Domestic violence. Pixabay photo.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, and anyone can be an abuser. This past weekend Zachery Ty Bryan, the former child star who played the son Brad on Home Improvement, was arrested for abusing his partner. The father of three was charged with strangulation, and interfering with an investigation. It’s just further proof that anyone, even someone who has had great success and fame, and I’m assuming financial success, is capable of abuse and violence. Bryan was only charged, so he’s not guilty yet of anything, at least criminally – but for all intents and purposes, on a civil suit for a restraining order, the court will most likely issue a protective order in favor of the victim.

The roots of anger and disappointment, personal demons and lack of interpersonal skills are the source of domestic abuse and violence. The truth is that humans are a warlike creature. We have short tempers, and only with learned behavior do we improve our actions and suppress our first reactions of anger. If you doubt me, just look at children. Anyone who has spent time around kids knows that they will resort to hitting, kicking and screaming to get their way.

These are built in behaviors and we have to work to overcome them. We may learn as children from our parents how to resolve differences, how to ask for and get what we want without continuing to resort to violent and abusive behaviors, but without good parenting that sets limits, establishes strong boundaries, and models good behavior, we will revert to our brutish warlike inner self.

Our inner demons are rarely, if ever, truly vanquished. Really it’s more like we put them on hiatus, and that is why they have this nasty habit of coming out when people are under the influence of alcohol or other substances. I see this often in my family law practice where one party has a substance abuse problem that leads to incidents that lead to the filing of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. It’s quite sad on the one hand because it means the person, and their family, have become highly dysfunctional. This leads to a great deal of lifetime trauma for all parties, but it especially impacts the children. The exposure of children to domestic abuse leads to many chronic conditions and it establishes what they see as normal for their future relationships.

This lifetime connection was discovered by Dr. Vincent Felitti when he was studying the causes of obesity and misspoke when asking how old his patients were when they were first sexually active, instead he asked how much they weighed. This mistake led to a discovery that many obese patients had been sexually abused as children and used their weight as a way to protect themselves from future abuse.

What started out as a mistake by Dr. Felitti started him down a path that culminated in what is known today as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) that scores the amount of trauma a child has experienced and then correlates with the lifetime impact on heart disease, shortened life expectancy and other metrics. The ACES test asks 10 questions, and your score is a simple result of how many “Yes” answers you have. I’m a 6 which is not what you want to be. But I’ve known people who are 8s and 10s and they’re still trying to undo the damage well into their 40’s and 50’s. You can check your score here:

Abuse comes in many forms, from direct abuse like when someone is strangling your or has hit you, to the verbal abuse that attacks your self-esteem, to living in an environment where you may not be a direct victim (if you’re a child) but your parents constant fighting creates an anxiety-filled home life that has the children living in a constant state of fear. Being in a heightened state of awareness will cause children to engage in several coping mechanisms from developing a paranoid state of mind to a perpetual desire to please others at their own expense.

We have come a long way in recognizing how harmful domestic violence and abuse is to direct victims, but we have a long way to go in recognizing the long term effects it has on children, and more importantly in finding ways to create the healing necessary.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra