse. That, of course, is another completely different and tragic topic.
I’m trying to be very careful to not designate a gender to the victim or the abuser. All too often when we hear of domestic violence, we immediately think that the abuser is male, and the victim is female. This is the case a lot of the time, but not all the time and we need to get out of that mind set so that male victims will feel more comfortable reaching out for help.