Coping with the effects of family violence and harm

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Family violence and harm can have many damaging effects on those involved, including children and young people, and the elderly. It hurts the victims and those who witness it. This page provides useful information to those affected by family violence and harm to cope with the effects.

Violence and abuse can lead to significant distress, breakdown, injury, disability, or even death. Living in a violent home causes deep scars that aren’t physical. Many people say that the psychological/emotional and spiritual effects can be harder to deal with and are more long lasting than any physical harm.

Everyone is different and will react in their own way
Family violence and harm is a threatening and frightening experience. Common reactions that victims and witnesses experience often include powerlessness, feeling unsafe, anxiety, being on edge, a loss of confidence and self-esteem, denial, guilt, self-blame, shame, whakamā, anger and rage, sadness, depression, and hopelessness.

You may have trouble sleeping, changes in appetite and other common physical reactions, such as aching, nausea, headaches, or getting sick more easily.

Some people might try to hide injuries from others. You may feel confused about what to do, scared or embarrassed to tell others or feel isolated and alone. You might have disturbing memories about what happened - nightmares or flashbacks, as if it were happening again.

These kinds of reactions are all normal responses, but they might affect you or other members of your family or whānau more, and for longer, than you expect.

Children and young people
Children and young people living in or visiting a home where violence and harm take place can quickly pick up on tensions and fear. They will often experience similar reactions to adults and feel unsafe and on edge. They can blame themselves and try to be extra good to prevent conflict and may try to protect others from harm – putting themselves in danger.

Their normal development can be slowed down, and they might have problems concentrating at school. Their self-esteem and confidence can be affected, and they may become sad and depressed. Some children and young people might start to behave violently and abusively themselves because they’ve learned this as normal behaviour in their family or whānau.

Our Supporting Children and Young People page on our website has more information on how to help them cope, or you could let them know of these special helplines.

  • What’s Up - 0800 942 8787 (0800 WHATSUP) or webchat, from 5pm to 10pm for 5-18 year olds.
  • Kidsline - 0800 543 754 (0800 KIDSLINE) for young people up to 18 years.
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234, email or webchat, from 7pm to 11pm for young people and their parents, family, whānau, and friends.

Go to Supporting Children and Young People

Looking after yourself is important
Encourage others who have been affected to do the same. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help.

Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk with those you trust about what’s happened, such as a trusted member of your family, whānau, friend, doctor, counsellor, respected elder, rangatira, Support Worker, or a family violence and harm support service. Sharing your story can help release stress and emotional tension.

You could also call the 1737 helpline anytime, day or night, to speak to a trained counsellor for free. This can be anonymous.

More tips for coping with your reactions
Our useful information sheets provide some tips to help you understand more about trauma and grief, and to find some ways to cope with your reactions.

If your reactions, or those of your family or whānau concern you

  • Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, or depression.
  • Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the consequences this crime has had. Contact Victim Support for the options in your area. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected to a Support Worker.
  • Visit the Mental Health Foundation website to find a doctor, counsellor, or psychologist

While most people will gradually recover from a traumatic experience, some people may have continuing symptoms of trauma that are hard to cope with or are getting worse. This may be a sign that they have developed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is vital to get professional help and advice as soon as possible. See your doctor, a psychologist, counsellor, or ask a Support Worker about help that is available to you. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Other useful websites
Are you Ok? It’s okay to ask for help
Effects on children and young people (Plunket)
Keeping Kids Safe and Secure
Family Services Directory - a list of social services that provide support to families in tough time


Coping with Trauma
When you are grieving
Dealing with flashbacks
Family violence and harm: Supporting children and young people