PTSD From Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, Childhood Abuse
PTSD from domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), is particularly damaging. Both physical abuse and emotional abuse at the hand of an intimate partner have a serious effect on the way the abused person thinks, feels, and interacts with the world (Effects of Domestic Violence, Abuse on Women and Children). PTSD can result from any type of trauma, but for unique reasons, PTSD from domestic violence, physical or emotional abuse, can be a pervasive, long-term struggle (PTSD Treatments: PTSD Therapy, PTSD Medications Can Help).
- Rather than occurring as a single traumatic event, domestic violence and emotional abuse tend to be chronic, repeated over time. Chronic exposure to the trauma of intimate partner violence leads to chronic (often years-long) PTSD; the effects of both the abuse and PTSD are never allowed to diminish.
- Because the perpetrator of the violence and abuse is someone who is supposed to be nurturing, safe, and trustworthy, domestic abuse is particularly damaging to someone’s psyche, and the resulting feelings of abandonment and betrayal are entwined with the other symptoms of PTSD.
- Domestic violence is part of someone’s daily life; there’s no break; therefore, the effects of PTSD are intensified.
Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, and PTSD
Both men and women can be victims of an abusive relationship, and both can develop PTSD. Women, though, are far more likely to suffer intimate partner abuse (What Causes Some Women To Develop PTSD Symptoms?). The National Center for PTSD (2015) reports that approximately 27 percent of women and 10 percent of men say that they have been harmed by intimate partner violence.
Domestic violence is traumatic. It is often about power and control; one partner continuously exerts power over the other and takes away her sense of control over herself and her life. Physical or emotional abuse at the hand of an intimate partner can cause PTSD (Babbel, 2011; Powell & Smith, 2011).
Emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse, and intimate partner violence doesn’t have to be life-threatening in order to cause PTSD (Hughes & Jones, 2000). Specific types of domestic abuse that can lead to PTSD include:
- Sexual abuse/rape
- Physical abuse
- Psychological/emotional abuse
- Intimidation, threats
- Economic deprivation/financial abuse
- Verbal Abuse
PTSD: Effects of Domestic Violence and Emotional Abuse
Trauma from domestic violence impacts someone’s entire being: mind, body, spirit, and sense of self and others. PTSD that develops because of intimate partner violence chips away at physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing (Is PTSD a Mental Illness? PTSD in the DSM-5). These long-lasting effects of PTSD are common in someone living through abuse:
- Intrusive thoughts and images
- Nightmares and other sleep problems
- Anxiety and/or emotional numbing
- Heightened arousal (such as jumpiness and feeling tense, on alert)
- Avoidance of triggers
- Dissociative symptoms
- Difficulties with other relationships
- Shame, guilt, worthlessness
- Thoughts of suicide
- Substance use
These can all be part of PTSD, the body and mind’s reaction to extreme trauma such as the trauma of domestic violence and emotional abuse (Living With PTSD Can Be A Nightmare).
PTSD From Childhood Abuse
Child abuse has profound effects, effects that last well into adulthood and can involve PTSD. Child abuse can cause PTSD to develop while the abuse is occurring; PTSD symptoms of avoidance and dissociation are particularly common in abused children (Kronenberger & Meyer, 2001).
Childhood abuse, especially child sexual abuse, increases the likelihood of PTSD in adulthood. Childhood abuse is physically and emotionally damaging, and it disrupts the healthy development of the child. This can make someone vulnerable to future abusive relationships and further exacerbate PTSD (PTSD in Children: Symptoms, Causes, Effects, Treatments).
While childhood abuse doesn’t guarantee that someone will experience PTSD in adulthood and/or become involved in a relationship of domestic violence, someone who experienced childhood abuse is at greater risk for these things.
PTSD and Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse Are Not Your Fault
No one deserves abuse, and no one does anything to cause their abuse.
Self-blame is a common thought/feeling resulting from intimate partner abuse. This can lead to another common feeling: guilt and shame. Self-blame, guilt, and shame all prevent healing from abuse and PTSD.
Think of PTSD from domestic violence and emotional abuse as a call to action. Noticing the effects PTSD has on you and knowing that they are not personal weaknesses but instead natural responses to trauma and abuse are important early steps in regaining the sense of control that you deserve. Draw on social support networks (before you're thinking of leaving the violent and/or emotionally abusive relationship and after), let people help you get professional help, and take back yourself and your life (Coping with PTSD is Easier with These Coping Skills).
Last Updated: 24 October 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD