The Effects of Abuse on Children
(“Children Who See and Hear Wife Abuse” Courtesy of Karen Nielsen, M.Ed, RSW, The Family Centre, Edmonton, Alberta)
Children are affected by seeing and hearing abuse. How they are affected depends on a number of factors:
- their age when the abuse began,
- how mom coped,
- and what help and support the child and mom receives.
- During the crisis, the baby’s routine can be interrupted, causing the baby stress.
- An abused mom may have difficulty coping with a baby’s demands at this time.
- The baby may not form a healthy emotional connection with either parent, and so may grow up with many severe psychological problems.
- The baby may tend to sleep poorly, scream excessively, have poor health, or fail to thrive.
Pre-school and school age children
- A child may learn the role of either the abuser or the victim and act out these roles. They may, for example, use aggression to solve problems with others at school. Children as young as two years old have been seen to act out adult violence they have witnessed.
- Boys are more likely to be aggressive, while girl more frequently act out their stress and anxiety by having health complaints (head-aches, stomach aches) and by passive, dependent behaviour (they get “picked on” and don’t stand up for themselves).
- Children who witness partner abuse often have low self-esteem, feel anxious and fearful much of the time, misunderstand the actions of others, become withdrawn and confused, and have difficulty getting along with other children.
- Preschoolers tend to yell more, be more irritable, stutter, shake, rock, have nightmares and other sleep disturbances.
- Children under 10 years tend to blame themselves and believe that they are the cause of the violence.
- In general, young children who witness partner abuse are less able to solve personal problems in assertive and healthy ways.
- Boys may become abusive in their own dating relationships. Girls may accept abuse from boys as a normal part of having a boyfriend.
- Teens may act out in aggressive or delinquent ways. They may run away, assault their mother and younger family members, attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, and/or perform poorly at school.
- Teens frequently assume parenting roles in their family and assume the role of protector. They become “too old, too fast” and don’t get to enjoy their teen years.
- Children 11 years and up don’t usually blame themselves for the violence, but they don’t necessarily assign responsibility to the abuser either. They may excuse him and side with him because he has the power in the family. They may feel angry with mom for not protecting herself.
When the parents separate or dad stops his violence
When the children begin to feel safe, they will often talk about the abuse or draw pictures of it. This is their way of dealing with it and making sense of it. This is normal and healthy behaviour and should not be stifled.
If the parents separate, the children often have mixed feelings. Even though they are relieved to be safe, they may also feel sad and miss their father. It is important that children are told that it is alright for them to have conflicting feelings.
They may look to mom for extra attention and reassurance. This can be a very difficult time for mom because she has so many of her own problems to deal with. It can be helpful for her to join a women’s support group so she can get the help she needs. She and the children may be helped by having counselling together, and the children may benefit a great deal in a children’s group.
We do know from studies that children from violent homes can do well as adults if they finish growing up in a loving, non-violent home. It also helps if they are exposed to non-violent and non-abusive adult role models from outside the home. A major deciding factor in recovery is that mom and children receive support.
Effects of Abuse on Women
(Information taken from the publication “Wife Assault Hurts Us All”)
Abuse by a partner affects women in many ways.
- Some times, it is difficult to cope with everyday things.
- It is difficult, sometimes, to have energy to complete different tasks.
- They may be less patient with your children.
- They may find yourself physically ill and in need of medication.
Women may be affected by abuse in different ways.
Our self-esteem or self-concept is a measure of how we feel about ourselves. Low self-esteem creates feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness, taking away the self-confidence needed to make decisions and to solve problems. When our own feelings and judgment cannot be trusted, solving even small problems becomes difficult. In many cases low self-esteem and poor self-concept may lead to depression. Depression is a medical condition that often requires medication or therapy to be effectively treated. Low self-esteem can also result in a disregard for personal appearance and health.
Feelings of Helplessness
In abusive relationships, the abusive partner maintains control of his partner’s actions by physically, sexually, and psychologically abusing her. If the assaulted woman tries to regain some control, the abuser may become more controlling. Her repeated unsuccessful attempts at stopping his violence reinforce her feelings of helplessness. As a result the assaulted woman may give up trying to break the cycle of violence.
Self Blame and Guilt
Many women are used to looking after the emotional needs of their family. When the emotional well-being of the family is suffering, as it does when abuse is present, the woman tends to blame herself and tends to believe she fails in her role to look after her family. Some women have hidden the abuse for years because of the guilt and shame they feel. The partners usually encourage this thinking by blaming her for the abuse. This results in the women falsely believing she has failed as emotional caretaker and that she causes and deserves the abuse.
Denying and Minimizing
Denying and minimizing abuse are two ways of coping with his violence, although they are ineffective. They increase the danger already present by encouraging the victim to disregard signals which can warn her of further assaults.
Abused women frequently deny being victims of abuse and that a pattern of abused has been established. A false sense of responsibility for the violence and embarrassment prevents her from telling others about it. Other excuses can be made to explain away the violence and to renew hope for the relationship.
Minimizing abuse downplays its seriousness. Often women avoid accepting the reality that they are being abused by comparing themselves to others who have endure more extreme acts of physical and psychological abuse. Their own situations then seem much less serious and much less dangerous.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Victims of abuse suffer from stress and tension. Many abused women turn to drugs and alcohol to avoid confronting their abusive situations. Continued use of these substances lead to dependency for many women. Substance abuse adds to the assaulted woman’s problem. The abused woman who tries to deal effectively with her substance dependence and her violent situation at the same time is easily overwhelmed.
Alcohol and illegal drugs are obvious examples of abused substances, but abuse of drugs given by doctors accounts for much of the substance abuse among women who experienced violence. Sleeping pills, pain killers and tranquilizers are the more commonly abused prescription drugs.