Mental Health Blogs

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 Battered Woman Syndrome, Codependency, Detachment, Name Calling, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Recognizing Abuse, Stopping Verbal Abuse, Verbal Abuse Signs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to Battered Woman Syndrome

  1. fanntie says:

    I TOO AM IN THE MIDST OF CONTINOUS CONTEMPLATING ON LEAVING. BEEN IN THIS OVER 11 YEARS. 1ST NINE CONSISTED OF PHYSICAL,EMOTIONAL,SEXUAL & VERBAL ABUSE HE HAS SOMEWHAT CALMED IN THE LAST TWO YEARS BUT I KNOW ITS STILL THERE. LIES AND MANIPULATION ARE WELL GROUNDED IN HIM. I’M HOLDING ON WITH ALL MY INSIDE SOUL TO HAVE THE STRENGTH TO LEAVE HIM. UNFORTUNATELY AGE AND STUFF ARE PLAYING A ROLE WITH MY DECISION. I DO REALIZE AND ACCEPT THAT I’M AT A PLACE OF JUST DONT GV A DAMN ANYMORE WHICH IS A DANGEROUS PLACE TO BE. HE IS A GREAT MANIPULATOR WITH PLACING GUILT. I DONT KNOW IF I WILL TRY MY OWN PLACE OR WITH RELATIVES. I JUST KNOW I’VE HAD ENUF!!!

  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?

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