The Impacts Of Intimate Partner Violence On Stages Of Development


Intimate partner violence leads to a host of adverse physical, developmental, emotional, and psychological outcomes, profoundly impacting personal growth and development. The impacts are not limited to only the partners involved, but also children that must witness the violence. As a result, the consequences of intimate partner violence are far reaching and can extend to all stages of development, including childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and pregnancy. In addition, both being a witness to intimate partner violence or being a partner involved with violence are associated with higher risks of negative health outcomes, which may lead to long-term health disorders and difficulty in forming other intimate relationships.

The Impacts of Intimate Partner Violence on Stages of Development

The consequences of intimate partner violence are far reaching, particularly in regards to its effects on stages of human development. This violence drastically impedes successful development during childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and pregnancy. Intimate partner violence produces many negative consequences; however, its ramifications on stages of development, such as childhood and adolescence, are extensive and prove to be deleterious on personal growth and development.

An individual’s exposure to intimate partner violence in childhood is distressing, to say the least. A wide range of both mental and health complications are prone to manifesting themselves not only during childhood, but later in life, as well. Several outcomes may include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. In addition, it is not uncommon for early exposure to intimate partner violence to be a contributor to later acts of intimate partner violence, as the child is susceptible to becoming an offender, as well. Studies conducted on this issue have found that, if a child sees an adult using a weapon towards their partner, the child is more likely to commit an offense later on in adulthood.

According to Domestic Violence Roundtable, around three to four million children each year between ages 3 to 17 will be exposed to domestic violence. U.S. Government statistics show that more often than not, the cases involve the female falling victim to the male in the relationship. Consequently, the children of these mothers also fall victim to witnessing this. The most common and immediate outcome, for the child, is increased anxiety and overall fearfulness. They become constantly on edge and fearful over things that, to other children, would not be considered fearful. Children that witness intimate partner violence, in addition, are unaware as to what will trigger another violent episode, which results in a state of incessant worrying and watchfulness. Also, children in these circumstances never feel safe.

In addition, children that witness domestic partner violence are prone to feelings of rage followed by extreme sadness. This anger may be directed towards the offender, their siblings, or even their mother, as the confusion and pain makes it difficult for them to understand the situation. The emotional responses may include: fear, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, depression, sleeping disorders, and paranoia. These emotional responses may translate into physical symptoms as well, including: headaches, bedwetting, and problems in concentration.

Several behavioral outcomes are common in children involved with domestic partner violence. These outcomes may be acting out, overall anxiousness to please, social withdrawal, and short attention span. As a result, these effects may consequently influence performance in school and attendance. In addition, children may experience developmental delays in regards to speech, cognitive, or motor functioning. As stated earlier, children who witness intimate partner violence may also employ violence to express their self in response to increased aggression towards others.

The emotional and psychological effects associated with children that are involved with intimate partner violence are extensive. Even if the child is not a victim of actual physical abuse, the child’s home life is not healthy and therefore does not promote healthy development in the child. The view of reality, for the child, is often distorted as they see one partner abuse another. As a result, the child has no healthy role model to look to, and they grow up seeing one of the partners use intimidation and coercion to become superior to the other. Often, a child will side with the dominant partner in the relationship, as their tendency is to look for and identify power and strength. This, unfortunately, aids in disrespecting the other partner and fosters a loss in sympathy and overall feelings of compassion.

The offender/abuser may seize on the child identifying with them, and further pronounce this by referring to the offended, often the female, as “crazy” or “stupid”. As a result, the child sees their role model treat the other partner with vast disrespect and harshness, which in turn fosters their feelings of disrespect towards the other partner. Later on, often after years of attitudes such as this one described, the extensive implications surface, as the child may treat other women or less strong figures/partners with the same intensity of disrespect.

Psychologists and researchers alike agree that, most likely, children that witness abuse at home ultimately learn that violence and partner abuse is the way to resolve problems and conflict. While the emotional and physical disorders and/or other complications discussed previously were in regards to child-aged individuals, the same results are applicable to adolescents later on. These outcomes may become further pronounced as the child progresses into adolescence, and then even more so as first intimate relationships are encountered in the teenage years. Furthermore, studies show that both children and adolescents display overwhelming tendencies to replicate the same behaviors witnessed at home. This can take effect during childhood, teenage years, and even during the parenting stages. Often, boys that witness the abuse of their mother are more likely to display aggression towards their female partners later on. On the other hand, girls with mothers who are abused at home may cultivate beliefs that women, in the relationship, are normally treated with violence and abuse by the man/offender.

Lastly, children and adolescents with backgrounds of intimate partner violence are shown to have a higher risk of developing dependencies on drugs and/or alcohol, post-traumatic stress disorder, and juvenile lawbreaking. Unfortunately, witnessing domestic abuse seems to accurately predict patterns of behavior in children and adolescents, such as juvenile delinquency and later adult criminalities. Witnessing domestic abuse, for children, is also the primary reason as to why children choose to run away.

Intimate partner violence also significantly impacts individuals at the adult stage of development. Intimate partner violence presents a host of consequences long after the initial, physical damage is done. According to Culp-Ressler, those that experience intimate partner violence are prone to several disorders later on, such as heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and chronic pain. The two individuals in the relationship face abnormally high levels of stress, which increase and intensify the risks of health related issues.

Even after separation between the two individuals, both face higher risks of developing mental health disorders, including: anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. In addition, individuals during and after experiencing intimate partner violence, have shown to display tendencies of alcohol and drug abuse. Although many assume that the central problem of intimate partner violence is the immediate result, such as physical abuse, the long-term effects may prove to be even more detrimental.

