Domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, family violence is a leading cause of PTSD, and it happens all too often. In fact, domestic violence is frighteningly common.
Recent statistics indicate that:
- In the U.S, as many as 1 in 4 adult women and 1 in 7 adult men will be victims of severe physical violence at the hands of a partner during their lifetimes.
- During the next 60 seconds, up to 24 U.S. adults will be victims of physical assault, sexual assault, or stalking each minute.
- As many as 15% of women and 4% of men in the U.S. have been physically injured by intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
- Approximately 30-60% of violent partners also abuse children in the household.1
Men and women who have been the victim of domestic abuse or violence are at high risk to develop PTSD because each violent experience can be considered a trauma.
Trauma occurs when we are exposed to situations that are uncontrollable, feel life-threatening and overwhelm coping abilities. Domestic violence occurs when one partner assumes higher control over other family members and then inflicts anxiety, stress, threats, coercion, scare-tactics, implied danger, financial control, and even real physical harm. With these definitions, it is easy to see how domestic violence can cause lasting trauma symptoms.
Are People Who Have PTSD More Likely to Become Violent?
Violence and family conflict often operate in a cycle. These patterns of behavior may leave you wondering which problem occurred first, and why. Studies show that people who experience family violence at a young age are much more likely to be victims or perpetrators of intimate partner violence later in life than the general population.2
A family history of domestic violence is not the only indicator that trouble may be at hand. People who struggle with untreated PTSD they gained in adulthood may be more tempted to act out in anger, or try to control situations out of anxiety. PTSD can set the stage for violence to begin.
However, it is important to note that research clearly shows that the majority of people who have been diagnosed with PTSD do not engage in violence. In the end, we all have a choice over our own actions.3
There is no excuse for domestic violence. Violence against any person is not acceptable. Attempts to control other people is not acceptable behavior, either. That being said, people with untreated PTSD may lash out, as irritability, flashbacks, inability to trust others, and mood swings are all symptoms of PTSD.
Therefore, it is incredibly important for any person who has a trauma history to make the wise choice to seek treatment and support as soon as possible. PTSD is treatable, and it is possible to break patterns of behavior, no matter how long they have been active.
How PTSD Changes Us
If you have experienced trauma, you may have experienced several physical, psychological, and emotional changes after what happened. These effects can take over your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without the support of other people and trauma treatment.
Scientists are not sure why some people develop acute stress disorder and PTSD while others do not. It is difficult to identify just how much trauma changes us, because everyone has their own unique life experiences and personalities. What may devastate one person may be manageable to another. What we do know is that PTSD has nothing to do with “weakness”. It does have a lot to do with the physiological way our brains are wired.
Individuals who do not talk about the issue, or do not have friends and family, support groups, or other helpful resources to address and overcome the trauma may be more likely to develop PTSD. Community helps. PTSD isolates us, because it is a trauma reaction—people who have been diagnosed with this disorder often struggle to trust people after being hurt, but it is important to rise above that fear and accept connection and community from people who care.
How Domestic Violence Can Cause PTSD
If you have been physically or psychologically abused, then you have experienced a traumatic event. Counseling and support can help prevent PTSD before it begins. Without treatment, thoughts, fears, and feelings associated with the abuse may go on to cause flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD.
Common PTSD symptoms include:
- Hyper-arousal or constantly feeling on-edge
- A strong desire to avoid people, places, and things that remind you of the trauma
- Feeling uncomfortable feelings, including feeling emotionally numb
- Isolating yourself from others and social interaction
- In some cases, a desire to numb feelings with distracting behaviors or substance use
Being a victim of domestic violence can cause so much fear, stress, anger, worry, and confusion that even the strongest person may lose the ability to trust or even want to be in relationships with others.
Recovery Help for Victims of Domestic Violence
If you are currently living in a dangerous situation and need help to get to safety, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline immediately at 1−800−799−7233.
If you or someone you love are struggling with the effects of past domestic violence and trauma, we can help. Black Bear offers comprehensive care for co-occurring diagnoses, such as addiction and PTSD. The first step to recovery begins when you accept support from others.
1 The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Get the Facts & Figures. 2018.
2 UNICEF. Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children. 2006.
3 Norman, S., Elbogen, E., Schnurr, P. Research Findings on PTSD and Violence. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 2018.