The impact and effects upon children and young people who have expereinced domestic abuse can have a significant impact on their future wellbeing and relationships; how does a child make sense of adverse childhood experiences such as domestic abuse and manage to achieve and function as growing up and developing in itself is hard enough.
Children and young people who have experienced domestic need the opportunity to talk about their experiences so they can redefine and make better sense of what has happened to them as well as exploring the impact on their thoughts, feelings and behaviour within a safe, secure and trusting relationship which is so very important for their mental health and emotion wellbeing.
The chance to build a therapeutic relationship is key to helping them not only manage here-and-now difficulties but to help them make sense of their experiences of domestic abuse. This can in turn help to build resilience as encouraging emotional talk to significant adults helps them to understand emotions and emotional openness helps to build secure attachments (Nelson, 2000).
The opportunity to discuss their experiences brings greater shared understanding and provides significant adults in the child's lives an opportunity to understand the child's frame of reference, whereby the child feels listened to and understood improving their self esteem helping to restore and build key relationships in their lives going forward.
This helps them to process and make sense of their lives to appropriately rationalise and understand their experiences to address early attachment insecurity, as the opportunity to access emotionally open communication within an therapeutic relationship facilitates the construction of a more coherent and realistic interpretation (Bretherton, 1999).
Emotions often experienced as a result of domestic abuse such as anger, sadness, shame, resentment and blame can have a major impact on their lives and wellbeing unless they are given the opportunity to explore and express themselves, as often there is a fear talking can make things worse. Children who are not given this opportunity can internalise difficult emotions leading to anxiety or depression or externalise by displaying difficult oppositional behaviours causing further distress and difficulties in their relationships.
Therefore the need to talk about their lives is key so they become aware that such topics can be discussed and it's ok to talk about such things as they have an explicit message that they can share their thoughts, feelings and fears knowing that it won't make things worse.
This gives them a positive message about themselves, one that contradicts negative messages that they are unworthy of gaining attention but actually are acceptable and loveable (Bolby, 1988). The support provides reassurance helping them understand what's happened in their lives but also aids their resilience and self esteem as they learn others find them acceptable, thereby aiding their ability to cope and manage relationships ultimately improving their wellbeing.
The key messages that it's not your fault, your not to blame and your not alone are also key to normalising their experiences and is an integral part underpinning the therapy. The opportunity to redefine and understand their experiences in a more realistic way can aid the development of empathy towards the non abusive relationships in their lives as well as easing their own feelings of self blame helping them to process and heal to build a secure future.
Nelson, K. and Fivush, R. (2000) ‘Socialization of memory’, in Tulving E. and Craik, F. I. M. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Memory, New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 283–95.
Bretherton, I. (1999) ‘Updating the “internal working model” construct: some reflections’, Attachment & Human Development, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 343–57.
Bowlby, J. (1988) A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development, New York, Basic Books