Tag Archives: Effect Of Domestic Violence On Children

Brains Of Children Exposed To Domestic Violence Affected In Similar Way To Exposure To Combat

effects_of_domestic_violence_on_children's_brains

A study carried out at University College London (UCL) has found that when a child is continually exposed to domestic violence, such as the father regularly beating the mother, their brains are negatively affected in a similar way to how the brains of soldiers are affected by exposure to combat in war.

As a result, the children’s brains may become HYPERSENSITIVE TO PERCEIVED THREAT, or, to put it informally, ‘stuck on red alert.’  This, in turn, may lead to the child becoming trapped in a distressing state of hypervigilance and extreme wariness/distrust of others.

 

The research study which discovered this entailed children being shown pictures of angry/threatening faces whilst undergoing a brain scan and from this it was found that their emotional response to these faces was far more intense than was the emotional response of another group of children who were from stable backgrounds (known as the ‘control group’) who underwent the same procedure.

Specifically, the brain scans revealed that the children who had been exposed to domestic violence showed unusually high activity levels in two parts of the brain when shown the pictures of the angry/threatening faces, namely: 1) The anterior insula and 2) The amygdala, when compared to the children shown exactly the same pictures but whom had had a stable, loving and protected childhood.

 

Similarity to effect of exposure to combat on the brain:

Such increased activity in these two brain regions has also been found to occur, from previous research, in the brains of soldiers who have experienced protracted exposure to armed conflict.

Short-term benefits but long-term losses:

One of the psychological researchers involved in the UCL study pointed out that this changed brain activity may be helpful to children who live in homes where there is domestic violence in the short-term by helping them to avoid danger.

However, in the long-term, the changes may cause the individual severe problems – for example, as an adult the individual may constantly overestimate the degree of danger that other people present to him/ her. In turn, this may lead that same individual to be prone to becoming disproportionately aggressive towards those s/he perceives to be a threat to him/her.

The individual, too, may perceive threats where they, in reality, do not exist due to his/ her constant wariness of others together with a pervasive sense of paranoia.

Resilience:

The researchers involved in this study also drew our attention to the fact that not all children who are exposed to domestic violence develop the kind of mental disturbance described above and that more research needs to be conducted in order to ascertain which factors contribute to this resilience.

Anxiety and depression:

Research also shows that children exposed to domestic violence are at significantly increased risk of developing anxiety and depression (click here to read my article on this); indeed, both the anterior insula and the amygdala play a prominent role in the generation of anxiety disorders.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Childhood Trauma : Domestic Violence

childhood_trauma_questionnaire

Domestic violence can affect children in two ways : DIRECTLY and INDIRECTLY. Let’s look at each of these two categories:

DIRECTLY :

–  the violence is DELIBERATELY aimed at the child with the INTENTION of causing him/her harm

INDIRECTLY :

– the child witnesses the violence is the household (eg sees the father beat up the mother). Whilst the violence is not perpetrated directly against the child, the child is caused psychological damage as a result of the experience

STATISTICS RELATING TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE :

In the USA, approximately 1.5 million children per year are affected by domestic violence (although this is thought to be a substantial underestimate due to all the cases of domestic violence which go unreported/undetected). Shockingly, about 2000 – 5000 children will actually die as a result of the violence (figures come from The National Crime Survey).

Worse still, these are just the figures that relate to direct violence; millions more children are harmed indirectly. The proportions, then, are truly epidemic.

WHAT TYPE OF FAMILIES DOES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OCCUR IN?

All types of families are affected by domestic violence – no religious sector, ethnic group or socio-economic class are immune. However, it needs to be noted that children are more likely to be affected by domestic violence in families affected by :

– poverty

– unemployment

– being a single-parent family

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?

The most common types are as follows:

– beating

– biting

– burning

– immersion in scalding water

– shaking

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ON THE CHILD?:

The effects upon the child are wide-ranging and may include:

nightmares

bed-wetting

– depression

low self-esteem

– introversion/introspection/withdrawal

– non-communicativeness/refuge in silence

– feelings of hopelessness

– feelings of being trapped

– academic/social problems at school, including failure to make friends

– feeling unloved/unlovable

– anxiety/exaggerated startle response/nervous behaviors

– aggression/fighting/hostility/destructiveness/abuse of pets/abuse of siblings

– avoidance of discussing anything about family with peers

– feelings of self-hatred 

– irrational feelings of guilt/shame together with irrational feelings of being ‘bad’ and ‘to blame’.

DO CHILDREN WHO SUFFER DOMESTIC VIOLENCE GO ON TO PERPETRATE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE THEMSELVES IN ADULTHOOD?

Research suggests that about 30% of those who suffer the effects of domestic violence in childhood go on to perpetrate domestic violence themselves as adults.

The chances of this occurring are reduced considerably if the person gains insight into the effects of his/her childhood experiences had upon him/her through appropriate therapy.

WHEN IS PROFESSIONAL INTERVENTION APPROPRIATE?

It goes without saying that professional intervention is necessary if significant physical harm is occurring. Other indicators that professional intervention may be especially urgent include :

– the child’s physical/emotional/cognitive development is being adversely affected

– the child emotionally regresses (i.e. starts behaving significantly younger due to emotional distress – e.g. a fourteen -year -old who frequently has emotional tantrums more usually displayed in a four-year-old)

– significant, recurring, aggressive behavior

– extreme social withdrawal

– the child is suffering from significant anxiety (e.g has an exaggerated ‘startle response’)

NB. The above list is in no way exhaustive; indeed, some children may be suffering a high level of internal emotional distress which s/he suppresses making it less easily detectable. It is, therefore, always best to err on the side of caution.

Other Articles Related To Violence :

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)