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The psychology of domestic violence

The psychology of domestic violence


‘The Battered Woman Syndrome’ – Part 1

It is often asked why women stay in abusive relationships. Many would judge, ridicule, cast aspersions on the victim and look at them generally as being weak and incapable of doing what is best for their own lives. There are, however, deeper issues and variables at play, which would explain the decision to remain.

The ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ has been identified as a subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although not all battered women meet all the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, a sufficient number do; thus, a form of trauma treatment is most helpful. Battered woman’s syndrome is an extremely detrimental psychological condition that affects women who are subjected to repeated abuse and violence. This syndrome helps to explain why women stay in abusive relationships and do not seek assistance for their harmful situation. There are various stages that an individual who is suffering from this condition will experience. When individuals begin to experience domestic violence, they will often deny the abuse that they are suffering from. They will refuse to admit that anything is wrong.

Stages of the ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’


The first stage of battered women’s syndrome is denial. Denial occurs when victims of abuse are unable to admit and acknowledge that they are being subjected to domestic violence. During this stage, victims of intimate partner abuse will not only avoid admitting the abuse to their friends and their family members, but they themselves will not acknowledge the brutality that they are suffering from. They will fail to recognize that there are any problems between themselves and their partner. There are multiple factors that may contribute to a victim’s unwavering denial. 

In many instances, an individual does not realize that she is being subjected to domestic violence. This is largely due to the manipulative and coercive behaviour of the abuser. The acts of abuse may be so covert that they do not appear to be harmful or detrimental. In other instances, a victim of domestic violence may believe that denial is the most effective way to avoid being subjected to further violence and brutality. Whatever the cause, denial is extremely adverse. Until victims admit and confront the abuse that they are experiencing, they will not be able to provide themselves with the help and the protection that they need.


After an individual experiences the denial phase, she will move on to the guilt stage. During this phase of the battered women’s syndrome, victims of domestic violence will experience feelings of extreme guilt and disgrace. They will believe that they have caused the abuse that the perpetrator has subjected them to. In many cases, the offenders will convince their victims that they are the reason for the physical violence being directed towards them, as punishment for their negative characteristics. They may use brutality to teach their victims not to take part in behaviours that they disapprove of.

Individuals who subject their partners to abuse will often defame and put down their victims in order to establish control. As a result, the victims will experience low self-esteem and depression. Once this occurs, it is not difficult to convince individuals that they being subjected to abuse due to their own faults and shortcomings. If they were better at certain tasks and if they lived up to the expectations of their partner, then they would not be experiencing domestic violence and abuse. Victims of intimate partner abuse will believe this. Therefore, they will not report the abuse that they are experiencing, because their partners are not to blame for the cruelty.

Next week we will discuss ‘Enlightenment and Responsibility’.