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Growing Up With Domestic Violence: An Adult Survivor’s Perspective



I was 36 years old when I finally asked, “What’s wrong with me?” My way of being in the world was simply not working. A constant thread of chaos and never-ending drama ran through my life. Slowly, I began to wake up and connect-the-dots between my childhood and my present dysfunctional circumstances. I became aware, aware that something within me needed to change. And that’s when the healing began.

Domestic violence-physical, verbal, and emotional-wreaks havoc on everyone in a household. No one emerges unscathed. Witnessing abuse has a life-altering impact on children. As adults, they suffer its lingering effects. Many like me won’t even recognize this influence until they are well into adulthood and living a life that is eerily similar to the one they thought they had left behind. Most survivors of childhood domestic abuse will find themselves struggling with the outmoded beliefs, behaviors, and patterns they adopted early on. Life-stalling issues, such as shame, self-blame, lack of trust, control, and “walking on eggshells,” continue to interfere with their growth; they are stuck in the past and paralyzed in the present.

It takes courage to break away from the familiar. We do what we know. But just because we know it, that doesn’t mean it’s right for us. A survival behavior that worked in 1968 is probably not going to help us now. Denial was our friend way back when; it protected us from pain. Trying to control our environment gave us a false sense of security: I’ll get there before mom gets hit. Walking on eggshells was a way to keep the peace; now, it just keeps us in fear. It’s time to let go, to say goodbye to those issues that were our constant companions.

We must find new ways of thinking and acting. Change begins with awareness. Notice those areas where you feel held back. Maybe you can’t trust people. Okay, so think about all the times that you trusted life, and everything worked out for the best. What about self-blame? Are you really responsible for every single thing that has gone wrong since the beginning of time? And while you’re at it, are you carrying someone else’s shame? If you are, you might want to put it down.

And that’s the key: Put down your old, dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors. They no longer serve you. The past is too heavy for you to carry it around today. Lighten your load, and let the healing begin.


Jan Downing knows firsthand the fallout that children carry into adulthood from growing up with domestic violence and can speak to the issues that are universal among survivors. Her blog is
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