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Can Domestic Violence Lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that some people develop after experiencing a traumatic event. Domestic violence is also considered a traumatic event, which is why it is strongly identified as a possible cause of PTSD. Unfortunately, domestic violence is widespread all over the world – every year millions of people are forced to deal with forms of domestic violence.

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How can domestic violence lead to PTSD?

Traumatic events such as being a victim of domestic violence can often lead to feelings of shame and confusion in the victim. She may wonder why she didn’t fight back in some way, why she didn’t try to escape, but the truth is that in such cases one has very little control over one’s body’s defense mechanisms. The brain reacts differently to traumatic events, most often with emotion, leaving very little room for “logic” or reasoning at the time of the event.

When a victim runs away from their abuser, it can take a long time for them to re-adjust to living in a safe environment. This is especially true in cases where the victim has been subjected to total control and episodes of violence for too long a period of time. If the trauma is not properly “processed” by the brain, it can become lodged in the subconscious and cause serious psychological problems that interfere with a person’s normal daily activities. One such type of problem is PTSD.

It is still widely believed these days that PTSD occurs mainly in people who have survived severe accidents or other disasters, as well as in war veterans. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed domestic violence can develop PTSD. By its very nature, domestic violence exposes the victim to extreme emotions such as fear, helplessness, and vulnerability, similar to those experienced by major traumatic events such as the above listed catastrophes, disasters, etc.

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Victims of domestic violence

Feelings of fear can be overwhelming both during an episode of violence and for a long time afterwards. In cases of domestic violence, things can get a lot worse given the fact that the victim lives with the abuser and the fear of the next traumatic episode takes root.

Not every victim of domestic violence experiences symptoms of PTSD, but the percentage of people who suffer from this condition as a result of abuse is high – about two-thirds of all survivors.

The "witnesses" of domestic violence

When discussing the topic of domestic violence, we most often focus on the relationships within the victim-abuser couple. However, the witnesses should also be drawn into the picture – for example, the children who were continuous bystanders of the violence between their parents.

In many cases, children who witness traumatic events within the family home subsequently develop PTSD.

How to prevent the development of PTSD as a result of domestic violence

The most important thing to do after experiencing or witnessing domestic violence is to seek emotional support. It can come from a close friend, a family member or a psychologist. It is very important for the victim of domestic violence to completely cut off contact with the abuser because the longer they are exposed to feelings of fear and danger from domestic violence, the more likely they are to develop PTSD symptoms.

It is important to get emotional support as soon as possible, and victims of domestic violence should not try to “work through” the problem on their own or resort to self-medication with drugs or drugs.

What are the symptoms of PTSD

It is not necessary for a person to develop short-term or permanent (chronic) PTSD symptoms after experiencing a trauma. At the same time, in order for a stress disorder to be present, it is necessary for the typical clinical picture to develop for a minimum of four weeks. Symptoms of PTSD appear after two to three months at the earliest. However, it is possible that they will develop even after a year. The lack of a specific time period within which the traumatized can acquire PTSD significantly increases the risks for his health and emotional state. In addition, the earlier measures are taken, the greater the chances of quickly experiencing the trauma and the effects it has had on the psyche. That is why experts recommend that at the slightest suspicion of PTSD, as well as in the case of domestic violence, we monitor ourselves and our loved ones for its first manifestations. We’ll also list some of the more common PTSD symptoms to watch out for.

  • Returning to a traumatic moment and emotionally re-experiencing the event;
  • Emotional imbalance;
  • Physical gestures expressing upset when recalling a traumatic memory;
  • Forgetting key moments of the traumatic event;
  • Frequent nightmares related to the traumatic event;
  • Subconscious avoidance of places, objects or people reminiscent of the traumatic event;
  • Categorically avoiding the trauma and talking about the traumatic event;
  • Feeling of isolation from relatives and society in general;
  • Obsessive negative (including suicidal) thoughts about oneself, others and the surrounding world;
  • Negative setting for anything related to the future;
  • Apathy to normally everyday activities, as well as those in which the traumatized previously had a serious interest;
  • Manifestation of anger and nervous outbursts;
  • Problems with attention and focus;
  • Sweating, trembling, nausea.

It is important to clarify the main symptoms of PTSD in a child. There is some difference between the way it and the adult perceive the trauma. The most common signs of the condition in younger children are:

  • Peeing;
  • Refusal of the child to speak;
  • Incorporating elements or entire segments of the traumatic event into daily play;
  • Inability of the child to stay away from the parent or other adult;
  • Nightmares.


PTSD is a classic mental disorder that can have lasting effects on the sufferer’s emotional state and normal lifestyle. However, it is necessary to clarify that this condition could also have a negative impact on our physical health. Evidence for such a claim is the significant number of different physiological changes that occur in people with proven PTSD. Check out the most essential and common ones below:

  • Frequent irritability, feeling of intense stress and first signs of anxiety;
  • Disturbances in the normal sleep cycle, including insomnia;
  • Wandering gaze, accompanied by a heightened sense of indifference and lack of concentration;
  • Change in appetite and weight (both weight loss and weight gain are possible);
  • A change in skin color is possible – pallor as a result of lack of sleep or abuse of alcohol or drugs;
  • As a result of the nutritional disturbances that have occurred, a constant swelling of the abdomen may be observed;
  • Hyperexcitability, which is expressed in involuntary and instant jumping, startling or other reactions;
  • Presence of frequent headaches, rise in arterial blood pressure, rapid pulse.


Behavioral changes in PTSD are triggered by three main sets of symptoms: the feeling of intense fear, denial about what happened, and intrusive negative thoughts. The traumatized may go through several and various transformations and modifications of the personality. How long they will last depends mainly on whether help is sought and expert treatment is prescribed. Behavioral changes in PTSD usually include:
  • Reluctance to communicate with others, including relatives, as well as avoiding meetings with strangers and making new acquaintances;
  • Inability to fit into previous communities, family relationships, friendship circles;
  • Aspiration to self-destructive behavior, which can be expressed not only in the intake of prohibited substances and alcohol, but also daring actions (driving at high speed, taking high unjustified risks);
  • Constant feeling of guilt or shame, and not only on the occasion of the traumatic event, but in everyday life in general;


In many cases, it is those around them who are the first or the only ones to take the necessary actions to assist a victim of physical or mental violence. The reason is that the victim often blames himself for the harassment, and sometimes even doubts whether it even exists. Victims sometimes ignore the signs of PTSD or other trauma-related mental disorders themselves because they are convinced by their abusers that nothing serious has happened. That is why it is not always easy to recognize the victim of violence – especially with a “simple”, “unarmed with professional knowledge and experience” eye.

When the bullying is physical, there may be visible marks on the victim’s body. The victim’s denial should always be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism. Because most often the victim is ashamed of both what happened and the “scars” that were inflicted, which is why they will try to cover them up with make-up, sunglasses, clothes, etc.

Physical abuse is not always visible because it may be inflicted on areas of the body normally covered by clothing. Mental abuse is even more difficult to recognize. Very often it remains invisible not only to others, the state, but even to relatives. Specialists recommend that attention should be paid to a person who may be a potential victim of violence if he exhibits the following signs:

  • Avoids all communication and places with many people;
  • He often looks down and avoids eye contact;
  • Sudden change in behavior and even lifestyle (for example, stops visiting favorite and usual places such as shops, gyms and restaurants, and may even stop working);
  • A change in appearance is also possible, and very often it is expressed in neglect and neglect.

What to do if PTSD is suspected

It is important to know that PTSD is treatable. That is why it is important to seek timely specialist help when PTSD is suspected. In most cases, the first step is the most difficult – to seek help. For this purpose, you need to talk to your personal doctor, who will give you details of what measures should be taken and will refer you to a suitable specialist.

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