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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.

Author: kholly

Kellie Jo Holly advocates for domestic violence and abuse awareness through her writing. You can find Kellie Jo on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

96 thoughts on “Battered Woman Syndrome”

  1. i will look into these books – thankyou – i sit here confused – im okay to be independant – i always had been – no isolation, no restriction, financl ok with or without sps.. but seems after looking back thru journals bout ever few mos – im grabbed – been spit on- yelled at – pushed , head butted, just recently slapped .. this time called police for intervention – he was jailed and now were dealing with legal and poss jail time – currently he is full support due to me having to stop work to care for elder fam- i am only child – parents passed also – so really only me — no finances for care home .
    but — cant figure out if this is due to raised aggressivly — learned behavior.. id been doing a ton of research – he seems to want to fix this , he had said this before – but really had no direction or tools — unless he self helped after work etc – just falls on back burner — had no consequenses really — hes only home few mos outta year – seems home most frustrating to him – as his family is lil more demanding on him with alotta drama – i know he is better and happier on the road — but now after the jail experience and the knowing of more jail if called again or reported – poss with charges .. he will have mandatory self work to do — hopefullly – with tools and direction, cant tell if its anger from not expressing, no skillset on resolve – the family is all the same like that – alcholics etc,, him no drugs – no drink – just work work — then tense bothered — the explode — im caught off guard .. before ya know it — were — him — shouting – puching – he will throw things — grab me back when i walk away — grab arms hold restrain — gets engaged and then im not sure how far he will go — i do get scared to the point of not knowing if i will be ok in the next few minutes — i surrentder myself to god,,, and sit quiet and wait — and then he just stops and moves on like a normal day —- so this time i called 911- learned the laws of dv – started doing more reserach — and just wondering — wed been together 15years — slap 2x– begenning and few days ago — head but two times – begenning and now — and few on off — grabs push just angry outburts and some verbal ,,,just eggshell – grouch – huff puff – bad mooood — what the hell — is this normal — my parents didnt do this with me — his i think they got the belt– and alotta yelling in the house — so i dont know — he is out of the house now working — and aware that he may not be welcome back until i think its okay — and aware – he will be dealing with jail again and again going forward .. and really he worx to be a good guy – and has no trouble with law.. so im just at a lossss —

  2. How do we get our daughter to wake up from an Ethnic Family Cult? Our daughter married into a situation were her husband is manipulative, controlling and verbally abusive. She gave back the ring twice and moved into a condo where he stocked her. The only reason she went back to him was her younger sister was getting married. She went back and moved her wedding up 7 weeks ahead of the younger sister.

    His parents live two doors away from them. They are in the process of reducing her work schedule to a day or two weekly (nurse practitioner). They have her busy with another business. The in laws have no friends and only family. They occupy her time with business and family weekend events. She believes my husband and I have something wrong with us. Two years ago we were best friends and now she doesn’t want us watching our granddaughters. One day our three year old told us “her mommy n daddy aren’t nice.” She was very sincere with her comment.

    The sister of our daughter’s husband has left the cult and married a woman three years younger than her mother. She told us how her brother, my daughter’s husband, at the command of Italian mother dragged her up the stairs by the hair and throw her into her room, lock the door. She went to a neighbors house after getting out of ropes to escape to a Battered women’s Shelter. The neighbor has confirmed this. The neighbor is scared of these people.

    We are concerned for our daughter and granddaughters. How do we get her to wake up? He tells her lies about us and she seems to be taking up his personality. She has bought into everything along with having money. Help!

  3. The comments make me re live the abuse and my heart is aching for everyone. It has been 8 years for me. Married 7. There has always been both physical and emotional. I try to be grateful because the physical could be worse. A bruise a lump there. The emotional I believe has ruined my career as I am self employed. Dum Who$#% this liar that. There is no way it took 38 minutes to go to walmart. Ugly, fat, big P&^^y wh(*$ old mass kids stink dirty etc. Today he put a gun to my head twice. That is a feeling I can not stop feeling, That hard metal pressed against my skull. I can not imagine sticking in this for 20 30 years but time goes by. I have help. SO much, I need to use it take advantage of it and get on my feet. its just those incidents are so draining….can hardly function.

