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As you know, discussions
about domestic violence often focus on what causes the violence to occur. However,
these causes are complex and many professionals disagree regarding exactly what
the causes are. Instead of focusing on causation, this section will focus on what
I consider to be an overlooked and major consequence of domestic violence: the
impact on the children who live with it.
Well over 3.5 million
children are at risk of exposure to parental violence each year. However, as you
may know, many only consider the immediate consequences of this violence, such
as physical injury, police protection, temporary emergency shelter, and medical
treatment. The children are often overlooked in these situations. They become
the unintended victims.
Let's look at three overlooked consequences
of violence in a family I recently treated who was staying in a local shelter.
Rosa, age 22, arrived at the shelter with her three children: Maria, age 8; Ricardo,
age 5; and Miguel, 13 months. Here's how Rosa's three children became the unintended
victims of her battering relationship with her husband.
3 Overlooked Consequences
♦ Consequence #1: Role Reversal.
The first dynamic I noticed when observing
this family was the false maturity of Rosa's oldest child, Maria. Maria was only
8-years old, yet she acted as an adult, which as you may know is often referred
to as a parentified child. Maria stated, "I feed baby Miguel, discipline
my younger brother Ricardo, and run the errands to buy diapers or whatever else
we need. A lot of times I get into fights with my mom over which one of us should
feed baby Miguel. I always think it should be me."
With Maria, I felt this
role reversal was a consequence of the violence she had witnessed between her
parents. I asked Maria if she felt it was not acceptable or safe for her to behave
like a child. Maria stated that she felt safer when she was in control of things.
I assured Maria that both she and her mother and brothers were safe in the shelter.
I asked her what she thought about spending time with another eight-year old at
the shelter and letting the childcare center take care of Miguel for an afternoon.
♦ Consequence #2: Slowed Motor Development.
I noticed a second sometimes overlooked consequence in the children by watching
Ricardo, who, at the age of five, should have been running and jumping and playing.
On the contrary, however, Ricardo could not run, throw, or even catch a ball.
When I asked Ricardo how he liked to play, he stated, "I don't know, I don't
think I know how. Dad always makes me stay in my room when he's home, so I never
see the other kids." I found that Ricardo had boundless energy waiting to
be released because of his years spent as a virtual prisoner in his own home.
The staff devised a structured outdoor program for Ricardo, and soon he was running,
jumping, and climbing, like a five-year old boy should have been.
♦ Consequence #3: Somatic Complaints
addition to Role Reversal and Slowed Motor Development, there is the Overlooked Consequence
of Somatic Complaints. While discussing the violence Maria, age 8, witnessed
in her family, she anxiously bit her fingernails and pulled at her hair. Maria
stated, "I leave to go to the nurse's office at school a lot because of headaches
and stomach aches." Have you also found that children such as Maria will
somaticize their emotions about the violence they witnessed?
As you know, the
children do not realize that their emotions of fear and anxiety are being vented
in these physical behaviors. But by listening I find I am often able to better
understand what the child is experiencing but is unable to communicate with words.
I asked Maria if she thought her stomach aches were worse if her mother and father
had fought the night before. Maria stated, "I guess that could be. Usually
when they have a big fight, I can't stop thinking about it the next day. I worry
about baby Miguel and my mom."
In this section, we have
discussed the 3 possibly overlooked consequences of role reversal, slowed motor
development, and somatic complaints that children may often suffer from as the
unintended victims of domestic violence. Section 2 will provide you with three techniques
for these as well as other consequences.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Harman, J. J., Kruk, E., & Hines, D. A. (2018). Parental alienating behaviors: An unacknowledged form of family violence. Psychological Bulletin, 144(12), 1275–1299.
Kennedy, A. C., Bybee, D., Sullivan, C. M., & Greeson, M. (2010). The impact of family and community violence on children’s depression trajectories: Examining the interactions of violence exposure, family social support, and gender. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(2), 197–207.
Levendosky, A. A., Bogat, G. A., & Huth-Bocks, A. C. (2011). The influence of domestic violence on the development of the attachment relationship between mother and young child. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(4), 512–527.
What are three sometimes overlooked consequences of battering relationships
from which children may suffer? To select and enter your answer go to.