Exposure to domestic abuse will undoubtedly affect a child’s long-term psychological well-being, and children become fearful of the very people who are supposed to protect and keep them safe.
The effects of domestic violence on children is often overlooked because it takes place behind closed doors, and was previously considered as nothing more than a family concern.
Domestic violence is referred to as violent or hostile behaviour within the home, whether it’s of a physical, psychological, or sexual nature. It’s used to gain power and control over someone else, typically a spouse.
The effects of domestic violence on children
Children may start to fear both the abuser and non-abuser. They will feel powerless because they’re unable to stop the violence. They may also start to develop some physical and emotional characteristics as a result of being exposed to that violence.
- They may begin bedwetting
- They may start self-harming as a way to comfort themselves
- They may have difficulty sleeping and suffer nightmares
- Become anxious and depressed or develop other mental health problems
- They may become aggressive
- Have feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness
- Develop behavioural issues in the home and at school
- Have feelings of shame, guilt and confusion
From experience, home was not a happy place to live in, there was no love there, it was full of animosity, making it feel like a difficult and unpredictable environment to live in.
School was really my only escape. I hated having to go home, not knowing what would face me when I walked through the door. I was too scared to tell anyone what was happening for fear that the abuse maybe directed towards me for causing embarrassment. I spent most of the time at home feeling fearful and anxious. You could never predict when the violence would start. There was no real trigger. The abuser might not have liked the way his meal was cooked, or he may have had one too many to drink. One day he would beat the living daylights out of his wife and then would be as nice as pie to her the next. It was like living with a real Jekyll and Hyde.
I never felt safe, and there was no-one I could talk to because no-one ever talked about domestic violence back then.
The violence often occurred when I was in my room, usually having gone to bed, so I could hear the muffled sounds of the abuser’s beatings.
I internalised a lot of my feelings which developed into symptoms of depression and anxiety. I was desperately sad and lonely. It was clear that my mental health was suffering, which I didn’t really recognise until much later on.
I started to feel as if everything was my fault. I was the problem. Having to raise someone else’s child must have been a financial burden to them.
I often wondered why she stayed with such a violent person, and why my mother put me in that situation knowing what life was like for her living under the same roof as the abuser.
I was 17 when the abuser died after an illness, and the violence finally stopped. In a way it was a relief, but after almost 9 years of living in that nightmare, I’m living with the aftermath. It has certainly had an impact on my mental health as an adult.