Battered Woman Syndrome

Lawyers use Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) to explain a battered woman’s behavior to a jury who does not understand why she “didn’t just leave”. After all, we all have the freedom to choose our own adventure in life, don’t we? Why does an abused woman stay with a violent partner?

BWS is a subtype of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. This means, in part, that if you are abused, you may or may not show or feel all of the signs of PTSD, but you probably show other mentalities and behaviors in addition to many symptoms of PTSD. Most of the studies I’ve been reading compile data from women who are physically abused, but they also list verbal abuse as a precursor to physical violence – it’s almost impossible to imagine that physical violence does NOT follow verbal abuse.

Symptoms of BWS: battered woman syndrome

First Stage, “Fight or Flight”

  • Breathing quickens, heart races, it is difficult to concentrate, and a panic attack could occur
  • You can recognize fight or flight because you may try to “turn off” your emotions. You deny what’s happening or minimize it to avoid dealing with the danger you’re facing.
  • Later, you may repress the memory of the event and smile as if nothing happened.

Second Stage BWS:

  • Over time, you feel that you’re not as smart or “with it” as you once were. Your memory can become fuzzy, so you’re not really sure if you’re remembering things correctly or not.
  • You may find that your mind wanders off to previous instances of abuse and holds you captive there, watching a movie you don’t want to see.
  • Because of the repetitive, intrusive memories, you could respond to future abuses inaccurately – the abuse may not be as severe or potentially damaging as you perceive it to be. It becomes very hard to tell the difference between a memory of past abuse and a current abusive event.
  • You could take deadly actions against yourself or the abuser.

My Thoughts

Although research into verbal, emotional, and mental abuse symptoms and effects is increasing, most studies focus on physical violence as the outcome. Granted, the effects of other types of abuse are included by default, but I am really interested to find studies done where there has been NO physical violence to document. (I’ll let you know when I find it.)

I see symptoms of BWS and PTSD in myself. There were four violent incidents (that I remember) in my 18 year marriage, and a part of me doesn’t think I “qualify” under the terms of the studies. On average, battered women experience physical violence at least 3 times per year (and/or partner rape almost twice per year). Nevertheless, I feel symptoms and recognize behaviors in myself indicative of both the syndrome and the disorder. I carried them with me when I left my husband, and still exhibit and feel them to this day.

The good news is that 1.) I recognize them as symptoms instead of continuing to think I’m “messed up” and dysfunctional and 2.) the symptoms are fading.

I wish someone would do a study to include relationships in which the physical violence is kept to a minimum over a long period of time. The first incident was within the first 6 months of my marriage, the second around year 7, then three and four came within a year of one another. Yet the “other abuses” were constant.

I also wonder about the finding that battered women suffering from BWS/PTSD could over-estimate the severity of subsequent abusive incidents. I am finding that in my new relationship, I will feel very deeply anxious about conversations and emotion-sharing events, in part because I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. I’m anticipating abuse where there is none. My other choice in “new studies” would be one that lets me know HOW LONG THIS COULD CONTINUE.

If I have to be without abuse for the same length of time I was with it in order to overcome it, that puts me at 57 years of age. Or maybe there’s a “half-life” or maybe a few years – maybe months (please!) on the moratorium for feeling crazy. I don’t want my mental and biological training of the past 18 years to hinder my ability to live a fruitful and healthy life; therefore, it won’t. I will overcome this challenge too.

This entry was posted in Disorders Resulting from Abuse, Signs and Symptoms of Abuse, Stop Abuse and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to Battered Woman Syndrome

  1. fanntie says:


  2. AJ says:

    I’m that instance you were looking for where physical abuse is kept to minimum. He uses threats of taking my child. Put downs, ridicule, antagonism, constant judgement, anger, denial of his actions which leaves me confused and questioning myself. Our case is really screwed up because he was stabbed 6 times by my daughter’s father and I was too weak and still infatuated to leave. I thought we would all get past it and he a happy family. I got pregnant with our son 3 months after the stabbing. And its been hell every since. He has both my daughter and I isolated from everyone we’ve ever known or loved and says I sHould agree with him because of what happened to him. Which by the way, he and my daughter’s father got all hopped up on testosterone and decided to meet and fight each other. But my ex brought a knife. So my abuser isn’t exactly the innocent party in alll that. I’m finally ready to leave but left feeling and knowing it’s at the expense of my new baby. My abused state left me weak and borderline insane so I’ve had some incidents of my own where I medicated myself and wentcrazy. I’m really going to have to defend myself in court seeing as I have no witnesses to his abuse other than his own mother whom we live with. And I think everyone knows she isn’t going to stick up for me. If you would like to talk to me or anyone thinks they can help me I would appreciate the email and being in contact. Good luck ladies. God bless.

