Passing Violence Down to Another Generation

A Family in Crisis - a True Story

Child Hiding in a corner
Most Abusers Witnessed Abuse as a Child. © Getty Images

Research suggests that domestic abusers become abusive because they learned it that way. An estimated 75 percent of those arrested for domestic violence report witnessing the same behavior in childhood  and 50 percent say they were abused as children.

In other words, they learn it from someone.

Is that how David, the alcoholic in our series on "A Family in Crisis" became an abuser? Frankly, we don't know many details, because he has rarely talked about it, but there are indications from other family members that it may have been the case.

David's dad Larry was a very intense and serious person. He grew up in the South in the aftermath of The Great Depression when most families had little time to devote to fun; they were too busy concentrating on mere survival. Larry worked two jobs most of his life until his retirement when he began to focus entirely on the business that he started "on the side" while working for a government agency.

I knew "Mr. Larry" for almost 30 years, and I don't remember him laughing even once. He was a stern man. Even the funniest story would only get a slight smile out of him. He just didn't have time to play.

No Love and Affection

"Larry was always too hard on David," is the way David's mother Esther tells it, but she leaves out the part where Larry was too hard on her also. He was a strict disciplinarian and David's childhood pranks usually resulted in a fierce beating—not a spanking, a beating.

He was always tough on David even into adulthood.

Nothing David ever did was up to his stiff standards, and when David rebelled and would goof off, leave work early to go drinking, or arrive late hungover, Larry would give him a verbal lashing. The two men clashed many times over David's lifestyle. Larry was not a drinker at all and couldn't understand how David got to be a drunk.

A History of Abuse?

We also know that there was never any love or affection shown between the two. Larry never told David that he loved him. Likewise, David never expressed his love to his father, even up to the point when Larry was literally on his death bed. To others, David said he "hated" Larry, and his anger and resentment toward him were always evident anytime Larry's name came up in the conversation.

Was Larry also physically abusive to his wife Esther? Again we are not sure of the details because this was something that was "kept in the family" and that you "don't talk about." But there are whispers of stories in which a young David tried to stop his Dad from hitting his Mom and incurring the wrath of a raging Larry himself.

Living in Fear

What we do know is that David has physically abused all three of his wives and that he himself has recently been physically abusive to his mother. When his money and assets ran out and he needed funds to continue his drinking and drugging without getting a job, he intimidated Esther into supporting him financially for more than two years.

When she would balk at giving him more money, or when she would try to join David's third wife Julia in encouraging him to get a job and take responsibility, David would rage at her and sometimes even hit her.

She fears David, just as she lived in fear of Larry all those years.

He learned it from someone.

The reason that we know about David's abuse of Esther is because it has been witnessed by his own son. "Andy has seen David hit his grandmother," Julia said. "That's when he began refusing to go for his weekend visits."

Learned It From Someone

David's behavior in the past few years seems to be affecting the behavior of his 11-year-old son. Two years ago he was about average size for a 9-year-old, but today he is overweight. He apparently began to use food to mood alter as his family began to break apart.

"He eats all the time," Julia says, "Constantly."

Andy has also begun to exhibit behavioral problems for the first time in his life. He has become a real discipline problem for his Mom. He defies her and dares her to do anything about it. He already weighs almost as much as Julia, so when she tries to force him to obey, he sits down in the middle of the floor and refuses to budge. In a subtle way, their relationship is beginning to move toward one of physical confrontation.

He learned it from someone. The cycle continues and is passed along to another generation.

As we began to publish these articles, some of our friends who are members of Adult Children of Alcoholics, recognizing some common characteristics, asked the question, "Where is David's father in all of this? Where is 'Dad' in this story?"

Unfortunately, in this family in crisis, David now is the Dad.

Next: Another Child Affected

Previously in 'A Family in Crisis'

Part 1: A Family in Crisis
Part 2: An Alcoholic in Denial
Part 3: A Family Disease
Part 4: The Cycle of Violence
Part 5: The Cycle Continues
Part 6: Why Do They Stay?
Part 7: A Progressive Disease

Continue Reading