Domestic Abuse Misconception #26: The children will always side with the victim. Sadly, this is just not true. Children can end up siding with the abuser, making a heartbreaking situation even more heartbreaking for the victim.
Domestic abuse is a very complex dynamic and it only gets more complex when you throw children in the mix. At some point the victim can't take the abuse any longer and sets up boundaries or separates from her abuser. I want to deal a little more with what happens to the children if and when the parents separate.
I was surprised recently when a survivor of abuse told me that it is quite common for the children to side with the abuser. I have read many explanations for this. Perhaps the children are angry with the victim for "breaking up the family." Perhaps the children have identified where the power in the family is and they want to stay on the good side of the power. Perhaps the children don't even understand the abuse themselves because, to them, this is just normal family life, since they have nothing to compare it to. For many children the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, so together parents, even in the midst of abuse, are better than parents that are apart.
Perhaps one of the most common reasons that the children may side with the abuser is that he very well may be courting them to his side to maintain that power and control. If he can't control his partner firsthand, then he can do so through the children. This really is a hideous game of emotional chess, with children as pawns.
This is not to say that a victim should just stay put for the sake of the children. I touched on the impact that domestic abuse has on children in Misconception #22. The damage is pervasive and life long. This is to say that you cannot assume that the abuse isn't real if the children side with the abuser. This to call you to lend an extra hand of support to victims when they find that the children they love more than life are being used as weapons against them. This is to help you understand the intricate and difficult maze of dynamics that a victim must navigate in dealing with her abuser.
Read the following article and learn more.
(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)