How Violence at Home Traumatizes Children and Sprouts a Dysfunctional Society

Growing up in a violent home is a traumatic experience that affects every aspect of a child’s life and development, writes psychologist Dr Prerna Kohli.

By Dr Prerna Kohli

Domestic violence can be defined as when one person uses their power to control and manage other people in a relationship – physically, socially, psychologically, or sexually. In India due to the current lockdown, there is a sudden rise in reports of domestic violence. Not only is the abused person affected, but other family members and most importantly children in the home are severely affected too. 

Abuse is not gender-specific. When a child watches her mother getting thrashed by her father or a sibling being mentally tortured by another family member, it can be very traumatic. Watching the act over and over again can be mentally damaging. Often, children end up getting beaten themselves while trying to rescue their mother or siblings.

Children observe the behaviour of their parents.

When they witness abuse, they accept it as a societal norm. Further, when children see their parents fight, abuse, or control each other, or are abused themselves, they feel helpless, hopeless, and suffer from anxiety. They may feel they are the cause of the violence. Such children often complain of stomach aches, change in sleep patterns, anger issues, and hatred toward the abuser. 

Additionally, children may have nightmares of the trauma and may wet their bed. They may also develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its physical implications. They may have poor self-esteem and confidence; mental health conditions like depression; physical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, or undiagnosed pains; behavioural issues like addiction, anger issues, eating disorders and substance addiction, or may replicate domestic violence on their partner in future.

Teens react to abuse differently. They may burst out on the abusive parent and also attack them. They may show low interest in studies. Many have a tendency to become aggressive and disobedient. A girl child who witnesses abuse of her mother or suffers it herself may become fearful of her father and may resist marriage later as she may generalise that “All men are the same”. Or she may choose an abusive partner for herself because that is “normal” for her since childhood.

Dr Prerna Kohli

In India, a young woman’s mother or mother-in-law often asks her to “adjust” and pretend as if everything is okay, as if it’s a woman’s job to go through pain and this is what generations before them have gone through.

For young men who witness violence at home, the dangerous outcome could also be that they get used to this behaviour of their parent and follow the same script when they get married. They may feel it is their right to beat their spouse, and the abused must accept it silently. Parental abuse and domestic violence thus perpetuate a vicious cycle.

Dr Prerna Kohli is a clinical psychologist, workshop facilitator and a holistic practitioner with over 20 years of experience in psychotherapy and counselling.

Lead representational image: Lucas Pezeta / Pexels. First published in eShe’s July 2020 issue

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