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Avery Post

Effects of Violence in Families

There are short-and long-term effects for everyone in the family experiencing violence in intimate relationships.

Most research on abuse has focused on women as victims since the costs for women are significant in terms of relationship loss, physical differences in size, and economic and emotional ramifications, especially if there are children. Although less frequent, men can also be the victim of violence in an intimate relationship. For them fear of loss of relationship with their children is often a factor in staying. Abuse is also experienced in some same sex relationships.

Some people still believe if the relationship isn’t working it is the woman’s fault and that even if it is dangerous she should stay. Others don’t understand why she doesn’t leave or why she goes back. If you have never experienced abuse it is hard to make sense of what happens.

Despite good intentions, questioning the victims can feed into any guilt or shame they are already experiencing. No matter what they do or don’t do they feel judged and not supported by others. When I worked in the battered women’s movement in the 1980’s we knew it would usually take 8 or more attempts before the woman would finally get free. Financial dependence, fear, love of the person but not the behavior, and/or believing the abuser’s promises of change are major factors in staying or returning.

There is research that has found that most people who abuse begin with escalation of anger and fear of loss – what I have discussed in previous blogs as “attachment alarm”. Many fear losing their partner, therefore increase efforts to control or isolate her/him from others.

Over time, each incident tends to become part of a cycle of remorse, making amends (the honey moon phase), increasing stress and then another regrettable incident. Many abusers are sincere in their desire to not repeat the abuse, but until they learn responsible self-soothing and empathy for others they may have difficulty controlling themselves. There is a small sub-set of abusers who have been called “cobras” who actually exhibit decreased arousal prior to and during an incident.

Children who witness violence in the home are more likely to have emotional, mental, learning and social problems. Even babies as young as 6 months go into a stress response where there is fighting around them. The effects can be long term, with more depression, anxiety, substance abuse and poor education and employment outcomes for child victims and witnesses.

All of the above demonstrates the following:

  1. We need to understand the multi-faceted causes and effects of violence in intimate relationship.

  2. Only through genuine understanding can we provide appropriate supports, as counsellors, family and neighbours.

  3. The costs are significant, so prevention of violence in intimate relationships is important.

In my next blog I will discuss ideas for violence prevention

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