Effects of Abuse

“Children see or hear some 40% to 80% of domestic violence incidents. Children who witness family violence suffer the same consequences as those who are directly abused. In other words, a child who witnessed spousal violence is experiencing a form of child abuse.” — RCMP, 2007

Common effects of abuse on women:

  • Self Blame and Guilt
  • Shame
  • Low Self Esteem and Lack of Confidence
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Physical Symptoms: anxiety, depression, tension, insomnia, change in appetite, physical aches and pains such as headaches
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Common effects of abuse on children:

Every year in Canada, up to 360,000 children are exposed to Family Violence. It is normal for a child who witnesses intimate partner violence to manifest a multitude of symptoms. Outlined are some common effects of abuse that children from violent households may experience. Keep in mind that these signs and symptoms do not occur in isolation. One or two does not necessarily indicate a problem, but a combination of reactions may suggest that family violence is occurring in the home.

Difficulties Stemming from Abuse:

Emotional / Psychological

  • general fearfulness, or constant fears of impending danger
  • difficulty dealing with fear, anger and sadness
  • feelings of guilt, helplessness, loneliness
  • anxiety about separation and loss
  • no connection to their own feelings
  • confusion or conflicting feelings toward parents
  • depression, suicidal ideation
  • fear of physical harm
  • fear of abandonment
  • nightmares/insomnia
  • difficulty eating
  • psychiatric disorders
  • aggression
  • Abused infants often exhibit a state of “frozen watchfulness,” that is, remaining passive and immobile, but intently observant of the environment. This appears to be a protective strategy in response to a fear of attack.
  • For abused and neglected children, the nature of their experiences adversely influences the development of their brains resulting in a devastating impact on neurodevelopment.


  • constant stomachaches, headaches, ulcers, rashes, diarrhea, or bed wetting
  • very high levels of stress
  • delays or regression in development
  • weight problems
  • speech disorders
  • frequent illness
  • poor overall health
  • poor hygiene
  • Chronic malnutrition of infants and toddlers results in growth retardation, brain damage, and potentially, mental retardation
  • Injury to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain can result in growth impairment and inadequate sexual development
  • Neglected infants and toddlers have poor muscle tone, poor motor control, exhibit delays in gross and fine motor development and coordination, fail to develop and perfect basic motor skills

Social / Behavioural

  • inability to concentrate, behavioural and learning problems
  • withdrawal
  • low self esteem, lack of confidence
  • lack of trust
  • extreme shyness
  • clinging behaviour
  • disruptive classroom behaviour, poor school performance
  • troubled peer relationships
  • self destructive behaviours such as self mutilation or burning
  • early use of alcohol or drugs
  • truancy or running away behaviour
  • homelessness
  • criminal offending
  • oldest child becomes family caregiver