The Devastating Effects of Domestic Violence on Adult Children: A Call To Action

Forty million people in the US experience domestic violence in their home during childhood. That is more than one out of every seven of today’s adult population. On this week’s show, our guest, Dr. Linda Olson, discussed a new topic that the domestic violence community is just beginning to address: adult children who grew up with domestic violence. Dr. Olson talked about the wounds that children of domestic violence internalize, how the wounds affect their development, and how becoming aware of the pain opens a door into healing. This is a very important step forward because many adult children repeat the pattern of domestic violence in their own lives.

There is such shame and self blame involved in growing up with domestic violence that many survivors keep their past traumas secret, never sharing their story with a friend, pastor or therapist, and as a result, are unlikely to heal. Dr. Olson cited that adults, who grew up with domestic violence are six times more likely to commit suicide, fifty times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and seventy-nine times more likely to commit a violent act against another person.

Living with domestic violence at a young age causes lasting effects. Dr. Olson, a trauma specialist, explained that kids think emotionally not rationally, because their brains are still developing, and they are unable to process or deal with their pain. The child internalizes many false beliefs such as: they are responsible for the violence, and therefore worthless because they are not able to stop the violence. Their sense of self is completely undermined by feeling unlovable, depressed, sad and angry. Such beliefs then become their character.

So what can we do to help? Breaking the silence and the stigma is something we can all do. Domestic violence is not a family-only business; it’s everyone’s business. As Dr. Olson pointed out, “Avoidance perpetuates violence”. By not speaking out we become part of the problem.

If we are going to break the cycle of domestic violence and abuse, we need more than just crisis intervention. Individuals who grew up with domestic violence are most vulnerable to become adult abusers or victims of domestic violence themselves.

Two Hearts Ribbon For Hope is a program founded by Dr. Olson to help adult children of domestic violence. When presented with a safe and supportive place with a highly trained staff, victims can begin to share their story to take steps towards healing.

Dr. Olson also recommended a book to our listeners: Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing up With Domestic Violence, and the Truths to Set You Free (Brian Miller, 2014, Penguin Group).
For more information about Dr. Linda Olson, or to contact her directly, you can visit her website. If you’d like to learn more about the program she founded, you can find it at

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