By Roberto Blanco, M.D.
In my work with patients across the world, I can´t help but notice how many come to psychiatric clinics as a result of domestic violence. Despite its prevalence in other countries, domestic violence is also quite common in the United States. In the United States alone, 22 percent of women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner during their lifetimes and over 5 million are victims every year. Domestic violence touches all elements of society regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status.
child psychiatrist, I can´t help but think of the smallest victims of domestic violence as I often see them in my clinical work. These are the children who are either involved secondarily by witnessing the abuse or become victims directly themselves. The effects of domestic violence on this population are far ranging and long lasting. As these children develop, they may struggle to deal with conflict. They may also become aggressive or experience severe depression, nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress, as well as other anxieties or fears.
The effects of domestic violence on children are dependent on the nature and severity of the abuse and on the developmental level of the child. Young babies and infants cannot understand why violence occurs in the home and so violence in this population can cause deep-seated changes in personality, self-esteem, and ways of interacting with others that can last for a lifetime. Often older children have a better understanding of what is going on, but still often blame themselves for the abuse and can have excessive guilt or anger as a result.
Domestic violence does not need to be only physical to qualify as a form of abuse. Abuse can also take the form of emotional, financial, or sexual control or disregard. Initially, characteristics of an abusive relationship can often be endearing such as wanting to be with you all of the time. Over time, this can become intense jealousy for no reason, excessive control over relationships and behaviors, and aggression or violence. Options for milder forms of emotional abuse can include family and/or individual therapy. For severe cases, there may be a need to get out of the situation or to a safe house. For more information on domestic violence, please see the American Pyschiatric Association's brochure Let´s Talk Facts About Domestic Violence.