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August 13, 2022

Domestic Abuse & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Brain Trauma and PTSD and understanding the links with Domestic Abuse.

Did you know that it is thought that almost two thirds of people that have experienced domestic abuse also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is still a common misconception that PTSD only happens to war veterans or prisoners of war. But in a way, that is exactly what victims and survivors of domestic abuse are! The only difference really is that victims and survivors of domestic abuse are fighting that war in their own homes! To demonstrate this, think about the forms of abuse that would come into your mind if you were asked to describe the potential experience of a prisoner of war. You would probably come up with:

  • Imprisonment
  • Starvation
  • Brainwashing
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Physical Torture

Now think about forms of abuse that are used in domestically abusive relationships? Yep, they are the same. And there are many more. Yet, society is always shocked and in uproar about people that have been prisoners of war. Why are they generally not so shocked and in uproar about people that have experienced domestic abuse and violence in their homes?

Perpetrators of abuse will often hit their victims around the head to make sure there are no visible bruises. It is estimated that 36% of domestic abuse survivors have sustained injuries to the head, neck or face. But is isn’t just physical abuse that can cause PTSD or brain injury. Emotional abuse, coercive control, gaslighting – call it what you will – can and does cause PTSD and brain injury in alarming numbers.

I have worked with women victims and survivors for 24 years. Some experienced physical abuse, some didn’t. Most experienced coercive control. Some experienced both! But I would estimate a good 85% of the thousands of women I have worked with over the years will have said to me at some point that the emotional abuse, gaslighting and coercive control is worse than physical abuse. That a black eye heals and goes away. What is said to you constantly day in, day out to degrade you and control you, never goes away. Being a survivor of domestic abuse, I would wholeheartedly agree with this.

As humans we have very little control over the defence mechanisms of our brains. The trauma response of ‘fight/flight/freeze’ leaves little room for rational thought or reasoning. Even if a person manages to escape the abusive relationship, it is thought that it takes around 5 years to ‘become the person they once were’! For some, they are never really that person again. The trauma can linger in the subconscious and cause severe psychological problems that can effect the persons quality of life – even years later.

So what are the symptoms of PTSD? They can be different for everyone but generally they include:

  • flashbacks, emotional distress, trouble focusing, sweating
  • trembling
  • feeling sick
  • physical reactions to certain tastes, smells and sounds

As part of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2021, children are now regarded as victims of domestic abuse, whereas before, the effects of children witnessing domestic abuse was sometimes overlooked and not understood. Yet, witnessing domestic abuse in the home can and will result in children being diagnosed with PTSD, which without treatment and support, can last into their adult lives. The effects of this in children differ from those of an adult. This is a huge subject.

I saw the video below a while back and felt that it perfectly captured and well explained, how victims and survivors of trauma/domestic abuse are effected by traumatic incidents. This applies to adults and children and therefore, I will leave you to watch this video and carry on with a little more explanation on the effects of domestic abuse on children another time.

  • I first met Sharon back in 2000 when I went into a refuge she worked in after fleeing a violent relationship. I had two babies and virtually just a bag of clothes and a few toys with us. She helped me with appointments with the police, solicitors and..

    A survivor of domestic abuse.
  • I was fortunate enough to meet and work with Sharon when she was the Advocacy Manager at Woman’s Trust and I was working for Westminster City Council. During this time Sharon developed and managed the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service..

    Ainslie O’Connor – Principal Advisor for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet – Adelaide, Australia.
  • Thank you so much for all the support you have given me. You really have been amazing, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with Child Protection without you. The amount of strength you have given me is totally priceless, even with..

    A survivor of domestic abuse.
  • I knew Sharon as a work colleague over ten years ago. At the time, she was supporting vulnerable people, some of them were homeless due to domestic abuse and substance misuse. For me, assisting such people was what anyone in her role would be expect..

    Ted Chanza, Head of Market Operations, Airtel Malawi Ltd, Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa.
  • I have known Sharon for 6 years and have had the pleasure of working alongside her when I chaired the Westminster MARAC. Sharon is a committed, empathetic supporter of women who are or have experienced domestic abuse. She regularly goes the extra m..

    Former Chair of The Westminster MARAC.
  • I was fortunate to have had Sharon as my support worker after 17 years of domestic violence and 4 children that had witnessed and gone through it with me. I was finally strong enough to stand up and protect myself and my children. Without Sharon’s ..

    A survivor of domestic violence.
  • Without the support and constant reassurance of Sharon, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am forever grateful to her. She is extremely dedicated and knowledgeable, having her on my side when dealing with someone as persistent..

    Anonymous survivor of Domestic Abuse.
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