Resiliency in Men Raised in Abusive Homes

“Estimates from the U.S. Department of Justice indicate between 21% and 38% of households with partner violence had children under the age of 12 years living in the home and, among urban households, 60% of children witnessed the violence,” said Gerald Gonzales of the Department of Counseling Psychology & Human Services at the University of Oregon, and lead author of a recent study examining resiliency in men who experienced abuse in their childhoods. “While the effects can vary based on frequency and severity, evidence suggests EPV places children at risk for poor physical health, increased aggression, conduct problems, antisocial behavior, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, future perpetration of violence.” However, not all children who are exposed to inter-parental violence (EPV) experience psychological or social difficulties in adulthood. “The purpose of this study was to examine the contextual factors that contributed to the resilient development of adult men who experienced exposure to inter-parental violence (EPV) as children.”

For their study, Gonzales and his colleagues interviewed 12 grown men who had all been exposed to EPV during their childhood. The participants were all socially well-adjusted, successful and nonviolent. The results revealed several factors that led to resiliency in the men, including having a safe place to go to and a relationship with a non-threatening, non-violent adult. “Coaches, neighbors, and teachers must be considered as people who could create safe havens for children and serve as role models of life skills and nonviolence,” said Gonzales. “Second, the use of sports and the sports culture may greatly improve outcomes for male children who experience EPV. Study participants identified sports as providing a safe and positive escape from EPV, a context for healthy socialization, sense of self-efficacy, and access to peer and adult role models.”

Additionally, the findings showed that spirituality facilitated resiliency in most of the men. “Of particular note, adult male participants talked about how spirituality and faith facilitated understanding, forgiveness, and healing.” Gonzales added, “In sum, clinical practice with male child survivors of EPV would be improved with broader, more diverse conceptualizations of social support resources, incorporation of extracurricular activities that provide children with access to safe spaces, distractions, and role models, and greater focus on children’s socio-emotional, spiritual, and life skill development.”

Gonzales, G., Chronister, K. M., Linville, D., & Knoble, N. B. (2011, December 5). Experiencing Parental Violence: A Qualitative Examination of Adult Men’s Resilience. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026372

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Paul


    December 29th, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    Once you are able to forgive, it is then and only then that you are able to move forward. And for many it is that new found faith that gives you the courage and the will to forgive. All of this does not come easily. For most of us this will be a process that will take place over time. But it can happen and when it does it is amazing just how great being able to let go of the past and move on with your life can help you to feel.

  • Eve Hennesey

    Eve Hennesey

    December 30th, 2011 at 2:49 AM

    @Paul: Everything an abuser does should not be forgiven. The only thing they should get is jail time for what they have done. It’s not like abusing people is a mental illness, it’s a choice–and if it was it would still be completely unacceptable.

  • Betty A.

    Betty A.

    December 30th, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    @Eve: Couldn’t agree more, Eve. Who in their right mind would want to forgive individuals for contributing to the cycle of abuse that can potentially span generations at a time? It needs to be reported, and it needs to be punished to set an example to others.

  • KJ


    December 30th, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    Exposure to violence is not good at all for a child-no doubt about that.But their reaction to it differs as it depends on a lot of factors around the child.You have made a good point about others activities being able to ‘distract’ a child.

    And I’m happy to see sports being encouraged.It really is great not only for your body but for your mind too.

  • Adrienne


    December 31st, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    What confuses me is that we always hear how men who see this growing up, while it is horrible to them as a child, groow up to replicate this same exact kind of behavior in their own lives. What a horrible feeling this must be- you must in some way remember how this made you feel as a child and yet you are acting out in exactly the same way.

    It is so difficult to end these vicious cycles of violence in homelife. After all when this is all you have been exposed to then it is hard to know how you are supposed to act in a healthy relationship.

  • b.d.


    January 2nd, 2012 at 5:15 AM

    Getting over abuse is one of the most difficult parts of the lives of those who survived or witnessed it. My father was an abusive drunken drug addict and it took me years even after he died to get over his verbal and physical abuse directed at me and my mother. I didn’t even turn up at his funeral when he finally drugged himself to death, but by God if I did I would have made sure it would not have been a nice eulogy.

  • joan pennington

    joan pennington

    January 2nd, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    @b.d.: If they die you should just forget everything they did, because they’re gone, and they can’t do a thing to you anymore and you can’t do a thing to them. If you’re religious and he was as bad as you say he was, then you know that he will be given a swift Judgment for beating and insulting his son.

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