Who Qualifies As a Child of Domestic Violence?

We are a silent group with no name, one whose numbers could populate an entire continent. It’s natural to doubt whether you were truly a child of domestic violence. In this article I hope to provide you with clarity, as well as some answers for what it means to be a child of domestic violence.

As I often say, awareness is the first step in healing the past and changing your future.

So let’s begin with a simple question: Did your parents or those who cared for you hurt one another, verbally or physically, and did they do so in front of you?

If so, then, yes: You were a child of domestic violence. You saw it, you heard it, and you felt it. Even if they weren’t physically hurting you, it felt just the same. Research is clear on this point. For a child, witnessing domestic violence is as psychologically damaging as being physically abused.

For example, did your parents scream at each other? To a child, that screaming can feel as painful and fearful as any physical blow. Did those who were supposed to care for you insult and demean you? As a child, no opinion is as important as that of our parents or caregivers. What they say, we believe.

Or maybe you were part of the physical violence as well.

Many adults who experienced physical violence in childhood will say that it wasn’t the pain of the hand; it was the pain of the words that they remember most.

About half of all children of domestic violence (CDV) have been physically abused themselves. For many, it was not the pain of the physical abuse, but the pain associated with the feeling that they weren’t able to stop it; that there was something wrong with them; that they weren’t good enough. 

Personally, I would rather have taken open-handed blows to my face than have to watch the two adults in my home hurt each other and be powerless to stop it.

Whether it happened rarely or often, because it occurred in childhood, when our brains were developing, the impact can be dramatic and long lasting. In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry explains that even a “very brief stressful experience, at a key time in the development of the brain, resulted in alterations in stress hormone systems that lasted into adulthood. These early childhood experiences will have a far greater impact than later ones.”

If these questions and insights resonate with you, I invite you to break the silence and acknowledge, at least to yourself or to someone you trust, whether you believe yourself to have been a child of domestic violence. There is immense liberation in speaking your truth.

If you feel called to, I would be honored for you to share your thoughts and story here, in the comments below. We are all here to support each other.

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