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Do abused children grow up to be abusers?

The AHA defines physical child abuse as “non-accidental trauma or physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child.” However, it can be challenging to draw the line between physical discipline and child abuse.

When does corporal punishment cease to be a style of parenting and become an abusive behavior that is potentially traumatizing for its child victims in the long-term?

When we speak of domestic violence, we usually feel the urgency of the situation and think about all the pressing sufferings that are happening at that particular moment to the victims. Yet, domestic violence is an experience that usually leaves very permanent scars. These marks can sometimes last for generations, even when no one is aware of the effect and where it came from anymore. Domestic violence is a toxic and often very dangerous misfortune that affects everyone involved. Even when children are not the victims directly, they suffer. And the suffering can last a lifetime.

Children can be a part of domestic abuse in many ways — they can be the direct victims. But even when they’re not directly abused, they are indirectly involved in the fact that their mother (in 95% of the time the victims of domestic abuse are women) is suffering abuse from their father.

A child can be a witness to a violent episode between the parents, hear threats and fights, or just observe the mother’s reaction to the father’s anger.

This is often enough to cause serious problems in the child’s physical or mental health. Even very young children sense the tension of domestic violence and suffer consequence regardless of the parents’ belief that they’re still too young to understand what is happening. Their brain development can be jeopardized by living in an abusive home because of all the stress that is put on a sensitive developing mind. And these early stimulations can shape the way in which the child will react, behave, and think in the future, throughout their entire life.

School-aged children of abused women have their own way of reacting to the violence in their homes. They often suffer from bed-wetting, problems in school, difficulties concentrating, mood disturbances, stomachaches, and headaches… As a cry for help from the outside world, a child from an abusive home often acts out. Acting out is a term from psychoanalysis and it basically means that, instead of rationally addressing what is causing us anxiety and anger, we choose another behavior, usually a destructive or self-destructive one, and release stress through it.

So we commonly see a child whose mother is a victim of abuse being aggressive, fighting, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, destroying things, etc.

What is more, as numerous studies showed, the effects of growing up in a home where there’s domestic violence of any sort often reach into adulthood. Unfortunately, children from such homes often end up with a range of consequences, from behavioral problems, over the emotional disturbances, to the problems in their own marriages. Too many end up in the criminal justice system, most commonly because of violent crimes. Others live a life of depression or anxiety, often thinking about suicide. And majority repeats their parents’ marriages in their own relationships. By living in the environment where it was normal for the father to abuse the mother, children learn that this is a norm. And they might not exhibit such belief, and they might even consciously be very strongly against it… but, as a psychotherapists’ practice shows, when the time comes and they get married, the pattern begins to emerge and their parents’ destinies are repeated. Boys often grow up to be men who will succumb to the urge to abuse their wives physically or emotionally. And girls will become battered wives themselves, rationalizing how their marriages are different from those of their mothers, even though the similarity is uncanny. Aggression is seen as a valid way of dealing with frustration. It is intertwined with love and marriage, forming a cancerous web of cyclic abuse and affection that leaves no one unharmed.

When a woman is a victim of domestic violence, that affects not only her, but also her children, and the children of her children. A pattern of behavior transfers through generations, as studies have shown many times.

An abused woman raises an abused daughter, and she passes this affliction further… Nonetheless, this doesn’t necessarily need to be like that. The sooner the chain is broken the better.

If you grew up in a home where your father abused your mother, you grew up with a burden that many others didn’t have to bear. But you don’t have to live your life like that.

A therapist will help you realize which beliefs that you may have are a direct consequence of your childhood, and he or she will lead you through the process of finding your own authentic beliefs about yourself, your value, and how you want to live your authentic life instead of the one that was placed upon you.

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