The Truth About Children and Domestic Violence

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here. Please be aware that this post contains frank discussion of abuse.

Whenever I hear a car door slam, I break into sweat. My breath catches and my throat, I clench my fists, my stomach tightens, and I have to talk myself down from the edge of a panic attack. As a child, the slamming of the car door meant my dad was home from the bar. He would stomp inside, shove the table, scream and yell, usually break something, and then my mother would storm out of the bedroom. She would scream back at him, and the arguments would last for hours. My siblings and I would lay awake in our rooms, too scared to move, even if we had to go to the bathroom.

One night, my dad smashed our aquarium. He wanted to get back at my mother, and she always liked to watch the fish. We lost the whole cabinet and the chair to water damage, but the deeper loss was my sense of security.  For all that my dad was a loud, belligerent drunk, that was the first time I saw him willfully destroy something for spite.  It wouldn’t be the last.

I moved out of my parents someone I was 19. That same year, I got married, and my husband started abusing me. It wasn’t like my father at first. His abuse tactics were mostly covert, emotional manipulation, crying, lying and gas lighting me. Over time, he escalated into physical abuse.  First it was just unwanted contact. He would slide his hand up my shirt in public when I had asked him not to. He would pinch or slap me on the ass, or pinch my nipples.  When I asked him not to, he would laugh and tell me that I was too sensitive.  I knew that he was doing it intentionally to upset me but that didn’t make it easier to cope with.  Eventually it became unwanted sexual advances.  I couldn’t say no to him without a three-hour fight that would end with him pouting in the corner and threatening to kill himself.  Finally he stopped listening when I said no at all.

Then, the physical violence moved out of the bedroom.  He dragged me out of my wheelchair and tried to choke me.  I only saved myself that night by getting my hands around his throat and choking him instead.  Another time, he was angry with me for something minor and threw a coffee maker at my head.

That was the last straw. I left him that night, and I’ve never looked back, but my struggles were far from over.

I don’t know when car doors came to be such a problem. I have some trouble with loud noises of any kind, but most of the time I can control my reactions. I know enough about PTSD symptoms and how to manage them that I can pretend to be fine even when I’m not. I can de-escalate myself and calm down without much trouble. Car doors are another story. That sound can send me over the edge without warning.

I think I first noticed it in my mid-20s. I had been living on my own since I was 19, and gradually I realized that even though my father was nowhere around me, I was still always afraid if I heard a car door slam. I didn’t know much about PTSD at the time, and I didn’t realize that children who witness domestic violence have a much higher rate of PTSD symptoms than soldiers or war veterans.  Everything I knew about PTSD at the time related to vets.

I also didn’t understand that PTSD can sometimes develop or worsen when a child grows up and leaves the domestic violence situation. The reason for this is that when you’re in the situation, your mind compartmentalizes so that you can continue to function.  When the immediate danger is removed, you can start to experience more symptoms.

I wish I had understood this sooner.  By the time I learned that I had PTSD, my symptoms had gone on unchecked for years and were so out of control that I never let anyone into my home.  I still have anxiety about that, and I find it difficult to go out for more than a few hours.  If there’s a possibility that I might have to stay longer, I need to have a “plan” to get myself out of the situation safely, even if I know there’s no danger.

None of those things have much to do with my father or my ex-husband, but I think as I got older, my home became my safe space. Leaving it or allowing people in meant that I had to prepare myself for possible dangers. I didn’t realize that was happening until it was so bad that it was impossible to ignore.

I’m sharing my story because, most often, when we speak of domestic violence, we speak of partner-violence, or more specifically, violence perpetrated on a woman by a man. Domestic violence encompasses much more than that. While women are statistically more likely to be targeted by male abusers, many men have also been abused by a partner or member of the family. Children are the silent victims of domestic violence. We know that they’re present, and that domestic violence is often a cycle perpetuated through generations, but we don’t invite people who witness domestic violence as children to share their stories and we offer little, if anything, in the way of treatment for them.

We’re the people who understand domestic violence most intimately. It was our cradle, our coming of age, and too often, it becomes our prison.  I want that to stop.  I don’t want another child to grow up terrified, and I don’t want a single survivor to panic over something as innocuous as a car door.


