Those who have never experienced domestic violence may sometimes question why a child would stay silent when living in such a home. Children don’t usually talk about it, though. They are afraid they may get into trouble. Or they fear that one of their parents will get locked up, or that they themselves will be put into foster care. They may fear that their report will put one of their parents in greater peril. Perhaps you had a different reason for staying silent.
It’s important that we adults understand that our silence when we were children was a survival mechanism. We were trying to keep ourselves and those we loved safe. By also understanding why children stay silent – from the adult perspective – we can begin to forgive ourselves. For the moments we didn’t say anything, and also for the moments when we did and faced consequences.
In my case, even before the age of 6, I had to learn a kind of vigilance. I was determined to survive my mother’s boyfriend, Keith. In silence I suffered those unpredictable yet frequent nights of fear and rising tension—waiting for the moment when my mother would scream or I would hear the slap of a hand against a face.
I would often try to stop these physical and at times verbal or non-physical encounters between my mother and Keith; but most of the time, I just felt helpless and angry. Then one day I broke my silence and faced the consequences.
It was an early morning while I was in second grade, and I woke up to screaming downstairs. I ran down and grabbed my mother by the hand and we sprinted out of the house in our pajamas. We kept running until we got to the police station.
Later that day, Keith sat across from me in handcuffs. I don’t know why this happened, but I do recall vividly what happened next. He leaned close to me and whispered, “Now I’m really gonna hurt her.”
It’s difficult for me to explain the pain those words caused in my little 8-year-old body, the degree of fear, guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness I felt. As far as I knew, I was causing all this, and again, I would be unable to stop it.
I have since heard many other similar stories. Children living with domestic violence fear that if they talk about it, someone they love will face dire consequences, or they themselves will.
Revisiting why we remained silent or did not remain silent, as well as how that made us feel back then, we can now see those experiences with adult eyes. We can take that first step towards acknowledging that we made the best decisions we could at the time, whatever they were. We, also, can now choose now to break our silence.
Please share in the comments below if you ever tried to talk about your childhood. Did you ever tell any kind of authority about the domestic violence occurring in your household?