  3. Maggie says:

    Hi and thank you for article. You see i’ve been married for quite a while now and i’m myself a product of emmotional/verbal abuse. I was never able to have a open communication with my husband. Because of certain situations regarding our finances every time I spoke to him about it he got into a rage . So really early in our marriage I learned not to say anything….that’s including everything. My husband got himself into alot accidents that left him unable to keep a job. And stupid me instead of talking with him and tell him about the finances, I just borrowed from credit card to the next, remortgage out home; get myself into situations that are very serious. It seems i’m letting every I know down. Even my kids. I don’t know what to do please can you direct me?

  4. Pat says:

    It started with him going to bars after we married. I got married while I was pregnant and felt I had to marry him. He said I changed. He refused to let me know anything about the money because it was his. He left me virtually penniless and told me if I want money I should get a job. I raised 4 children and put up with all kinds of verbal abuse, his rage, is wanting to punch me and sometimes he did attack me violently. The years go by and things get worse. I am not able to laugh or even talk to him. He gets mad if I even hint at complaining about anything. He moved me far away from friends and family to live near his family. His family, he told me, was his real family. He more than likely cheated on me. He had women’s numbers in his wallet. I have had to stand between him and my kids when he was enraged with them. They are teens now and my youngest is almost 14. I think my kids fear him. They placate him by hugs and talking in a lower tone to avoid his anger. As do I. I have really been ripped apart mentally. I do have PTSD when I am in a car with him. I lose my mind and cry and he yells at me and tells me I am just trying to be controlling when I beg him to slow down. He only attacked me physically like 4 times and then the last year or so he choked me. I am a wreck and all everyone tells me is to leave but no matter what I try – i dont have money. IF I make money he is assigning me bills to pay so I cant save any. I finally got to the point that I do recognize I have been abused all these 21 years. And now all I do is shake where before i was completely numb. Just walked on eggshells. Tried to be civil. I really want out now, but i know my kids won’t go to a shelter with me. They think this is normal. After all, i said for years ‘That’s your dad.’ to them so they wouldn’t hate him. He didn’t beat them because I always stood in the way. I don’t know what to do. I can’t leave them and I can’t stay and I can’t afford a place of my own. I even opened a business and it is not doing well in this economy. I feel doomed like i am trapped. Anyone with advice?

  5. Janet says:

    Stumbled upon this my 1st marriage was abusive over course of 7 years there were 3 occurrences before I ran out in the middle of the night with our 3 sons 6 5 and 3. I met my night in shining armor and he married me with my 3 children. He emotionally and verbally abused mostly my children for years with a very explosive disposition he terrorized our brains. I had a child with him during first year of marriage. I thought he was safe because he was in law enforcement. The first three children moved out for college and rarely look back. Now after 17 years together I took my daughter and left called domestic violence hotline started fresh and felt great aside from the Facebook threats of violence from his sisters and female friends. Right after Christmas we got back together and it was the happiest week of my life. The following Mon he took out an unfounded restraining order against me and filed for divorce. His grown son and our teen child witnessed the alleged incident and they decided that he was definitely losing his mind. After a month he sent our child into my house requesting to talk I fell for him again this time he moved all our furniture into my house pledging his undying love. His extreme paranoia multiplied 10 – fold I could no longer talk on the phone visit with friends stay up after he went to bed without his accusations of my constant infidelity that now my daughter was helping me cheat behind his back. I had been trying to come up with a way to get him out when bam! He came home from his counseling and said he had to leave even though he loved me he didn’t like my pets. Now he stalks me calls 4 or more times an hour accuses me of cheating has tantrums. He screwed me financially by agreeing to pay part of rent but is on a monthly pension and was broke by the 3rd of the month expecting me to buy him cigarettes daily and feed him everyday. Since I’ve been with him I was diagnosed with bipolar but the longer I’m away from him the more my psychiatric no and I believe that it was battered wife syndrome with ptsd. Our daughter doesn’t want him here and I’m just constantly afraid with anxiety and depression. Write me if you choose

