Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an unfortunately common diagnosis. An estimated 1 in 11 Americans will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. There are many reasons people experience PTSD: life-threatening events, witnessing a disaster, or experience physical or sexual violence. There's also a distinct link between PTSD and domestic violence – both for the abuser and the victim.
Domestic Violence and PTSD: The Connection
The connection between PTSD and domestic abuse is two-fold. First, those who have PTSD (either long-term or acutely) may be more likely to become the abuser. Many studies show that those who experience trauma are more likely to be physically and emotionally aggressive towards others.
Secondly, those who are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence – no matter how long ago – might develop PTSD as a result. Even a single incident of domestic violence can have lifelong emotional and mental impacts, including PTSD.
PTSD and Abusers
Many people associate post-traumatic stress with military service members or first responders, but anyone can experience PTSD. Traumatic experiences like life-threatening events, long-term abuse, or witnessing a tragedy can all cause our brains' "fight or flight" mode to go into overdrive.
Even the slightest trigger can set off a traumatic response: a scent, a touch, a sound, or even a thought. For many survivors, these triggers can cause severe anxiety, fear, or a sense of dread. Some might even feel as if they are experiencing the trauma all over again – and these feelings can be incredibly real.
PTSD can cause severe anger, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, those who do not seek help for their PTSD symptoms will not develop healthy coping strategies. Therefore, they often have difficulty controlling their anger. Too often, this uncontrolled anger and stress spill over in the form of physical violence against loved ones.
Though PTSD might explain why abusers are more likely to become violent, it does not excuse the violence. If you are in an abusive situation, get help. You can learn more about ways to safely report domestic abuse here.
PTSD and Abuse Victims
Many survivors of domestic violence report experiences of post-traumatic stress. Whether the violence was one single incident or decades of abuse, the victims' fear is real and raw. Many survivors may continue to experience negative emotions for months or even years after the abuse. Our bodies and brains remember the trauma, and nearly anything can trigger those memories, bringing the experience flooding back.
There is absolutely no shame in getting help for your PTSD. Addressing the underlying causes can be difficult, but overcoming the trauma is an important step to freeing yourself from the past. Psychotherapy, medication, and even exercise can all help to lessen the feelings of fear and anger from past abuse. Contact your doctor to learn more about treatment options.
For those living with PTSD, life can sometimes feel overwhelming. However, there are ways to cope with your trauma and overcome PTSD. You can start by contacting a licensed mental health counselor or going to your doctor's office.
You do not have to live with PTSD, and you CAN break the cycle of abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD or living in an abusive environment, please don't wait. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or Domestic Abuse Intervention Services for help.