Breaking the Cycle of Violence

This week’s summer showcase post tells a difficult but important story about how one woman is using what she learned through her own personal tragedy to make sure her children, and children like hers get the care they need to break the cycle of domestic violence.  Thanks for your bravery, Heather!  For more information about Heather’s work, visit the Generation Hope website.

On the evening of March 11, 2011 my life and the lives of my children were changed forever.

I was brutally attacked, strangled, and beaten so badly by my ex-husband that friends and neighbors didn’t recognize me. It was highly publicized by the media because my injuries were so graphic. During my ex-husband’s sentencing hearing the county attorney stated “that it was the worst beating she had seen in 11 years of doing domestic violence prosecution and that I had looked worse than some victims in homicide cases she had prosecuted.” I was lucky to be alive.

Unfortunately, our children were all present during the attack and watched their father beat me, and then kick and stomp on my face repeatedly. They could do nothing but scream in terror and beg their father to stop hurting me. They were 1, 3, and 5 at the time. At some point during the attack my five year old daughter knocked on a neighbor’s door and they came to our aid saving us physically from the attack.

We had survived….physically. And yet we were so broken emotionally that making it through the day was difficult for all of us. I was forcing myself to take my kids out to do things to get their mind off of things but inside we were all suffering. My children were exhibiting behaviors that were damaging to them and I could see that they needed help I was not able to give them so that they could cope with the damage that was caused from witnessing domestic violence.

I sought help for them in traditional counseling but the behaviors were not improving. Although I was able to find programs for both offenders and victims there was a lack of services for children exposed to this type of violence.

I was already practicing as a mental health therapist at the time and felt I had to do something to help these children. I knew that statistically “80% of boys and 77% of girls who see this violence will repeat it,” and I was determined to do whatever it took to break the cycle of violence within my family.

I realized it was my calling in life to help these children, and from that point forward I would fight every day of the rest of my life to ensure that no child would have to go to bed to the sound of their mother being beaten.

In April, I officially opened and began seeing client’s at my counseling agency where we offer mental health counseling for victims and children dealing with trauma resulting from witnessing domestic violence in their home.  We also teach those children the skills they need to  break the cycle of violence in their own homes.

Healing from domestic violence is a long process. Not only does the victim have to deal with the physical pain, but even after the bruises fade, the emotional pain persists–even after the actual abuse has stopped.

Resources

If you or someone you know has (or is) suffering abuse do not be afraid to get help. The emotional impact this has on your children can last a lifetime.  You and they need help immediately.

Warning Signs A Child Is Being Exposed to Domestic Violence

  • acting out
  • withdrawing
  • attention seeking behaviors
  • care taking (taking care of and worrying about the needs of others more than self)

Somatic complaints including:

  • headaches
  • stomachaches
  • asthma
  • nervousness or anxiety
  • short attention span (which may seem like “hyperactivity”)
  • regression in developmental tasks including bedwetting, thumb-sucking, clinging behavior, and poor conflict resolution skills

What To Do If You Think A Child Is Being Exposed to Domestic Violence

  • listen
  • validate feelings
  • show belief
  • dispel fault
  • explore fears
  • maintain calm
  • be honest with yourself
  • Do NOT confront the abuser
  • Report your concerns to Child Protective Services (click for a link to contact information for each state)

3 thoughts on “Breaking the Cycle of Violence

  1. I grew up in a home where domestic violence and alcoholism from one of the parents was the norm. Thank you for showcasing this story. I have done my best in my own way to break away from the violence in my past, though I am sure I still carry a lot of that baggage around with me. I am glad that an organization like this has been created to teach children the skills to break the cycle of violence.

    • Thanks Ofelia for sharing your experience. My sense is you are not alone–but it’s a hurt we don’t make much space for adult survivors to talk about. I also hope that Heather’s work will mean future generations don’t suffer in silence.

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