  6. Ina says:

    I was a battered wife for many years. I never felt I had an out. It was a time when the police did not help you. As I was told many times by them what did I do to cause this abuse. If I don’t calm down they will arrest me. The abuse got worse because we were both drug addicts. I felt the only way out was if he died. And I told him so. He did die and I got sober and clean. After many years I decided to have a relationship with another man. Not know what was wrong with me and not being able to explain my behavior I totally destroyed this relationship with very little hope of repairing it. I now know I have BWS/PTSD. I start therapy tomorrow and am doing extensive step work. All I know is that I have got to stop letting him rule my life. And he is dead. It’s time for healing for however long it takes.

  7. Broken Wings says:

    I don’t know where to start. I’m into my 4th year of marriage to an alcoholic who was going through the motions of recovery-as stipulated by his then probation when I met him. On the surface he appears to be be charming. In general in our relationship he’s usually very loving and kind to me.
    But then when he drinks-which has increased to his drinking every time he has a day off, there become these unpredictable instances where he targets me with such awful verbal abuse-that I don’t recognize him as my loving husband.
    I used to try to basically stand up to him to tell him that this verbally abusive and degrading behavior was not acceptable! That didn’t do any good, he hit me. Once sober the next day he’d be very remorseful to the point of crying and begging my forgiveness. Stating it will never happen again. I’ve lost count on how many times its been since… I changed my strategy of standing up to him, meaning to diffuse the situation I walk away to another room and say nothing while he’s in his drunken rage-hoping my silence will let it all pass without it escalating. This doesn’t seem to work either…he follows me into different rooms degrading me to such ugly levels. Again, once sober he seems to not remember all of what he’s done…he sees the bruises on me and hangs his head in shame. I have come very close to calling 911 but he’d yank the phone out of the wall or destroy my cell phone or convince me that he will tell the cops I am crazy and have me arrested. I also fear having him arrested. because 1 I love him and don’t want to harm him, 2 he has a multi-felony background and such

  8. windy says:

    what is one supposed to do when they ask for help and nobody wants to help I have went to the ywca several times I had got turned away because I have 6 kids not only from there but from church from even the homeless shelter my mom even signed for his papers knowing I was sleeping in a car with A newborn and 5 older kids I have no trust left from or for anyone for the 33 years abused as a child abused in the only real relationship that was long term I cant even hold down a job between my spouse and my 16year old son amongst raising a child with disabilities I’m afraid of even talking to the therapist most of what it is that he calls me a puta or tells me you will not have the kids or you’ll end up on the streets when I was a kid it was my mom with physical and mental abuse my dad was mental to how do you trust anyone to ask for help when you’re afraid

  9. Barb says:

    I have experienced verbal emotional and several physical incidents over the years and finally left when my twenty three year old son challenges me and said how long will you take this and why. It made me wake up to the fact that this is a terrible example of a relationship. I left after 38 years. Its very challenging and I still speak w my husband but am getting clearer that people do not change unless they try very hard. When they live in what I call a blind spot of not being awake the possibility is next to nil. The feeling of freedom is wonderful and after eight months I’m feeling better and healthier. My sons are happy that I’m on my own… we must take responsibility for our own direction. Never give up never surrender….

  10. L. Smith says:

    I am an example of ongoing verbal and emotional abuse. Physical abuse occurred when there was a crisis , culminating in a suicide gesture with a gun as I prepared to finally leave the marriage. My ex is a medical doctor with an image at stake so the coverup and lies continue. Five years after divorce, I am trying to learn and treat the after effects with therapy and healthy lifestyle. It is a process but I am getting better. Self awareness and spiritual support has helped me most as very very few people can understand this. God bless all the ladies who are caught up in the prison of abuse.

  11. leah dickson says:

    I to have been in a relationship with very little physical abuse in recent years but all other signs well evident. I have four children ranging in age from 11 to 22 only one of which shows definite stress disorder signs not only because she is ADD/ODD But because she tends to get the brunt of the verbal garbage when I’m not getting it. They need to do a study on add children and the Correlation between abusive parents not physically mind you but emotional and verbal. Any place you can point me would be most helpful.

