Last week I trundled a dolly of my books to the conference held by Sick Children’s Hospital for professionals working in the area of child abuse and domestic violence. Domestic violence? I wondered. It surprised me that these two areas were being so closely linked.
I thought about it for a moment and soon realized it made perfect sense. We all tend to restage our childhood traumas in adulthood. We parent the way our parents did, unless we consciously change. Change calls for awareness and some help in living life differently.
I remembered the sessions I had attended at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation conference in Atlanta. The trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk described the 200% increase in boys who witnessed their mothers being beaten becoming beaters.
Dr. Martin Teicher of McLeans Hospital discussed his research on the impact of child abuse on the brain. He told us that, for boys, witnessing domestic abuse has the most disastrous results. For girls, familial sexual abuse has the highest impact on their future functioning.
Child abuse leads to repressed rage and dissociation, difficulty in establishing trusting relationships with other adults – the list goes on. All of which bring us to an increased likelihood of domestic abuse.
Where do we start? We need to work at both ends to prevent child abuse. This means identifying, educating and supervising parents where children are at risk. It also means helping the children who are suffering so that they don’t grow up to either abuse or fail to protect their own children from being abused (because they’ve learned to dissociate to avoid pain or are numbed into a state of helpless, childlike terror.)