Last Updated on August 6, 2023 by Cindy Bekesi
Valentine’s Day is often hard for many people out there. But if you grew up with Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) and are also enduring a violent relationship in adulthood, it can be the worst day of the year.
Children who grow up with domestic violence are 2-3x more likely to enter a relationship with domestic violence as adults. According to UNICEF, Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) is the best predictor of becoming a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence later in life.
No one knows this better than our advisory board member, Dr. Linda Olson, who has gone on to demonstrate that ANYONE can attain a life of success and happiness, despite enduring great adversity and pain in childhood. She embodies the long journey and the many steps to victory: including many temporary defeats, patience for self-discovery, hard work to unleash her passions. She has accepted that just as a child is never responsible for the actions of an adult…an adult does not have to be defined by the adversity they faced in childhood.
The narrative below is by Dr. Olson, in her own words. Learn more here about Dr. Olson and her work.
Here’s my journey through Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) and helping families break the cycle of violence.
My name is Dr. Linda Olson. I grew up living with domestic violence. I’ve also been a practicing clinical psychologist, family therapist, enneagram teacher and Couples therapist for many decades. My goal is to help you heal and recover from the impact of Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV).
Many of us were never taught or didn’t grow up witnessing healthy relationships. We simply don’t have the relationship tools we need and deserve to be successful.
As the oldest of six children, I always wanted to become a psychologist, get married and be a mom. I also believed that because of my desire to be a mom, partner and my clinical training, I would naturally be a good mom and partner and know how to effectively communicate with my children and partner. I was wrong!
Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) is the single best predictor of Domestic Violence (DV) in adulthood…so the cycle keeps recurring from one generation to the next.
I had absolutely NO idea the impact of growing up witnessing my parents constantly yelling, fighting, and being violent with each other would have on me. CDV has a profound impact on a child’s life that can last into adulthood. It is the SINGLE best predictor of getting into an abusive relationship.
Yet, unfortunately, CDV is not talked about in our culture, which only reinforces young people feeling lost, confused, and alone, which makes them vulnerable to getting into an abusive relationship.
Like many children who grow up with CDV, I often felt scared, alone, and confused. In fact, most of my childhood I felt completely lost. But I was also clueless as to why I was so fearful, so filled with self-doubt and with no self-worth or self-esteem. I always thought there was something wrong with me, not having any inkling how all the false beliefs (LIES) I had picked up growing up in a home with violence had impacted me.
Tragically, my two younger sisters both fell prey to the negative effects of CDV. My youngest sister, Ann, was shot and killed by an ex- boyfriend and my younger sister, Mary, died homeless after leaving an abusive relationship.
But although I did not lose my life as they did, I also did not escape the impact. I spent 22 years in an abusive marriage before finally acknowledging the negative impact it was having on my three young sons and myself, which ultimately gave me the courage to leave.
The first steps to breaking the cycle are often the hardest…and sometimes the most dangerous.
It takes tremendous courage for a person to leave an abusive relationship. When a person first leaves (even if there is no history of violence), it can also be the most dangerous time for them. But it is a big stepping stone to breaking FREE.
Admitting to myself that I was terrified of my partner, that I had made a poor choice in my marriage and I was WRONG was the first step to breaking the cycle! Until I did, my pride, embarrassment and deep shame kept me a prisoner in the marriage. I also had to acknowledge I could not “fix” my partner but realize that I could “ fix” myself by getting out. Finally, I had to stop blaming myself, saying to myself “I brought this on…this is my fault, isn’t it, I’m GUILTY?” I had to stop believing I was GUILTY or responsible for someone else’s actions – a LIE I had learned in my childhood home, believing I was somehow responsible for my parents actions and the abuse. I had to accept that I am only responsible for my own actions.
As many children growing up with CDV do, I also dreamed that someone would come and save me. It was realizing that that “someone” would, in fact, be me that set me FREE. The magical or false thinking that someone else needs to “save” you makes a person vulnerable in an abusive relationship, where they become more helpless, depressed and HOPELESS (another LIE) overtime, when no savior comes.
However, the good news is we can always change our own direction no matter how long we have been going in the wrong direction.
As children, we didn’t have a choice. But as adults, we can now CHOOSE our new path and take the first step today. It is never too late!
Here are my 12 Steps to healing from CDV and breaking the cycle of DV.
After decades as a practicing psychologist, CDV and DV survivor, here are a few things I know with absolute certainty…and you should too. Learn and repeat the to yourself every day:
- Educate yourself. The Childhood Domestic Violence Association’s founder, Brian F. Martin wrote Invincible, a NYT Bestseller about the LIES we learn growing up in a home with domestic violence and how we can replace them with the TRUTHS and heal. I recommend it regularly to my clients who experienced CDV and they find it very helpful and reassuring. Unlearning the LIES can help you break the cycle of DV in your adulthood.
- Accept there is nothing inherently “wrong” or bad about you! You are NOT broken, you were just programmed falsely and “set up” to enter an abusive relationship because of what you learned growing up with CDV.
- Leave. It is the first step to healing. Like alcoholics, you can’t recover until you get sober”. Seek safety and professional help. If you’re in danger, go to a domestic violence shelter immediately.
- Rediscover and understand Yourself: Learn and understand how CDV’s impact made you vulnerable to getting into an abusive relationship. Awareness itself is curative.
- FREE Yourself: Learn to set boundaries without GUILT (one of the LIES we learned growing up).
- Learn to embrace & LOVE yourself (a key TRUTH): Stop constantly questioning and judging yourself. Attracting the right others to you begins with loving yourself. Only then can you love and be loved.
- Connect & TRUST (another key TRUTH): Be vigilant but stop constantly pre-judging and always expecting the worst from everyone else, give others a chance. Finding loving, supportive, friends, groups, family members, or therapists who understand and support you is key.
- Stay away from toxic people. No contact – period. Resist the urge to get validation or approval from an abuser. Learn to self-validate and reassure yourself.
- Get a “Roadmap”: Do the personality assessment and pick up a copy of INVINCIBLE, to help you discover the road map for healing and breaking the cycle.
- Get a “Roadmap” for your children: If your children are facing adversity or pain, as you did, take the evidence-based 40-min online program Change A Life and get the enneagram to becoming a more conscious parent, to teach your children to better understand and appreciate themselves and others, which helps break the CDV/DV cycle.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Learn specific Dialectical Behavior Theory (DBT) strategies to break free from the FEAR, SHAME, SELF-DOUBT and all the other LIES you may have picked up growing up.
- Be Patient, the Reward Is Worth It!! Unlearning the LIES learned in that home and learning the TRUTHS may take months or years. Your brain needs time to reprogram. But it is one of the most important and rewarding things you can ever do for yourself! You owe it to yourself to take the steps and reclaim what was taken from you as a child – the life you were truly meant to live. So be patient and don’t lose hope or quit when you run into temporary setbacks, as they will undoubtedly come. Realize it will take time to unlearn the bad habits, just as it took time to learn and internalize the LIES. It is a process…but one that can completely change your life!
I’m now FREE and GRATEFUL…despite living with Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) and Domestic Violence (DV).
I often think back about who was the young girl who felt so ALONE and lost. I am no longer that young girl – I am FREE. And I am deeply GRATEFUL that I know the WHY and the HOW now. These two TRUTHS have now replaced two LIES I had learned in childhood.
I can help people heal because I have both the training and I have gone through it. So I’m PASSIONATE and GUIDED (two more TRUTHS) to do so. It’s a blessing and honor to work with others who grew up with CDV. I am filled with joy and gratitude.
I can’t change the past AND I can help others transform and empower their future lives! That is amazing!