Rose B. Fischer is an avid fan of foxes, Stargate: SG-1, and Star Trek.  She would rather be on the Enterprise right now.

Since she can’t be a Starfleet Officer, she became a speculative fiction author whose stories feature women who defy cultural stereotypes.

To support her artistic habits, Rose has a paying gig as a Digital Creativity Consultant. She works with female and nonbinary creatives to help build powerful online presences that remain in line with her clients’ artistic visions.

You can find her on The Evil Genius blog.

In Which I Make an Extended Metaphor

Today is a difficult day. An impossible day. A day that I wish I could’ve stayed in bed. The noises of the office, the buzz of people talking, typing, laughing, chewing–living their lives–feels too big and too loud. Even the sound of my own fingers hitting the keys as I type this is Just Too Much. Today is a day I’ll cry on the way home, out of exhaustion and frustration and sheer sadness.

Today is a day that I have to deal with my monster. Well…Every day is a day that I have to deal with my monster. She never goes away, really. But sometimes she is small and easily sated. When she is medicated, she is a Good Monster, a Watchful Monster. Other times, like today, she is big and bossy and horrid.

And yet.

And yet, I have to teach. I have to walk into a classroom full of college students (two rooms, actually), and command respect and diligence from my students. I have to talk to them, and I have to listen to them. I have to be attentive to what they need from me. I have to do my job. At a time when every noise I hear makes me wish I could curl further into the fetal position, I have to be upright and on-task.

And that’s what life is like for me–knowing that I must be upright when there’s a literal weight and heft to my anxiety pushing me downward. Being out of bed and out of home instead of being bundled under the covers, my pup curled next to me. Even when it’s difficult to move through the day, I must move through it. This is what I must do, not every day, but many days.

There are lots of days when just getting out of bed, going through the routine of bathing, getting dressed, and getting the breakfast-and-medication routine finished, zaps whatever energy I have. That’s today, a Monday that has brought both a rise in anxiety and some PMS symptoms. Those are beasts, both of them. Big, ugly monsters–bossy ones, at that. But I can’t stay in bed, and I can’t avoid the things that need to be done. I either have to do what needs to be done or forfeit some part(s) of my life, a thing that I am unable (and unwilling) to do. The bills still have to be paid, the child and dog still need to be taken care of, my students still have to be taught, and I still have to keep going.

I’ve been reading up on the Spoon Theory today, wondering if I can use it to help explain how my anxiety and depression work. And to a certain extent, it does work–I have a finite amount of energy each day, and I must consider which tasks have to be done and which can wait. But my illness deviates from Spoon Theory, perhaps because it is of a mental rather than physical nature–or perhaps just because we’re all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all way of explaining what it’s like to live with an illness.

Some days, I wake up and bounce out of bed, moving through the getting-ready-to-be-out-in-the-world phase pretty quickly and easily. Some days, it’s easy to face my classroom full of students–and there are times when it even gives me some spoons back, almost like re-charging. On those days, the monster sits quietly by, attentive but not active. Leashed. (Modern medicine is a Wonder, and it is Key to Keeping the Monster on a Leash.)

And then some days (like today), getting out of bed feels like slogging through mud–with an unruly, awful critter screaming at me to hurry up. That I’m not doing well enough. That I’m weak. That the world is big and ugly and always will be. That I’m insignificant. These taunts make me so afraid that I start dropping spoons. And once I start dropping spoons, it’s difficult to get them back. Everything is scary, and nothing is good enough.

Some days (like today), I start thinking about how I’ll have the energy to parent, because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I need spoons when Little Jedi is home. I need spoons when he’s home so that I can find him something to snack on, help with homework, and give him the emotional and mental support and care that he needs from his mother. And if there’s one thing that I’m afraid of, especially on a day like today, it’s that I’m doing him a disservice by using up my spoons on the rest of the world. And so the monster grows louder, needier.

That monster–that loud, mean monster–is more difficult to quiet on some days than others. And while I am lucky enough to have a wonderful, supportive spouse and a fantastic kid and a comfortable home, none of those things can make the monster quieter.

On these days, we wait for the monster to wear herself out.