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You never know what is going on in the other person’s life unless you are in it yourself. Whenever it comes to relationships, people tend to paint a perfect picture on the outside for the public to see. But behind closed doors, things are not always what they seem. Whenever a person is experiencing abuse, they try to find ways to hide it from the public.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of violence from their significant other.
An article called The History of Intimate Partner Violence Reform talks about where domestic violence comes from.
“The social acceptance of wife-beating can be traced back to 753 BC; under the rule of Romulus,” wrote a Colombia University staff writer. “The Laws of Chastisement deemed wife-beating legal so long as the rod or stick being used for physical discipline had a circumference no bigger than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb, known as “The Rule of Thumb.” This continued to be the trend to the extent that the 14th Century Roman Catholic Church encouraged husbands to beat their wives out of concern for their spiritual well-being.”
In 1871 states like Massachusetts and Alabama made domestic violence illegal. Once the government started to pay more attention to actions harming women, this led to more social movements like the Violence Against Women Act gaining more recognition.
Over the years, organizations like Glbt national help center and Forge have been in support of domestic violence victims for years. Even though there are more than enough resources for them, it still has been a struggle not only for the victims themselves but the people around them.
Domestic violence is when one individual uses repeated abuse on the other to maintain control. This can be physical and psychological when a person is receiving abuse. An article posted by Psychology Today titled Domestic Violence goes into further detail about the impact of the behavior:
“Domestic violence can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. It may include behaviors meant to scare, physically harm, or control a partner. And while every relationship is different, domestic violence typically involves an unequal power dynamic in which one partner tries to assert control over the other in a variety of ways.”
It can be hard for some women to spot an abuser at first which explains why they stay. Victims of domestic violence mostly stay in these relationships because they are used to the situation happening. It becomes normal behavior for them, so most victims tolerate it for so long. Shabranae Patton who is the Executive director of taking back ourselves, a program for abuse survivors, explains why that is the case.
“Victims stay in relationships for a myriad of reasons, including financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual reasons or beyond. The dynamic between an abuser and a victim is very complicated and nuanced. Each situation holds its own unique set of barriers to freedom when it comes to domestic violence.”
It is not easy to break up with abusive partners when victims are affected by the cycle of control. They do not dare to get help because they are afraid that reporting will make the situation worse.
Some people in abusive relationships feel as though there is hope that their abusive partner will change. As a result, some customs start to blame themselves for their abusive partner’s violent actions so the relationship can continue.
But a violent relationship doesn’t always stop with the partner. According to the Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody (RCDV: CPC) up to “10 million children are exposed to adult domestic violence each year.” In another article titled Parenting in the Context of Domestic Abuse, Heather Coady discusses how domestic violence affects mothers’ relationships with their children.
“Domestic abuse undermines, and can severely damage the mother-child relationship,” Coady wrote. “High levels of stress as a result of ongoing abuse can severely affect a woman’s physical and mental health. She may be exhausted as a result of trying to manage from day to day in difficult circumstances. Higher levels of substance abuse and mental health problems occur among this group, usually as a consequence of the abuse.”
During a child’s development, children tend to look to their parents for guidance. But if the mother is unable to give the child the proper support, it can push a child to handle a toxic environment on their own. In the same article, Coady said that witnessing an abusive relationship can fundamentally alter a child.
“Children are undoubtedly affected,” Coady wrote. ”Requiring emotional support and reassurance which their mothers may feel too physically and emotionally depleted to provide. In addition, women’s confidence in parenting skills and authority as parents may be severely undermined, either indirectly (because of the abuse witnessed) or as a tactic to break her down and control her.”
Children face the risk of picking up the same abusive habits as the people who raised them. It’s not uncommon for people to emulate the relationships we witnessed growing up, and continuous cycles of abuse in our future relationships.
This cycle of abuse is just one form of intergenerational trauma or an unresolved trauma inherited from a person’s parents. The article titled Intergenerational Trauma: Recognize These Signs & Symptoms by Michael G Quirke, states that 50 percent of women and 60 percent of men have endured at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime.
“Every minute, 20 individuals are physically abused by their intimate partner,” Quirke wrote. “Abuse and neglect are a reality for 1 in 7 children. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is developed by 4 percent of men and 10 percent of women. Roughly 8 million people will develop PTSD in any given year. And then there is all the sexual violence: 20 percent of men endure sexual violence during their lifetime. For women, the number is nearly 50 percent.”
Traumatic events like witnessing and experiencing domestic violence make it easy to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder developed after experiencing a traumatic event. The article Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by the National Institute of Mental Health elaborated further:
“It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation,” the article explained. “Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.”
Not only the parent in the relationship is more likely to suffer from PTSD but the child as well. Children learn how to interact with the world around them by emulating patterns of behavior they see in their caregivers and loved ones. When they are not given the proper tools to help them process the abuse they experienced, their trauma can manifest into PTSD in adulthood. The article Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children posted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website talks about the statistics of PTSD amongst kids.
“About 4% of children under age 18 are exposed to some form of trauma in their life that leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, of those children and adolescents who have experienced trauma, about 7% of girls and 2% of boys are diagnosed with PTSD.”