According to Herman, the psychological ramifications and damage of intimate partner violence may exceed the physical component of damage. Intimate partner violence, consequently, has another layer of complexity added due to the fact that the victim knows and trusts/has trusted their perpetrator, and that the violence cannot be attributed to a random, unidentified attack by another perpetrator. This kind of psychological violence may also be known as emotional abuse, or verbal abuse/aggression which is employed to defame, control, intimidate, or terrorize the victim.

A common theme in many instances of intimate partner violence is the occurrence of the victim to internalize feelings of fear and thoughts of disparagement. These feelings and thoughts often lead to the victim’s inability to leave their partner. As a result, many of these victims have been compared to “prisoners of war”. This, additionally, fosters feelings of having lost an identity, lack of control overall, and despondency. Similar to children, adults who are involved with intimate partner violence are prone to significant psychological distress, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Children and adults alike experience severe anxiety and stress that elevates their awareness constantly, as if in frightened anticipation of when the offender may attack again.

Much literature and research seems to suggest that both males and females involved with intimate partner violence are equally susceptible to higher risks of disorders associated with mental health. However, research indicates that these disorders manifest themselves differently dependent on gender. For example, females are found to express more symptoms of PTSD when compared to men. On the other side, men were found to display more signs of anxiety when compared to females.

As stated previously, children who witness incidents of intimate partner violence in their childhood face a higher risk of developing similar relationships with their partner later on in adulthood. According to a large body of research, adults involved with intimate partner violence often report observations of partner violence in their childhood, further supporting this existing research and theory. These individuals that reported previous exposure to intimate partner violence, in addition, also experienced higher rates of negative mental health outcomes, such as PTSD, when compared to those who had never had exposure to intimate partner violence. These reports are supported by the theory of cumulative stress theory, in which individuals that have experienced intimate partner violence trauma in their childhood, and then later on in adulthood either as perpetrators or victims, face an ever increasing build up of stress that contributes to mental disorders.

The impacts upon developmental stages, as discussed previously, have been shown to have long lasting consequences that may last much longer than the immediate physical abuse involved with intimate partner violence. The significant and extensive physical and emotional outcomes associated with elevated anxiety and long-term stress are detrimental to any person at any age, with substantial ramifications. These ramifications foster feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness, lack of control, and overall powerlessness. In turn, these feelings result in difficulties in maintaining social relationships, such as outside friendships. In addition, intimate partner violence significantly compromises both adults’ and children’s’ abilities to form strong attachments with other persons in their lives.

Women with pregnancies also find their health and overall well being severely jeopardized when involved with intimate partner violence. During pregnancy, intimate partner violence has been found to have a correlation with both fatal and non-fatal negative health outcomes for both the mother and the baby as the physical trauma directly affects their health and development. A most extreme result of intimate partner violence is homicide, and studies show that pregnant women are at a higher risk for being a victim of homicide in intimate partner violence when compared to other non-pregnant women.

Non-fatal adverse health effects associated with intimate partner violence during pregnancy may include health compromises to both maternal and newborn components. Abuse during pregnancy may involve outcomes such as intrauterine growth retardation, as well as preterm labor. As a result, these two outcomes may cause lower birth weights along with other adverse outcomes. In addition, intimate partner violence during pregnancy may also cause a higher risk of abortion or miscarriage. Ultimately, intimate partner violence can result in both short term and long term health consequences that may be severely detrimental to the baby and mother.

Behavioral outcomes of violence associated with pregnancy may include smoking and/or drug and alcohol abuse. Research suggests that dependencies on these habits may be a coping mechanism for the pregnant mother, as feelings of shame and hopelessness may lead them to turn to one or more practices or habits. Delays in prenatal care, drastically affecting the baby’s health, are another possible negative consequence. This may be attributed to the other partner/offender not allowing the pregnant partner to leave the home, or the mother may be keeping herself at home in shame of her injuries.

Psychological, physical, and sexual abuse involved with intimate partner violence in pregnancy has a strong correlation to adverse mental health outcomes. This may include depression, stress, anxiety, feeling a lack of control, suicide, and also a strain in attachment to the child. Mothers experiencing intimate partner violence may have difficulty in forming close bonds with their child, and lower rates of breastfeeding have been found to correlate with this. Other postpartum outcomes are also associated with intimate partner violence, as anxiety in the mother has been found to remain at very high and detrimental levels for at least six months following the baby’s delivery.

Studies have also proven that maternal antenatal stress and anxiety leads to both behavioral and emotional issues for up to four years in the child’s life. The underlying cause of this outcome, unfortunately, is the drastic effect of the mother’s mood experienced during pregnancy, and its influences on fetal brain development. Ultimately, this may affect the child’s behavioral development, including difficulties in forming strong attachments.

In summary, intimate partner violence during pregnancy leads to a host of adverse physical, emotional, developmental, and psychological health outcomes. As the violence increases between partners during pregnancy, so do the risks and intensity of the associated adverse health outcomes. These outcomes are not limited to only the mother, but also the child as well. The impacts upon the child’s health may include severe developmental and behavioral delays, which will ultimately negatively influence their mental and emotional well being. Other adverse patterns associated with psychological and emotional health are prevalent in other developmental stages, such as childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Both being a witness to intimate partner violence, and being a partner involved with violence, seems to result in negative health consequences that may lead to compromising health disorders and difficulties in cultivating other intimate relationships.

In conclusion, the outcomes of intimate partner violence are extensive, particularly in regards to its detrimental effects on stages of human development. Intimate partner violence significantly impairs successful development during childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and pregnancy. Ultimately, intimate partner violence leads to more associated complications that last longer than the immediate effects of violence, giving rise to long-term health issues and disorders.

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