Facing Violence as a Child

by Shellie Spradlin

As a child, I was witness to many events that a child should not see. Many had no clue of the horrors that went on behind closed doors and those that knew turned a blind eye. As a child I had no understanding of what was going on around me. I only knew a life of violence handed out to my mother by my alcoholic father. He never forced his violence upon me physically, but emotionally he ripped my young life apart.

From the time I was born violence lived within our home. I guess most did not understand because it would "only" happen on the weekends. He was a master manipulator, and others could not believe he would ever raise a hand to anyone. He worked very hard and supported his family; we virtually had the very best of everything. I can only assume that he provided us with the best throughout the week because he robbed us of so much of our lives on the weekend.

There was not a weekend from my birth through my early teens that we did not spend at a friend/relatives house or a motel room hiding from the brutality of my father. As a result I have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress for many years involving very life like flashbacks of events that happened in my childhood. There has even been one particular event that I flashed that happened when I was the age of 3. I had climbed from my crib to save my mother from being stabbed by my father. Another I was 5, I pulled a loaded and cocked gun from my father's hand. He had it pointed to my mothers head and would have pulled the trigger if I had not intervened. He then proceeded to take me to his stool, put the gun in my hand, my finger on the trigger, the gun to his head and told me to shoot him because he was a bad father.

This was only a small view into the life I lead for many, many years -- many years that to this day sometimes haunt me, give me nightmares and bring on sudden depression. My father stopped drinking when my mother left, the violence ended. But, in my mind it remained the same. The flashbacks remind me often of the life I lead, the life ripped from me and most importantly the life I will never regain. Although my father has since passed from this life, I will always carry the scars of my childhood. The trauma, flashbacks and not so fond memories will always be there to haunt me.

My childhood is not remembered fondly. But, there are many children that can be saved from the trauma that they are going through, be it at the hands of someone else or simply witnessing the violence around them. That will only happen when we as friends, parents and relatives take that first step…that first step to save a child from the horrors that live within their own homes.

I must add that although my father dealt us a rough hand during those years I still love him with all my heart. He was my father and he had a horrible disease that ruled his life. Although we assured him many times that we had forgiven him for the things he had done. He lived his remaining years guilt ridden and unforgiving of himself. I guess he always knew that no matter what he did we would never forget.

Is there really a fine line?

Many think that there is a fine line between actually experiencing domestic abuse first hand and witnessing it. In actuality those who witness it, which is usually a child, are traumatized as much as the person being dealt the abuse. Many factors go into how this trauma affects the child directly, whether it be the type or amount of abuse witnessed the adverse affects can be very severe.

Children who witness violence within their homes can exhibit many symptoms that many may see as normal childhood "phases." Some include:

  • Having feelings of guilt or anxiety because they feel they have done something wrong for the violence to happen. These children may become withdrawn; exhibit eating and sleeping difficulties, complain more often of physical ailments such as headaches and has poor concentration levels. Younger (preschool age) children, who do not understand what is going on around them, more often show these signs.
  • Pre- adolescents can exhibit more outward, physical signs of witnessing violence. These children may become less attentive in school, have low self-esteem, become a loner or only have a select few friends, rebellious, temper tantrums, irritability, mood swings, abusive to siblings or pets, and may use violence against others to gain attention or items of monetary value.
  • Adolescents are at an increased risk to drop out of school and turn to substance abuse as a way to deal. The most terrifying symptom of a childhood filled with violence is the fact that most adolescents who have lived this life will begin to treat their peers and their partners in the ways they have witnessed. Many girls will chose partners based on what they know to be a "normal" relationship, which is in reality an abusive one.

Shellie is mother to three wonderful girls, a bouncy boy and one on the way!

Copyright © Shellie Spradlin. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.