  12. HL says:

    Okay…I’m uncertain what I want to say here. As I just now encountered one of the instances. Except this one got violent. Happens about once a month, recently anyway. We have a 3 year old and have been together for almost 3 years (yes your math is correct). The first two years were FAR from paradise. Mostly verbal abuse if any at all. I knew he was warped by his upbringing but I hadn’t even scratched the surface. This past year has been torturous. I can’t keep a job because of it, and we’ll you know of course that adds fuel to his engine and oxygen to the flames. I can’t win for losing. And when I try to leave to do something productive for our family or,huh, AT ALL he is out the door immediately. Leaving me with children and explanations and anger. My family and friends have abandoned me because I won’t leave and I don’t know why I don’t. I think I’m sick mentally most days anymore. I’ve turned my anger (physically and verbally) more than once toward his other daughter and it makes me cringe to think about, much less blog about. I need help. What do I do from here??

  13. Jodie says:

    Thank you for sharing, I can understand your situation. The scary thing out of it all is how far love can go…… deep that we the victim, we are willing to scrarifice everything especially ourselves for him.
    Stand up strong woman out there and believe you are worth so much more than this.
    Free and healing

  14. Rose says:

    I’ve been reading up BWS. I’m in an abusive relationship, been dating this man for 18 months. He was abusive 3 times. The 1st time happened within 3 months & then 2 & three happened in months 7 & 8. I loved but not anymore. Besides the physical abuse, I have to endure emotional abuse on a daily basis. He insults me, calls me horrible names on a daily basis. Nothing I do is right. Everyday I’m explaining myself; why I have male colleagues, why I have visitors at my house. Why my friends live their lives a certain way

    He tried to isolate me from all my friends. But didn’t succeed. In my entire life I have never had anyone calls me names he has called me. Most of the time I keep quite & ignore, that way the insult lady 2 hours at most.

    I tried living him. He comes to my house unannounced, jumps my wall, bribes my security guard with money so he lets him in. He says things like he would kill for me. Or kill any man close to me. He’s asked to marry him & have a baby with him. I refused. He says I’ll marry him whether by force.

    I’m beyond exhausted emotionally. I want out. I block his calls he comes, jumps my wall. Today he brought the cops under falls presence so I could talk to him. I wish I had someone to help me with this. Everyone (including my friends) are on his side. Cos he goes running & crying every time we fight. He manipulates them emotionally; he’s sweet & generous with everyone. Yet with me he’s rude, insults me & did I mention that HE LIES about EVERYTHING!!! And he cheats on me with many women.

  15. Pam says:

    I read a poem on Thursday posted on a health teacher’s wall that was titled The Batter. This poem described to a Tee my husband’s verbal barge. I’ve looked on the internet without success to find it.

  16. Pam, I searched for “The Batter” and came up with nil. However, “The Batterer” is a poem by Fleur Adcock. I found a place to read it in google books. If the following link doesn’t work, perhaps you can find it now. Here’s the link:

    Is that the poem?

  17. Paul Williams says:

    I have friend, a lover whom I cared about deeply but she goes thru this shut down mood and her expression changes and attitude until she feels worthless and closed in. She sleeps most of the day and stays up at night on to the break of day. She pulls thins out of the closet and throws things across the room, she feels that medication will help her situation but I believe that it is much more serious that. Recently. I put my financial status on the for her and find myself homeless while she taken over the living resident we were sharing. Crazy hah? It I’d the truth, I wish she gets the help she needs before she hurts herself and those that. Really loves her. HELP ME HELP A FRIEND BECAUSE I DON’t know how to help her.

  18. zainy says:

    Hi ladies. It kills me to read that this is what a woman has to go through in this day and age, im none the better though.

    I been dating this guy for just over 2 years now, there’s no kid involved or a pending marriage or anything of the sort, yet i find myself feeling the exact same way many of u do. I worked my way up, got the ‘dream’ job, traveled, laughed, enjoyed every last detail life offered me. The one aspect of my life that i was never privileged to find was love. So this guy came along, first 6 months i felt like i was on cloud 10, i loved being in love, i never had the opportunity to challenge myself in that department, and with the flip of a coin, everything changed.