When a child has PTSD, that particular event continues to hurt them. Regardless of how many years the incident has passed, the victim can be permanently damaged just by being reminded of the situation. Feelings of PTSD can be triggered by flashbacks of images, sounds, and feelings that can trick an individual into believing that a similar traumatic incident is happening to them in the present time.
When abuse is a common practice in the home, the child in the middle is forced to take sides. Children in these situations might be forced to pick sides” to survive and feel safe. The children who witness the abuse might not intervene because they fear the consequences. Licensed marriage and family therapist Mikele Rauch, who specializes in trauma, discusses the mindset of the bystanders in that uncomfortable position.
“It either creates fear to the point where they are afraid to be held responsible or they align with the person that presents the most strength,” Rauch said. “We see that people gravitate toward the one that is perceived as the bully because they seem too strong even if they are not. This [is] why people do not stand up to a bully. You will see men talk down to women all the time. Others on the sidelines will never do that but will not intervene because they’re afraid to be the ones that puts a stop to it. People learn to capitulate to the abuse.”
Bullies, or abusers, in this case, intimidate a victim and tend to look for people that are easy to target. But it’s hard to say that bullies and abusers are just born bad people: oftentimes, a person learns their behavior from others. An article titled Why Do People Bully? by Nadra Nittle discusses one of the reasons why certain people are more likely to hurt others.
“Bullying is often a learned behavior,” Nittle wrote. “Young bullies might live in households where adults bully one another to get their way or deal with conflict. They might not know how else to get their needs met or how to manage disagreements.”
If we think about it, the concept of an abuser is similar to being a bully but just on another level. Both of their behaviors stem from personal experiences that showcase the same actions. They both find a high in having control over the situation, and both bullies and abusers mistreat people who are seen as weaker to uplift their self-esteem. If they are not getting the proper love and guidance at home, it can cause them to lash out and spread hate. We see bullies and abusers are both victims themselves but they just choose to handle their trauma by hurting others.
Researchers from the University of Washington and Indiana University conducted a study on child exposure to violence and involvement in bullying. In the article titled Violence in the home leads to higher rates of childhood bullying, writer Joel Schwarz reported the study found that 34% of the children engaged in bullying, 73% reported being victims of bullying, and nearly 97% of bullies said they were also victims of bullying.
“Parents are very powerful role models and children will mimic the behavior of parents, wanting to be like them,” Schwarz wrote. “They may believe violence is OK and they can use it with peers. After all, they may think, ‘If Daddy can do this, perhaps I can hit this kid to get my way.’ When parents engage in violence, children may assume violence is the right way to do things.”
If that trauma a child–or any person– experiences is not taken care of, it can affect generations to come. In some cases, trauma can be so widespread, it impacts entire communities of people.
When it comes to trauma, Black people have been finding ways to deal with it for years. The intergenerational trauma caused by the enslavement of Black people has resulted in Black families dealing with mental health issues even centuries later. The decisions Black people make on a daily basis are affected by the intergenerational trauma past family members had to face.
The stigma surrounding mental health in Black communities has prevented many Black families from seeking help in overcoming trauma, which allows the cycle of intergenerational trauma continues to plague their community. An article published to In The Waiting Room’s website titled Intergenerational Trauma in the Black Community discusses how the effects of enslavement on Black people can impact Black people in the United States today.
“In terms of parenting, intergenerational trauma can affect the parent-child relationship. For example, because people who were enslaved in the United States during the 1700s and 1800s did not have access to mental health professionals, they could not cope with or heal from the trauma that well. This lack of healing passed on the trauma from generation to generation, causing Black people today to still feel the effects of slavery and racism on a subconscious level.”
Another article titled Black parents too often disguise abuse as discipline by Ebony Purks offers an explanation as to how abuse and trauma can manifest in parenting styles in the Black community.
“Black parenting methods are a reflection of the harm and abuse we experienced during slavery,” Purks wrote. “In turn, Black parents often discipline their kids in similar ways plantation owners abused enslaved people. The use of corporal punishment on children is not reflective of pre-colonial West African practices; rather, it is a demonstration of religious European beliefs that people are born innately sinful. So, parents felt they had to beat the sin out of children.”
To put a stop to the negative cycle of abuse and trauma being taught to children, it’s important to first have an understanding as to why acting in violence is problematic. One important step to get started on this journey may be to seek professional help from a licensed therapist, or someone you trust. It can be hard to understand the situation by yourself so it is very important to seek help from others to gain feedback. Shabranae Patton gives advice on what the bystander can do.
“Make sure you care for that person as best as you can without putting them or yourself in further danger. This could be as simple as creating a distraction, to involving authorities. Always assess the safety of all involved before acting. Your goal is to make the situation better, not worse.”
Domestic Violence | Psychology Today
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children | Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (chop.edu)
Intergenerational Trauma in the Black Community (inthewaitingroom.org)
Black parents too often disguise abuse as a discipline – The Tempest
History of Intimate Partner Violence Reform | Freedom and Citizenship (columbia.edu)
NIMH » Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (nih.gov)
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