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Early Exposure to Family Violence

Adolescence is a period of time filled with new romantic experiences offering opportunities for love, passion, and commitment but also anxiety, inequity and potential violence. The rates of victimization and perpetration in late adolescence are alarming at around 30-35% of relationships. When a child or adolescent is exposed to domestic violence or abuse from a family member, it increases their risk of experiencing violence in relationships to follow. The reason for this increased risk has been explored for many years and it is believed that since children learn through the modeling of behaviors of others, witnessing or experiencing abuse in the family may teach a child that violence can be a used as a conflict resolution strategy or to gain control over their partner.

The first people children develop attachments, or close emotional bonds, with are their

caregivers. This leads these adult figures to be representations of how to function in

relationships. When children are unable to form these strong attachments with their caregivers, they often experience abandonment anxiety, which is the fear of rejection by a loved one coupled with low self-worth. This anxiety increases hyper-

vigilance, which means the child will be on high alert to a threatening situation. Children may thus avoid intimacy by suppressing their emotions relying on themselves as a way to protect themselves from needed their loved one.

The inability to form secure attachments with a caregiver during childhood has shown to lead to insecure attachments in adolescence and adulthood. These insecure attachments can increase the risk of violence perpetration in relationships as individuals may protect themselves by having control over a partner, distancing themselves emotionally, lacking trust, and feeling uncertain about their partner’s betrayal.

Taking in all this information, early identification and intervention of child maltreatment is key in protecting the child from learning to use violence as a response to insecure attachments. Treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy can help the child improve their communication skills with their family, build emotion regulation skills, and alter their skewed beliefs about relationships early on. Treatment can also target any relational avoidance or anxiety the child or adolescent may be experiencing by providing coping skills as well.

adolescent may be experiencing by providing coping skills as well.

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