    From the perfect love to the lowest form of human being. This guy brought me down and i believed every word that came out of his mouth. There aren’t many people i can talk to out here where im from, BWS in South Africa is fairly new and many people dont actually understand all that it entails. Im struggling to pick myself up, i have been for a while now, i let go of myself, my self image, my emotions, my independence.

    I thank u all for your wonderful stories of hope and courage, you have helped me to understand that there is actually a rainbow at the end of this dark and dreary tunnel. The only thing i gotta do is physically take that step and get out.

    As women, we sometimes forget all that we are worth. We are great, we are leaders in our own right! We are caregivers and nurturers, we give birth to the child and then we raise them to be the best they can be, we are smart and only a MAN can ever understand our worth. It’s not said that all is lost, time is lost, the most valuable of all, we can get everything else back but that, but not all is lost. We are strong, women are strong and we forget that.

    This is our life, best we start living it!

  19. crystal. Graham says:

    I was married at 16. Have 4 Children. Lost a baby full term during labor because he rammed me with his truck into my car when I tried to escape. I was living on a farm 1.5 he’s away from help. I was stuck. Memories still haunt me. He used to put a gun to my head, and play mind games by ” one of these days, it will be the right click” . He tortured me… I tried to get away….He lit me on fire, and after I got out of the hospital, I had members of the community to help me hatch a plan, so I could escape. Back then, violence against woman had no safe nets… I did get away, and changed my kids and I last name, etc. I did not take anything.I am writing a book . Not for revenge, but to help other woman on how to get away safe and fast. Even if he takes your bank cards away….. Many years later… kids grown and gone from the nest….I still smell my burning hair, and have lost hearing in my left ear. And suffer PTSD. The verbal abuse was worse than the physical abuse. Its hard to trust and feel safe. Each day is a struggle. But I know that through grace I am ALIVE! And I am thankful to all those who helped me to get away… does not control the other. Love is feeling lived and feeling safe for you and your Children. A family unit. Many hugs and know….that prayers got me through, and so did secretly getting members of the community involved…. I thank them for always.

  20. Rhea says:

    I know generalizing that all men are weak and cheating assholes isn’t right, but when I decided not to date or engage men in a relationship at all, my life got better. Sometimes I sleep with a man I’m attracted to, but I’ve found, consistently, that men will begin almost immediately to lie, cover up their whereabouts, often use drugs, get angry, become distant, and realistically, they lose interest. At first I thought this was personal, but the men I”ve dated haven’t been the best and have treated other women equally as disdainful. I’m pretty, intelligent, and have a nice body, so men seem only to see this, even as there are many good things about me. However, I do have a jealousy, but it’s justified, as in my experience, almost every man cheats. They don’t want to stay, they lose interest in their wives after she has a baby, and they immediately begin looking at other women, feeling stuck. There are far too many men who behave as I’ve described above. I don’t mean to generalize, but when I see so many women 1. beaten 2. raped 3. driven to suicides in love triangles 4. dissed 5. disrespected for having a period, etc. or even a normal odor to her vagina, I have decided not to share my intimacy with men. I also am not homosexual. I have cats, friends, family, and no room anyway for a burdernsome male. I know good ones are out there, but they don’t like me. I’m drug free, smoke free, wrote a book, have college degrees, and most men feel threatened by me, so they enjoy pushing my buttons rather than having a satisfying, real relationship. I gave up on men – and I’m free and happy as a result.

  21. Rhea, to each their own. God speed on your journey! You only need yourself, but if you feel your desires changing, bring a therapist on-board. Sometimes keeping men out of our lives and then deciding to let them back in (not that you will) restarts the trauma you mentioned in your post.

    If sometime in the future a man piques your interest, go to therapy to help resolve any unneeded emotions associated with past relationships. Men are not all bad, but not all women need or want a man <3

  22. S Campbell says:

    I can not seem to leave “disassociating ” behind. 1992 was the last year of 27 years of verbal abusiveive marriage. A rager. Family members who practice it with me today still inact this behavior in me. I can not hear what is being raged at me. I am not around this family member much but it never leaves me. It’s as if it just happened. I have no defense except no defense. No participation. Depression. I live a lively loving life, yet it remains.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>