Name-calling is often a sign of bullying. When growing up with domestic violence, however, it is the lack of naming that is damaging. What if defining that complex experience could actually help you heal it?

For example, as society came to define and name violence against women, we see more research and discussion regarding women in situations of domestic violence. There needs to also be more of a focus on all of those who grew up living with it as well. “There are many more children in battered women’s shelters than women,” said Dr. Renee McDonald, noted researcher in family violence, in a recent interview.

I don’t think this oversight is deliberate. When it comes to this idea of growing up with domestic violence, people don’t know what to call it. They struggle to define their experience, to name it. Often they don’t call it domestic violence because that refers to adults. Or they don’t consider it to have been child abuse because that most often refers to physical abuse.

Neither neglect nor emotional abuse adequately describes it. Many researchers will call it child witness to intimate partner violence.

Have you ever heard of that?

A very small percent of the population has heard of it, according to a recent study. Further, this word “witness” doesn’t work because it is a passive word and doesn’t adequately describe the impact.

And so we, the sufferers of such a tremendously painful experience, remain nameless. When we are unable to name our experience it can become difficult to acknowledge the fact that something terrible happened to us. Luckily, I believe that we are now moving toward a powerful naming for our experience.
I call it “growing up with domestic violence.” It’s a start. It gives us a foundation for healing what we endured as children. It also provides a way forward into love, trust and forgiveness as adults.

What would you call your experience growing up with domestic violence? I invite you to share in the comments below.