Domestic abuse, violence and other difficult topics are talked about in guest post from a member of the Newport Parent Network.
I have often heard phrases like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. The media regularly depicts perpetrators of domestic abuse as being victims themselves when they were younger. Thus the image of people once abused going onto abuse themselves becomes a viewpoint that many share.
Therefore, if you are a child growing up in a home where domestic abuse occurs then it could be a fairly reasonable assumption that the child will go onto commit similar acts of abuse?
I’ll leave that question hanging there for a little while.
“My mother was regularly beaten…”
It has become more evidenced in recent years that children growing up in a home where there is domestic abuse, suffer abuse themselves. Even if the child is not physically harmed it is now recognised that children still suffer from emotional abuse because of what they are witnessing.
I was such a child.
For the first 3 years of my life I lived in a household where my mother was regularly beaten by the person I called my father. I hear calls of, “but you’re far too young to have remembered or realised what happened.” I will explain why this was not the case.
“I was then used as a tool to encourage my mother to return”
My mother left my father when I was 3. She ran from the house fearful that should she remain she would have been killed. She was so fearful that she left me in the house, something she deeply regretted. I was then used as a tool to encourage my mother to return.
My father attempted suicide. My feeling is that this was an attempt to show my mother he couldn’t cope without her. This was unsuccessful, as I was returned to my mother whilst he was admitted to hospital and there was then no reason for my mother to think about returning. When I was 4 they divorced and my mother was able to start building a new life.
“My father was nothing more than a stranger to me”
Contact continued but was irregular and then stopped when I was 7 years of age. By that time my mother had a new husband and I had another brother and sister and a new dad. Life wasn’t great but things seemed much more positive. As I grew my stepfather became my dad. I did not see him as anything other than this even through the difficulties we had with our relationship.
My father attempted contact only once more, when I was 12. He brought my brother and me some presents. The presents were too young for me and too old for my brother and other than the £5 in the card they were unused and unwanted. I had gone through a process of grieving and my father was nothing more than a stranger to me. At that point I felt quite liberated. I had moved on from the issues of my past and so had my mother.
That was until the nightmares started
When I was 15 I began having vivid nightmares of my mother being attacked by my father. I kept most of these nightmares to myself. Yet after waking up screaming and being inconsolable, I told my mother about one of the nightmares I’d had. She became really upset. She later told me that this was less a nightmare and more a memory. I had described a real incident.
The decision I made at that point was to hide these issues from my mother. I did not tell her about any of the other nightmare/memories I had as some were far more distressing. So I bottled it up and got on with my life.
Moving out and moving on
I grew up, I left school, I got a job. The nightmares had stopped and I put them behind me. I had a few very short term relationships but could never fully commit. At the time I was working shifts and also going through university. I told myself I didn’t have the time for relationships.
When I was 26 I got a job working in a children’s residential home. I worked with children who had often been victims of abuse in all its guises. As part of this job, we were provided with a great deal of training to support us to support the children and young people we worked with.
I remember one course vividly, especially one of the activities we were completing. It was called pebbles. We were given a container with various stones and pebbles in. Some were smooth and shiny, some were jagged and rough.
“… a rough jagged stone, dark grey in colour”
We were told to pick a time in your life when you were happy, a birthday party. I chose my 5th birthday party. I had lots of friends and family around and we had cake. It was a happy day. We were then asked to take a stone to represent ourselves and then choose stones that represented other people in our life at the time.
I chose stones to represent my mother, my grandparents, my brother, other members of my family and some of my closest friends. I then picked up a stone. It was a rough jagged stone, dark grey in colour. I held it in my hand and went quiet. My partner asked if I was OK and I felt myself getting upset.
I changed the scenario to when I was older hoping that the person represented by this stone was no longer part of my life. I again put stones down to represent family adding my sister, my dad (stepdad), and my youngest brother. It was no use. I once again had picked up the jagged stone.
“… on a subconscious level he was there eating away”
It was at that point I realised that throughout my entire life every decision I had made had been impacted by this person. He was not involved in my life, he had no active part but on a subconscious level he was there eating away. The stone represented my father.
This realisation was upsetting, and the more I reflected on it the better I understood myself. I had been stopping myself committing to relationships, I had purposefully been keeping myself single because I was worried that I may have “not fallen far from the tree”. If I got into a relationship and committed could I also become abusive?
I was lucky, I gave myself a good talking to and told myself that I was not my father, I was not an aggressive person, I had no desire to control any other individual. I enjoyed helping others because that was the person I had been brought up to be.
“… children are often more affected by domestic abuse than we realise”
About a year later I signed up to a dating website and met a wonderful woman who soon after became my wife. 11 years later we are still together, have 4 amazing children and I can truthfully say, we are happy.
There are a number of messages I want to convey by writing this story. Firstly, children are often more affected by domestic abuse than we realise. Children hear even if they don’t see and it is important to make sure that children are supported if they have been exposed to domestic abuse. It is important that the message is clear that they are not to blame for the abuse and that the abuse is wrong.
“… you are not the product of your experiences”
I never blamed myself for the abuse but I did go through a stage of thinking, if it wasn’t for me my mother may have left sooner. This was before I became aware of the control that perpetrators have over their victims. Teaching children and young people about positive relationships is vital to help prevent future abuse.
But most importantly, for anyone reading this who has not been lucky enough to get support to overcome their experiences, you are not the product of your experiences. You can use your experiences to make a positive difference.
I live my life with no regrets. My life experiences led me to the path I have taken. If I had not had the experiences that I have had, I would not have been able to provide the same level of support and understanding to the children, young people, and families as I have.
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and I truly believe that.
There are organisations that can help you if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse or domestic violence. Many are linked to in this article. If you’re in immediate danger you should ring 999.
Live Fear Free – 0808 8010 800
Live Fear Free provides free support and information service for women, children and men in Wales who are experiencing or who have experienced abuse and / or violence at the hands of someone close to them. It is also an information service for people who are concerned about someone they know.
The helpline is open 24 hours a day. You will also find information about female genital mutilation (FGM), honour based violence and forced marriage and slavery (or human trafficking) on this Welsh Government funded site.
Want to find out about services available to you and your child in your area? Would you like to chat about family matters in general? Then get in touch with the FamilyPoint Cymru helpline.
- Phone: 0300 222 57 57
- Text: 07860 052 905
- Instant message (see top of page)
We are open 6pm – 10pm Monday to Thursday and 10am – 2pm Friday & Saturday.