  4. I’m so sorry for every one posting here. I stayed with my husband for 40 years. He mostly pushed me but I found the verbal abuse much more damaging. I stayed in the begining because I had no education and wasn’t allowed to learn to drive. I was 14 when we got together. My dad also beat my mom pretty bad. But she would wait till he went to bed and then start nagging him to death. He cheated ad well. As time went on i could tell when he was getting agrivated and I would keep my mouth shut. That saved me from the beatings. I caught him cheating and refused to sleep with him anymore so there were times he forsed himself on me. When our 2 girls got older I went to work with him. He was a self employed house painter. Then he suffered brain damage from the paint fumes. Things got bad again. I got an inheritance from my grandmother at 30 at took driving lessons, bought a car, fixed my teeth and put a down payment on a house. I started private housecleaning and had very important clientel. Lawers, judges. We had no intamincy but became best friends. As years went by his health coined to decline. Eventually he started to go blind and the violence really excelled. We had adopted our newborn granddaughter who was now 10 and he started being verbally abusive to her. That’s was the breaking point for me. I had him put in jail when he choked me saying I stoled his cigarettes. He had burned all our furniture including the bed. Smoked 4 pks a day. I can’t count how many times my child and I ran to our neighbors to hide us. I got an injunction but the day of my hearing my windshield had been broken and my car wouldn’t start. So the judge thru it out and he came home. I cannot being to tell you how bad it was then. He knew not to touch me so the mental abuse went wild. He would wait till late at night and come to the garage door, that’s where her and I stayed. Only door that locked. And put his fist thru it screaming he wished it was my face. So I finally provoced him to the point of grabbing me and put him in jail again. When my hearing came up I slept in my car the night before. But was told by my neighbor that 2 days prior they seen my brother in law go in my home , was only there 2 mins top. So I thought nothing of this till the hearing and my husband accuses me of being on drugs so the judge sent me for a test which came back positive for meth.. end of story I got my permanent injunction and after being kicked out of several nursing homes he passed away 3 years later. I found my first love from 43 years earlier and I’m messing up what could be the happiest time of my life because of the damage it has done to me . There was no one to help me then or now. I just want to be normal and happy. I’m hoping he can help me achieve that. Irony to the story , right after my husband passed I was contacted by his lawyer that a lawsuit he had going had settled for a half a million dollars. Only wish it could but my sanity back.

  5. Right there with you. For those who wonder if they’re really being abused, I recommend the book by Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship. She spells out pretty clearly what is abuse (even silence can be), why you feel like something’s wrong but everyone else tells you how good you have it, how to respond to verbal abuse. Another good book is Beverly Engel’s The Emotionally Abusive Relationship. She helps you understand why it happens and how to get out. Both books are very empowering to the woman who has no other support.

  6. My heart aches for every person here and it’s aches for myself. so much resonates, sounds familiar.
    I’m in the process of a divorce. My soon-to-be-ex has been occasionally physically abusive and always emotionally and verbally abusive. Each comes with its own horrors.
    Though apart for 3 years I still wrestle with seeing myself as a battered woman. I have some kind of weird pride that won’t let me truly acknowledge it. Nobody I’ve talked to really understands what I mean. I know I get pissed when others minimize it but I also get uncomfortable when others ask me why I have a hard time owning how it hurt me.
    Does anyone else feel this way??

    1. We’re in the same boat. Ita been 2 and a half years since I left, and am still in the process of filing the annulment papers. I keep wondering how come the memories and the emotions that come with it do not stop coming back. Most of the time, i feel that am losing it. I got surprised myself when the paych said i had BWS. And yes, i still cant understand why i was diagnosed as such. Am searching for ways to train my mind to stop all the bad memoriea from flooding in. … takes practice…

  7. I was in an abusive marriage for a long time my Husband mentally and verbally abused me . He is an alcoholic who worked during the day full time job and drank Jack Daniels at night he would become verbally abusive. We did have a good marriage with two beautiful kids but after he lost a job he thought he would be in that company until he retired but part of the company closed down. unemployed for a year he hit the bottle hard oh poor me he would say. I told him their are people worse off then you. I asked him to get help he did not think he has a problem. Every time I tried to talk about the bills or other things about money he would get mad shut me out call names. Never wanted to talk about things thank god my kids are old enough and moved out. Took me along time and people kept saying your husband is a jerk and an alcoholic I said no he just drinks beer and has a couple of shots. My Mom kept telling me yes he is an alcoholic I would say no she knew because her own father was one. My Mom moved in with us for about a year he was nice about everything until after a few months he became really abusive calling her names that I can’t even repeat and doing sick things like taking the toaster and putting it in water so we could not us it , taking her belongings and throwing them out. she has a heart condition and is on special food and he would throw it unplug the cable so we could not watch T.V take the controls off of washer and dryer and other crazy stuff. I called the police several time their were police reports on him the last straw came when he called the police and said she banged into my car and damaged it got money for it and never fixed the car. He was trying to get her for fraud. I called senior housing they got her out on a protective order, shortly after that I moved out and filed for divorce domestic and verbal abuse and I cane now say my husband is an alcoholic and is a lose cause he put his drinking first before his Family how sad!!!!

  8. I was married at 16, he was 21. He started abusing me soon after. His attacks were brutal, he punched my back until it was completely black and blue. He punched me in the stomach when I was pregnant at 17. He punched me in the eye in front of my 3 yr old son soon after my miscarriage. He kicked me repeatedly in the privates in front of your young son and said I could never take our son away. I called our religious friends over, they told me not to make him mad. As the years went on, the physical abuse stopped, but not the emotional or financial. I would get in trouble if I over spent. I had three more children. Two boys and two girls. As the girls got older, they too emotionally abused me and continued to say they were through with me. This included taking my beloved grandson away from me. That was all I could take, and I left their “wonderful father” I always lost at everything in my life.

    1. Hi! Hope you are feeling better! I just got out of the hospital. Beyond embarrassing, we should start a support group! 412-952-9039

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