With the topic of domestic abuse and violence gaining media attention, questions arise around the effect this epidemic is having on our children, and whether our children’s exposure is perhaps a more significant piece of the puzzle than we think.
“It’s becoming clear from the research that how we behave as adults in the home affects our childrens’ neurochemistry. If they are exposed to violence or other abusive behaviours between intimate partners, their neurological pathways rewire to associate those behaviours with normal relational conflict,” says Yvonne Wakefield, founder of the Warrior Project. “This then, is the blueprint through which they approach relationships later in life,” she continues.
The Warrior Project is a free online portal making information and resources available to the victims of domestic abuse and violence, including children and teens. The resources include services like Childline, FAMSA and Lifeline, as well as legal and other support.
“The pioneering psychiatrist and researcher Daniel Siegel (2004) instructed, “The mind develops as the brain responds to ongoing experience… The pattern of firing of neurons is what gives rise to attention, emotion, and memory.” And what fires together—in a combination of violent exposures and the child’s underlying neurobiological experience—wires together”, says psychologist Blake Griffin Edwards in Psychology today Feb 2019.
“The link between childhood exposure to domestic violence and the increased risk of them being involved in domestic violence as adults, is now undisputable”, says Wakefield.
Exposure to violence during childhood increases the likelihood of intimate partner violence perpetuation in men up to 4-fold. Exposure to violence during childhood may increase the likelihood of violence acceptance either as a victim or perpetrator in future partnershipsand high-risk situations (WHO report on Preventing Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Womenp22).
This is aside from the other negative effects of exposure. For kids, “[t]he psychological aftermath of exposure to domestic violence can include fear of harm or abandonment, excessive worry or sadness, guilt, inability to experience empathy or guilt, habitual lying, low frustration tolerance, emotional distancing, poor judgment, shame, and fear about the future,” says Edwards.
Furthermore, “[t]he circumstances of domestic violence leave caregivers—emotionally and otherwise—unavailable and unresponsive, and activate in kids a primal fear and a host of other raw, complex, and unresolved emotions”, he says.
To start addressing the problem of domestic violence as a whole, we need to start taking this aspect more seriously – Unless we can decrease childrens’ exposure, we will never effect change and the cycle will continue to repeat itself.