When a child witnesses verbal abuse between the two people they love most, it is devastating and affects them deeply. They grow up with the idea that this type of love and drama is normal, and the effects can linger long after they become adults and leave their dysfunctional home.
When a child is constantly exposed to a violent environment between their parents, they develop a poor definition of self and values. Their self-esteem can be further damaged by inconsistent responses from their parent's toward the behavior that is very undermining to the child. Seeing such emotional abuse makes a child feel confused, powerless and helpless. Many children blame themselves for the anger between their parents, lowering their self-esteem even more. Children in this type of environment often grow up to be verbal abusers or victims of abuse. Little girls who see their mothers constantly berated, criticized and abused often choose men of the same caliber and become victims of abuse themselves. Boys in this environment often grow up to be bullies, criminals and abusive toward women, therefore continuing the cycle of abuse. Their children witness this behavior and the cycle goes on and on.
Lack of Trust in Others
When a child lives with two people they trust who fight constantly and threaten to leave home, or do leave, during an argument, a child loses faith in the adults around them. Having to walk on eggshells, a child never knows if they will be neglected emotionally and/or physically. The parent may try to smooth things over with the child after the abuse, temporarily restoring the child's confidence in them, only to have the abuse resurface again. When a child's environment is chaotic, a child does not know who to trust because his parents are always on the brink of another fight. The tension is always there.
When children see fighting between their parents, they often begin acting out and starting fights themselves. They are so overwhelmed with the problems at home and those feelings have nowhere to go, so they become angry. Helplessness toward seeing your mother verbally assaulted, a young boy may pick a fight with another boy in school. He cannot fight his father, so he will fight another male. Too often, these boys grow into men with anger issues and can inflict severe violence as adults. They become aggressive and are often mistaken for bullies although they are hurting inside.
Children often blame themselves for the fighting between parents, which can lower a child's self-esteem. Depression often follows. With depression can come suicidal thoughts, extreme acting out or overly pleasing behavior. Children may shut themselves off from others and lose interest in things they once enjoyed, and parents often mistake this behavior for boredom.
When a child is subjected to an unhealthy home life where verbal abuse is occurring, a child feels unable to handle situations in life. Issues such as impaired concentration, difficulty in school, stress disorders, phobias, stuttering, insomnia and psychosomatic illnesses can result. Often the disorder is left unattended by the parent because they are overwhelmed themselves by their own situation, so the child is left to suffer.
- Envision Counseling Center: Witnessing Abuse -- Does It Affect Your Children?
- Good Women: Rachel's Story: Verbal Abuse & Expecting Your Parents' Marriage
- Kansas State Educational Project: Dysfunctional Families: Recognizing and Overcoming Their Affects
- Compassion Power: Effects on Children
- Custody Prep for Moms: How Are Children Affected by Domestic Violence?
Based in Maryland, Lisa Proulx has been a freelance writer for more than 10 years. She is a writer and columnist for the "Brunswick Citizen" and a play critic for "The Frederick Gazette." A former columnist for the "Mountain Xpress" in Asheville, N.C., Proulx was also the senior writer for Vegas Radio WTRI.