Researchers estimate that between 4.5 million and 15 million children are exposed to physical violence in the home. Verbal and emotional abuse in the home is more difficult to track.
Neuroscientist Tanja Jovanovic directs the Grady Trauma Project, a research institute based at Emory University in Atlanta. The risk of PTSD from domestic violence is high, she says, because it’s a “betrayal by someone who is supposed to be to a protector.” Making matters worse, Jovanovic said, domestic violence often eliminates the “buffering effect of another positive adult,” because the adult who is targeted can’t provide comfort to the children who witness it.
Psychologist Abigail Gewirtz says domestic violence can feel scarier than war. Gewirtz is the director of the Institute of Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health at the University of Minnesota. It’s “one of the most terrifying forms of violence because it happens in a place which is supposed to be safe,” she said. “Children are totally powerless, especially very young children. They are totally dependent on their parents.”
I remember standing by the wall with my brothers and crying while my father was beating my mother. I also, remember my mother screaming and crying and my father going away, leaving the rest of us huddled and crying together.
Then, my mother went back to cooking and cleaning like it was just another day. I tried to help her because that was the only way I knew how to support her.
I remember watching from the doorway when my father was beating my elder brother with a big book just because he was singing and beating my younger brother with a belt just because… All we could do was stand and watch till he was done so we could take care of our little brother and the belt marks on his little bare back. We lived in fear all the time, we never knew what could trigger him, so we tried to stay clear of him.
I remember once my dad was so angry because my mother was sick, and she didn’t cook. He almost burnt us all alive. He threw a burning kerosene stove at the bed where my brothers and I were huddled with my mom. My mother was so tired of his abuse that she was willing to just lay there with us and let us burn. Luckily my brother and I were able to put out the fire.
When I was about 13 years old, I took too long in the bathroom because I had just started my period and I was still learning to manage that, and my father hit me so hard that my forehead hit the marble counter. I was bleeding from my left eyebrow profusely. I stood there with my hand on the wound trying to stop the gushing blood. When my father saw that the blood was running down my arm, past my elbow and now making a pool on the floor, he decided to take me to the doctor. The doctor stitched me up. I came home and no one ever talked about it after that day. It was another day in the mad house called our home. That was our normal. That day, I knew I did not want to live like that. I wanted peaceful life where there was no fighting, screaming or beating. I hoped for a better normal.
We moved from India to Michigan, USA. Scenery changed, but my dad and the madness were still with us.
Then, I met a guy that I fell in love with. He was nice and respectful to me. He loved me and wanted to marry me. I thought this was heaven sent. I could finally escape and make a good loving home with him. Which I did. We were both young, intelligent, smart, hardworking and risk takers. We had two beautiful boys and we were soon very successful in business too. We were a perfect little family till everything took the turn for worst. He became angry, just like my father and sometimes even worse. He threatened me that if I think of leaving him, he will make sure I never see my sons again. So, I stayed. That gave him more power. And somewhere through all that, we became his property.
He often told us he loved us, but his actions didn’t match the words. We lived in fear of his temper just like we did with my father. After a while my children started asking me why I put up with him and why do I not leave. I feared that the custody fight would be worse because I could not protect my children from his anger and beatings if I wasn’t there. I remember him setting the security alarm after he had beaten one or all of us. I use to think, “why is he you setting the alarm now? The one we are afraid of is in the house.”
Finally, one day my son who was almost 18, and was in college, came home to see us. Within a few minutes, they started arguing and his father was beating him with a shoe. That was it. That day, my mental calendar, waiting for my son to turn 18 was up. I realized that my son or I did not need to take it anymore. So, for the first time I told him I was going to leave him. Things got even worse for a while. The divorce was ugly and long, but it was over.
We were finally free to start healing. Moving away to a different state was the best thing I did.
Three months after I moved to Malibu, one day I realized I hadn’t cried for 3 months. Wow! That was the first time I had realized the freedom. I could not stop smiling. What an amazing feeling that was! So, I decided to stay in Malibu away from my past and the people who were hurtful.
