Children are like sponges; they absorb everything that they see and hear. They learn how to behave and speak from the people closest to them; with whom they spend the most time; those they love. The child living in amidst an abusive situation – whether the abuse be physical, emotional, psychological or otherwise – runs a substantial risk of “inheriting” any or all of the unhealthy behaviour they have seen, heard, sensed or experienced. Alternatively, as they get older they may well become violent themselves due to the anger that has built up inside of them over the years that they have witnessed the unjust treatment of one parent by another. Clearly, this is extremely distressing for the child, and also for the parent who sees then that they could have done something to prevent this from happening; but sadly, they accepted the situation and hoped for the best. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as they say, but help is out there and this need not be the case anymore.
Some people may try to protect their children by making sure they are “safely” tucked up in bed if they sense trouble on the horizon. Even if these children don’t see the violence or witness the fight; they hear the slaps; they hear the slammed doors; they hear the screams and the glass breaking. This induces unbearable fear in a child; the uncertainty looms large in their mind and they have no idea what is going to happen next. This can sometimes be more terrifying than witnessing what went on first-hand. If, for instance, a common thread in a couple’s “arguments” is that one or other parent ends up storming out of the house in a temper and screeching away in the car, the child could be left feeling petrified that they won’t return. Perhaps another theme could be Daddy frequently throwing his dinner tray against the wall because the food that Mummy has made for them all isn’t “good enough” – this will almost certainly lead to detrimental issues surrounding food for the child.
The less obvious abuse, in the form of psychological and emotional abuse, will also resonate – whether it is thought that the child understands or not. They will hear the snide remarks from Mummy about where Daddy probably really was last night, they will see Daddy looking Mummy up and down and shaking his head, they will notice that Mummy doesn’t have enough money again to buy food when they go to the shops after school, they will learn that belittling their partner is normal and that affection is only given when one person does what the other wants them to do, or wears what they want them to wear; that considering only their own feelings in a relationship is normal. Children of any age are affected by domestic violence and abuse; at no age will they be unaffected, even in the womb. The list of what children in such situations learn in such relationships is endless, and the statistics are heart-breaking.
As adults, children who have witnessed violence and abuse are far more likely to become involved in a similar relationship themselves. This isn’t always the case of course; some children will strive to be different from their parents and do anything not to be like them; this brings with it its own difficulties. They are likely to experience problems with anxiety, anger and depression in adulthood. This, in itself, poses problems for their relationships in later life and can leave them with weighty concerns about starting a family of their own.
Don’t think that just because the children are out of the way, they don’t know. They know. And you have the power to get them and you to a better and safer place in life.