The statistics indicate that when one parent, typically the male, is abusive to the other parent, the children are more likely to be abused as well.
What the statistics do not indicate is that even if the child is not actually struck or harmed, simply living in a household where there is lots of fear or tension, a household where the parents cycle through the cycle of violence for example, is damaging to the child's attachment process and actually changes the brain, sensitizing the child to fear. A person who has learned that he/she cannot protect themselves(and is therefore helpless) is more likely to resort to violence as a tool to exert some control in their lives, which can leave someone seriously injured.
I have a number of articles in my office of young boys who have been killed or seriously injured trying to protect their mothers, so this is a serious issue.
Lots of current research in domestic violence is indicating that a problem in the attachment process, which happens in the first two years of life, can lead to the inability to form secure adult relationships.
When it is the male who forms insecure attachments as an adult, which means that when there is a perceived threat to attachment, the male floods with tension (in 1/18th) second, he will act out in the environment in an attempt to relax. When an insecure attachment style is coupled with a shaming father, the young man is set up for relationship insecurities down the road.
Attachment is a visual process, and begins early, long before the infant is ambulatory. Mom is the first attachment object, for the first year of life, and then there is room in the child's brain for a second attachment, to Dad. Dad has a very important role in the attachment process, teaching both boys and girls how to regulate aggression in the gear shifting living room wrestling events. (For very specific information I recommend Allan Schore's work on attachment). Children who get this kind of play with Dad grow up with a life long sense of safety, which is a positive brain blueprint to operate from.
Broadly speaking, attachment is the attempt of baby and mom to match each others physical arousal levels through nonverbal communication, visual and auditory and tactile cues.
The more successful the pair are at doing this, the more successful social interaction happen, the more neurons mature and migrate to their appropriate spot in the childs brain, and the better developmental processes are completed.
Attachment processed can happen as often as every three seconds if we were to measure them linearly, so they are frequent and brief.
A life time of more tranquil relationships can result from the attention Mom and Dad pay to this process.
Just the opposite happens with poor attachment. A child's brain requires many thousands of brief attachments, but only one fearful episode to impact the brain forever, and the chemistry of fear lays down the memory in the amygdala in 1/18th second, and it can get cued later, by similar visual, auditory, or tactile or olfactory or gustatory experiences, and the now adult can be flooded with stress hormones faster than they can do their anger management, and strike out into the world.
If their is a history of tension between the parents, the child, who is very aware of how things are between the care givers who keep him alive, is sensitized to tension, and may over react because of that sensitivity, years, even decades later, to a surprise in the environment.
So domestic violence as a form of child abuse, even if the child is not physically touched.
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