Domestic Violence and Early Development

It would be extremely rare for a person to wake up one morning and decide that “today is the day that I will become an abusive person”.  People who are abusive in relationships are individuals who at some level shown such tendencies throughout their lives or as a consequence of being themselves exposed to an emotionally traumatizing episode at some point in their life.  Teenage bullies, young violent adults, and people who are violent in closed in relationships usually began developing the emotional, cognitive and relational temperament toward violence as early as 3 to 5 years of age.  According to Erickson’s Stages of Development children learn the basic tenets of trust vs. mistrust from birth to 1 year old.  Erickson also states that during the same developmental period, children are developing a sense of “hope or despair”.  It is during this birth to 1 year stage that a child formulates long term appreciation or a lack of appreciation for interdependence and an ability to relate to other individuals.  A common trait of individuals who are domestic abusers is an inability to show empathy and enjoy a healthy dependence from those with whom they are in a relationship.


It is human to have a long childhood; it is civilized to have an even longer childhood. Long childhood makes 
a technical and mental virtuoso out of man, but it also leaves a life-long residue of emotional immaturity in him.

— Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994)

Below is a section from Children Exposed To Domestic Violence which is a handbook designed for educators to help raise awareness about how home domestic violence effect the children in every domain of life.  The publication is by The Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System located in Ontario, Canada.

Impacts on Children
Watching, hearing or later learning of a parent being
harmed by a partner threatens children’s sense of
stability and security typically provided by their family.
• Children may experience increased emotional and behavioral difficulties.
• Some children who experience difficulties display traumatic stress reactions (e.g.,
sleep disturbances, intensified startle reactions, constant worry about possible
• Children living with domestic violence are at increased risk of experiencing physical
injury or childhood abuse (e.g., physical, emotional).
• The perpetrator may use children as a control tactic against adult victims.
Examples include:
• claiming the children’s bad behavior is the reason for the assaults on the nonoffending parent;
• threatening violence against the children and their pets in front of the nonoffending parent;
• holding the children hostage or abducting them in an effort to punish the adult
victim or to gain compliance;
• talking negatively to children about the abused parent’s behavior.
• Children may experience strong ambivalence toward their violent parent: affection
coexists with feelings of resentment and disappointment.
• Children may imitate and learn the attitudes and behaviors modeled when intimate
partner abuse occurs.
• Exposure to violence may desensitize children to aggressive behavior. When
this occurs, aggression becomes part of the “norm” and is less likely to signal
concern to children.

Please Comment:  What were your early childhood home experiences like and do you find yourself in a domestic abuse relationship currently?


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