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The Cycle of Trauma: How Domestic Violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are Related

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 11/2/2011

Post traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence are interconnected. Domestic violence can lead to post traumatic stress disorder. In some cases, patients can resort to domestic violence. Here, we'll explore the connection between post traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence.

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    In the United States, about 3.5 percent of the adult population has post traumatic stress disorder, abbreviated as PTSD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Post traumatic stress disorder can also affect children. With this type of anxiety disorder, patients experience flashbacks of the traumatic event, emotional numbing, excessive awareness, and avoidance of reminders of the event. Post traumatic stress disorder can also result in physical symptoms, such as sweating and rapid breathing. Several types of traumatic experiences can cause post traumatic stress disorder, with one of them being domestic violence.

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    Violence Leading to Anxiety

    The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another." Domestic violence can affect men, women and children. The abuser in the situation may use several different tactic to keep his or her victim under his or her control. This can include intimidation, economic abuse, isolation, coercion, isolation and minimizing the abuse. If children are involved, the abuser may use them against his or her victim, such as threatening to take the children away. If the abuser is a male, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes that he may use “male privilege," in which he keeps a dominant role over the woman.

    Domestic violence has a significant psychological impact on the people involved, which can result in post traumatic stress disorder. For example, a woman who is dealing with both post traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence may have nightmares about the violence. An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Center notes that a correlation between post traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence have been found in female survivors who have experienced severe violence, moderate violence and psychological abuse. Children who have experienced domestic violence at home are also at risk for the anxiety disorder. The Child Welfare Information Gateway from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adds that children exposed to domestic violence have poor emotional and mental health, which can result in post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological conditions.

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    Increasing the Risk for Future Violence

    In some cases, people who have post traumatic stress disorder turn to domestic violence. This may occur for some children who were exposed to domestic violence. Not every survivor of childhood domestic violence turns to abusers in adulthood: the Child Welfare Information Gateway notes that about one-third of abused children resort to abusive behavior during adulthood. But experiencing violence at a young age does increase this risk. For example, seeing domestic violence between parents is the strongest risk factor of domestic violence carrying over into adulthood and boys who experience domestic violence during their childhood make them twice as likely to perpetrate domestic violence as adults, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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    Help is Available

    Proper treatment is needed for people who have experienced both post traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence. As the National Institute of Mental Health points out, people who have the anxiety disorder and are dealing with domestic violence need treatment for both conditions. If the domestic violence is ongoing, a safety plan is needed. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) can provide advice and support to victims and survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence shelters can help women and children who have escaped from domestic violence situations. The Women's Rural Advocacy Programs (http://www.letswrap.com/usadv/) maintains a list of domestic violence shelters in the United States.

    After going through domestic violence, victims and survivors may benefit from counseling, which can help them come to terms with what happened. Counseling can also help with the management of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms if they develop them. Psychoeducation can teach patients more about their symptoms. Support groups with other people who have lived with domestic violence may also help. Local domestic violence shelters can help victims and survivors of domestic violence find counselors who are trained in this specific issue.

References

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway: Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect, http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.cfm
  • Helpguide.org: Help for Abuse and Battered Women: Domestic Violence Shelters and Support, http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_help_treatment_prevention.htm
  • National Institute of Mental Health: How is PTSD Treated?, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/how-is-ptsd-treated.shtml
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Domestic Violence Facts, http://www.ncadv.org/files/DomesticViolenceFactSheet%28National%29.pdf
  • National Institute of Mental Health: The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America, http://wwwapps.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america.shtml#PTSD
  • An Abuse, Rapte and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection: Long Term Effects of Domestic Violence, http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/effects.shtml

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