So how does domestic violence affect children—especially in connection to suicidal tendencies? It’s worth noting that in several states, violence between two adults in the home is now legally defined as a form of child abuse. There are a couple of very good reasons for this.
First, kids who are exposed to violent behavior in the home are in danger of becoming emotionally scarred. It’s easy for a victimized parent to ignore the tremendous negative impact domestic violence can have on a child. Children living in abusive homes are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, academic struggles, behavioral problems, difficulty sleeping, and all kinds of chronic health issues.
Second, it has long been understood that domestic violence is a learned behavior. If your home is violent and abusive, your children are highly likely to repeat the behaviors they’ve witnessed there. That’s because domestic violence is generally picked up through observation, experience, reinforcement, culture, family, and community. It’s not caused by substance abuse, genetics, stress, anger, illness, economic hardship, or marital problems. This is one of the reasons domestic violence crosses socioeconomic lines and even occurs with great frequency in the church, where it is said to affect one in four domestic relationships.
A Setup for Suicide
Clearly, domestic violence is bad for kids. In addition, there are specific ways in which exposure to domestic violence can steer kids in the direction of taking their own lives. The connection between being a victim of domestic violence and developing a suicidal mentality is very real. Consider the following ways kids can think when they’re in this type of situation.
I don’t deserve to live. When a child grows up seeing his father abuse his mother or hearing him say things like, “I’m gonna kill you . . . and the kids,” it’s easy for him to internalize the idea that he’s worthless. Dad hates me, he thinks. I guess I should never have been born.
I don’t want to grow up to be like Dad. A genuine anxiety of reduplicating the sins of the father can induce some young people to bail out on life altogether.
I feel helpless and hopeless. Some kids come through an experience of domestic violence feeling like complete failures. I couldn’t protect Mom, she thinks, and I couldn’t protect myself. It’s a hopeless situation.
I’m walking on eggshells. People who live in environments where dangerous outbursts of anger are common learn to live in a state of constant dread and anxiety. This can lead to the abandonment of all hope for a better future.
It’s making other problems worse. Violence in the home is the direct enemy of strong attachment and a sense of security. It sets kids up for a life of anxiety and an obsession with survival. If other problems are present—such as depression, OCD, ADHD, or learning disabilities— domestic violence will only make matters worse.
I want to escape. Add it all up, and you have a situation guaranteed to inspire thoughts of escape. Since teenagers, developmentally speaking, are highly self-centered in their outlook, they’re not particularly inclined to give much thought to how their “escape plan” might affect others. All they can think about is finding a way out. In a life dominated by domestic violence, they can see suicide as an attractive option.