Brian Martin contacted me several years ago seeking my professional advice. He said he was committed to helping children living in partner-abusive families, and he wanted to be sure that his charitable foundation’s programs reflected the best that science had to offer on the subject. I am often asked to consult on program development, but until that point I had never met an individual so passionate and so fiercely committed to making a difference in the lives of those who grew up living with domestic violence. Since then, I have watched and occasionally assisted as Brian has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the fact that abuse of a parent is devastating for a child to witness and that the suffering of those who have grown up in these homes is widely overlooked.
Brian has convened scholars and authorities in the areas of domestic violence, mental health, and leadership to glean their wisdom; produced an award-winning documentary about the issue, and developed a campaign and online educational program to raise awareness and offer help for those affected by what is now known as childhood domestic violence. The Change a Life program developed by his foundation, available at cdv.org, is the first of its kind, designed to provide information and support for those who have grown up in—or who want to help someone growing up in—a partner-abusive home. I am happy to have played a role in the development and evaluation of the program and even more happy to call Brian a colleague and friend.
Brian contacted me because I have spent my academic career documenting and understanding the short- and long-term effects of domestic violence on children. Most programs designed to help children living in violent families naturally involve providing services directly to the child and/or the family itself. Yet there has been scant support and information to help the adults who were once those children.
This book, then, brings a fresh approach, using the knowledge gathered from decades of research to outline how those who were once children in partner-abusive families can reclaim their lives and futures. The science that informs this book, and the real-life experiences of men and women who have overcome the devastation of witnessing the abuse of a parent, together offer hope as well as object lessons for those trying to find their way forward.
There can be no doubt that early life in such an environment can shape how you think, feel, and act, especially in personal relationships and social interactions, and that these effects can be long lived. We’ve come a long way in learning how to help the children, but what about those who’ve already grown up and left their childhood homes? Many were raised at a time when it wasn’t even acknowledged that witnessing violence could be damaging to a child. They have been left to struggle on their own, often too ashamed to share what happened with others. Because this issue has been under the radar for so long, they often don’t connect the dots between what they learned in the homes they grew up in and the issues they face today. Some will insist that they are fine, even when the facts of their lives, such as depression, anxiety or fear, and abuse or failure in their own personal relationships offer evidence to the contrary.
Most are able to get away from the violence, yet they still may be unable to live the life they hoped to lead because their perceptions of themselves and the ways they relate to others are not as they would wish them to be, and they are unaware of that fact. The effects may not be so bad that their lives have been destroyed, but bad enough that the sustained satisfaction in relationships that others seem so easily to attain predictably escapes them. Their journey remains troubled.
This book distills the body of knowledge we now have on this subject and offers a hand to those who want to change their journey. Brian has crystallized on these pages all that those of us have learned and discussed with one another and shared with him. Whether you have been severely or only mildly affected by exposure to violence as a child, or just want to learn what it is like for others who have experienced it, these chapters will offer new ways to understand those experiences and a new perspective from which to view yourself and your relationships. Even a small change in perspective can transform a life.
Reading a book is seldom the total solution to a problem. But not everyone wants or has access to professional services or a trusted friend, and many are simply not ready to talk. For those who’d rather read quietly in a room and reflect, or at least start there, this is a gift. I could not be more proud to have been a part of opening our collective eyes to the magnitude of this problem and providing comfort and support to those in need.