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The child / adolescent exposed to domestic violence: psychological perspective.

Today, we almost all know that violence in the couple is harmful to the child’s physical and psychological development.

First of all, I think it is important to differentiate between conflict and violence in the couple. Indeed, these are 2 phenomena that require 2 different types of intervention.

When we talk about conflict, we are talking about an argument between 2 people who generally have different points of view. However, even if these 2 people are in conflict, mutual respect and the ability to negotiate are present within the couple.

On the other hand, violence in the couple, or conjugal violence, is a rigid relationship in which one partner exercises dominance over the other. In this type of couple, there is a poverty of empathy on the part of the perpetrator of the violence and a poverty in ability to negotiate with the partner.

Dispute, an interactive relational mode based on disagreement to find a solution.

Disagreement between two people is part of life, it underlines the unique position of each and the need to deal with the other, with the different. So when a dispute arises between the parents, it can be really constructive for the child witnessing the scene to see that it can be resolved by speech while respecting the other. The child who experiences this situation then finds an opportunity to experience settling a conflict by word (Yapaka).

When the conflict in the couple increases, mediation is then possible (which is contraindicated in the context of domestic violence).

Couple mediation, also known as conjugal mediation, is aimed preventively at all couples who encounter difficulties or a conflict in their relationship, suffer from it and wish to find a way out. Unlike couple therapy, which is more focused on the causes and origins of dysfunction, this mediation is very focused on immediate questions: how else to deal with a conflict situation? (Maisondelamediation).

Domestic violence, a definition.

To facilitate reading comprehension, we will briefly define conjugal violence as domination by one partner over the other. There are various forms of domestic violence:

  • Physics;
  • Psychological;
  • Sexual;
  • Economic ;
  • Verbal;
  • Threat;
  • Violence against objects or animals;
  • Child abuse.

Domestic violence is progressive. The author acts gradually and takes care not to arouse the slightest suspicion of the next step by using manipulative strategies. However, his goal is clear: to install and maintain his domination over his or her partner. A person outside the couple can alert the victim, but minimizing or denying the latter prevents awareness of what is really going on.

Children in the midst of domestic violence.

International studies (2000) have shown that children who have repeatedly witnessed domestic violence are at high risk for emotional, traumatic and behavioral disorders. The consequences of the child’s repeated exposure to violence are multiple and vary according to age.

The table below presents the different possible symptoms of the child facing repeated exposures to domestic violence.

Role (s) of the child / adolescent during violent acts.

To deal with situations of violence in the couple, the child is led (willingly or by force) to adopt a specific role within the family. The roles adopted by children are generally as follows (Sadlier, 2010):

The child “grandparent” is the one who takes care of his siblings and the victim at the time of the violent act. The child is parentalised and pushes him to acquire precocious and unstable autonomy. Symptoms of anxiety and depression are common in this type of child;

The “confidant” child who listens and consoles the victim. In the context of domestic violence, the victim often takes an ambiguous position vis-à-vis the perpetrator (minimization or denial of the facts). In this case, the child may experience confusion and a loss of confidence in the adult;

The author’s “confiding partner” child. The abuser attempts to manipulate the child by using privileges such as gifts or the absence of abuse. The perpetrator can also justify his behavior towards the child and encourage him to use the same ploys to keep his domination over the victim. The risk for the child is to identify with the perpetrator and become a perpetrator himself as a couple;

The child “scapegoat” where the child is seen as the cause of domestic violence. The psychological consequences for this type of child are manifested by an attack on their self-image;

The “model” or “referee” child who tries to prevent violence by asking the victim not to provoke the perpetrator. This type of child presents an anxio-depressive clinical picture and his suffering is often unnoticed because of his adapted social presentation.

Consequences of violence in children.

The main consequences mentioned when talking about violence are of two kinds:

The physical consequences.

When we speak of physical violence, we are referring to observable traces. The child who lives at the heart of domestic violence can find himself victim of the physical violence of the aggressor. Lesions, bruises, hematomas, wounds, burns are external traces that doctors can easily identify and quantify during a medical examination in the case of mistreatment.

Psychological consequences.

The psychological consequences, if they are not immediately visible, are the most serious if the child is not taken care of in time. The acts of mistreatment upset the development of the child / adolescent, undermining their beliefs and especially their confidence in adults. And the younger the child, the more damaging the effects.

To end this article, I would like to point out that children never forget the violent environment in which they bathe. If you do not provide a healthy and caring environment for your children, you will see the effects of your violence no later than adolescence. Professionals can help you if you feel overwhelmed by the situation. Feel free to contact them. Parents are role models of children. Make sure to set a good example.

Derya Selin Kazkondu, psychologist.