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The problem of family violence

Written By : SUNILA KARAN . Humans develop within a family context, and family relationships normally contribute positively to human development at every point in the life span. At the
09 Oct 2010 12:00

Written By : SUNILA KARAN . Humans develop within a family context, and family relationships normally contribute positively to human development at every point in the life span. At the same time families can be the cause of much anguish and of development gone astray.
Child abuse is perhaps the most visible form of family violence.
Every day infants, children, and adolescents are burned, bruised, beaten, starved, suffocated, sexually abused, or otherwise mistreated by parents and caretakers.
Abuse of children by their caregivers is only one form of family violence.
The potential for abuse exists in all possible relationships within the family.
Children and adolescents batter, and in rare cases kill their parents; siblings abuse one another in countless ways; and spousal abuse, rampant in our society, appears to be the most common form of family violence worldwide.
Elderly adults are also targets of family violence.
Frail or impaired older people are physically or psychologically mistreated, neglected, financially exploited, and stripped of their rights – most often by adult children or spouses serving as their caregivers. Many such cases go unreported.
Here is a social problem of major dimensions that causes untold suffering and harms the development of family members of all ages. What can be done to prevent it, or stop it once it occurs?

Why family violence does occur?

The various forms of family violence have many similarities.
Because child abuse has been studied the longest, let’s look at what has been learned about the causes of child abuse.

The Abuser
Child abusers come from all races, ethnic groups, and social classes. Many of them appear to be typical, fairly loving parents – except for their tendency to become extremely irritated with their children and to do things they will later regret.
A few reliable differences between parents who abuse their children and those who do not have been identified.
First, child abusers tend to have been abused as children; abusive parenting like effective parenting, tends to be passed from generation to generation.
Although some maltreated children do not abuse their own children when they become parents roughly 30% do (Kaufman, 1989).
They are also likely to become spousal abusers; about 60% of men who abuse their partners report that they either were abused or witnessed abuse as children, compared with about 20% of nonviolent men (Delsol,2004). Researchers do not know whether genes or environmental factors are primarily responsible for the inter-environmental transmission of parenting.
However, all forms of witnessing or being the target of violence in adults’ families of origin predict all forms of perpetration and victimization later in life, suggesting that what children from violent homes learn is that violence is an integral part of human relationships.
The cycle of abuse is not inevitable, however, it can be broken if abused individuals receive emotional support from parent substitutes, therapists, or spouses and are spared from severe stress as adults.
Second, abusive mothers are often battered by their partners. Because adults are more likely to be in an abusive romantic relationship or marriage if they were abused or witnessed abuse as a child, abusive mothers may have learned through their experiences both as children and as wives that violence is a way to solve problems, or they may take out some of their own frustrations about being abused on their children.
Third, abusers are often insecure individuals with low self-esteem.
Their unhappy experiences in insecure attachment relationship with their parents, reinforced by their negative experiences in romantic relationship, may lead them to formulate negative internal working models of themselves and others. These adults often feel like victims and feel powerless as parents.
However, they have also learned to be victimizers.
Fourth, abusive parents seem to have unrealistic expectations about what children can be expected to do at different ages and have difficulty tolerating the normal behavior of young children. For example research shows that when infants cry to communicate needs such as hunger, non-abusive mothers correctly interpret these signs of discomfort. But abusive mothers often inferhat the baby is somehow criticizing or rejecting them.
In short, abusive parents tend to have been exposed to harsh parenting and abusive relationships themselves, to have low self-esteem, and to find care-giving more stressful, unpleasant, and threatening to their egos than other parents do.

The Abused
An abusive parent often singles out only one child in the family as a target; this offers a hint that child characteristics might matter.
No one is suggesting that children are to blame for being abused, but some children appear to be more at risk than others.
For example, children who have medical problems or who are difficult are more likely to be abused than quiet, healthy, responsive children who are easier to care for.
Yet many difficult children are not mistreated, and many seemingly cheerful and easygoing children are.
Just as characteristics of the caregivers cannot fully explain why abuse occurs, then, either can characteristics of children.
There is now intriguing evidence that the combination of a high-risk parent and a high-risk child spells trouble.
Specifically, a child who has disabilities or illness or is otherwise difficult and a mother who feels powerless to deal with her child and overacts emotionally when the child cannot be controlled increases the likelihood of abuse.
People who lack a sense of control as parents tend to feel threatened by children who are not responsive to them. They become emotionally aroused, and may use force in a desperate attempt to establish that they have power.
However, even the match between child and caregiver my not be enough to explain abuse.

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