I worked on myself. I was finally peaceful. But the question that why it happened at all, why did I live in abuse all my life and why did my sons suffer so much, was still confusing and painful.
So, to make sure that the life of abuse was over for good, I started writing and analyzing my life to understand when I learned to accept abuse. I was a strong, smart woman who was not afraid of anything or anyone, so why was I afraid of men in my home.
I started interviewing people who had freed themselves from abusive relationships and were now enjoying wonderful successful lives on their own terms. I wrote a candid guidebook, Domestic Abuse: UNREPORTED CRIME, for awareness and how to end abuse. I want to help others who may still be living in abuse and to make their freedom journey easier and faster than mine.
Luckily my sons and I are very close, and I made sure they knew that I was always available for them. I knew it was going to take a while and there will be days when they will have questions and pain they could not figure out on their own. I am their mom, and I was the other adult who decided to keep them in abuse as long as I did.
Even though we were free to live our lives now, we still had days when we could not make sense of the life we had. I decided I had to do something more. If we wanted to live empowered lives, we had to let go of the victim syndrome and find a way to leave the past where it belonged. So, I started studying Spiritual Psychology at University of Santa Monica. It gave me a lot of answers. Brought me some peace so I was able to move forward. I was able to guide my sons as and when they needed or asked for my help.
Still, my goal was to learn how to live a normal life where we were not afraid to come home. I wanted to transform the way of life as we knew so far to a life of freedom. Domestic harmony sounded like a dream. I was seeing red flags everywhere. One day, someone made me realize that some flags are just shades of pink. I cannot live in fear of people just because they are different, I need to learn how to speak up and handle differences without fear. So, I joined Pepperdine Law school for a degree in Mediation and dispute resolution to learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully.
Now, I have a private practice as a mediator to help resolve family disputes or conflicts between business partners. I am the neutral person helping negotiate a win-win resolution. My objective is always to remind people that they were once lovers or friends who decided to build a family or business together. I am able to help negotiate a resolution where all parties come out successful because they agreed on the outcome themselves unlike expensive and lengthy lawyers and court system where they are told what to do. And best of all, they are able to salvage some respectful relationship. It is especially important when children are involved that all parties stay civil because after all they are still a family, even if they live in separate homes.
My most rewarding work experiences have been at the private school, Our Lady of Malibu (OLM), where I teach mediation and also help the principal with resolving disputes between students, students and siblings, students and teachers, and sometimes even students and parents. Most of the time the Principal, Mr. Smith tells me to go do my magic. He tells the students if they agree to mediation with me, he doesn’t have to discipline them in more formal way. So, the children are willing to learn.
Over time we were able to change the culture at school. Now most children have learned the process of mediation and have learned not to look for fighting or throwing things at each other. They have learned respectfully distancing themselves and ask for mediation.
Many parents asked me, what I did in mediation because they noticed that the children who had been fighting for years, go in hating each other and come out hugging and smiling. Many of the teachers and parents remark that they wish they were taught mediation skills when they were growing up. At OLM, we have resolved some serious problems through mediation, some problems that had been going on for years.
Witnessing what a difference mediation has been able to bring about in the behaviors and relationships of students, teachers and parents in one school, I am convinced that this is where the change needs to start. I am so honored and passionate about working with children and teaching them how to resolve disputes peacefully and respectfully because these are the children who will be future spouses, parents, teachers, partners, bosses and employees. If they learn these skills now when they are young, they will remember to use them when they are older. Hopefully, when our children are grown, they will look for peaceful ways to communicate their differences instead of resorting to anger and threatening to sue each other.
My dream and goal is to teach mediation skills as part of curriculum in our schools system, so our next generations are better prepared to handle conflicts, be more accepting neighbors and manage their lives with love and respect unlike the examples of anger and chaos they are witnessing and learning now.
In hope for a better future for our children.
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research source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2019/01/29/domestic-violence-research-children-abuse-mental-health-learning-aces/2227218002/