Understanding The Connection Of Domestic Violence To PTSD

Domestic violence refers to violence committed in a domestic setting—by a partner, ex-partner, or family members. It can take the form of physical, psychological, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse. 

Domestic violence is, unfortunately, widespread worldwide. In the United States alone, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men¹ will experience physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner every year. 

It’s also estimated that every 60 seconds,² 20 people are abused by an intimate partner. Women are more likely to experience more severe and repeated abuse.³ 

Domestic violence is challenging to quantify as many cases go unreported. For those who have lived through such experiences, it is essential to recognize the impact domestic violence has on victims and their families. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Domestic violence and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may occur in individuals who have witnessed a traumatic event. 

There is a common misconception that only war veterans experience PTSD. However, this condition can also be developed in individuals exposed to terrifying events, including seeing people hurt, being involved in a car accident, experiencing natural disasters, or losing a loved one.

Recent research has found that PTSD can occur in individuals who experience domestic violence. Studies have found that PTSD can range from 31% to 84.4%⁴ among sufferers of intimate partner violence. And yet PTSD from domestic violence is often overlooked. 

Being a victim of domestic violence can lead to feelings of shame and confusion. The fear and trauma experienced are often not dealt with until much later, as many victims continue to live in a shared environment with an abuser and do not have time to process the event fully. 

Even if the victim can escape from their abusive partner, it may take time for them to adjust to a safe environment. 

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can be hard to recognize given its overlap with other conditions. Generally, there are three key groups of symptoms to look out for.


This refers to avoiding reminders or triggers of the event, including places, people, events, or thoughts.

Arousal or reactivity

Victims of domestic violence often find themselves irritable, having angry outbursts or difficulty concentrating, being easily startled, and having difficulty sleeping.

Flashbacks/reliving the event

Flashbacks can be for a few seconds or last for several hours or days; they can occur suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes flashbacks present themselves as nightmares and result in heightened anxiety. 

Children who witness violence

Witnessing either of their parents being subjected to domestic violence can significantly impact children.⁵ 

It can disrupt their sleep and eating habits, cause aggressive behaviors and delinquency, and cause self-blame. Children are also placed at higher risk of depression and anxiety. 

Children can benefit from having access to individual and/or group therapy to help them strengthen their relationships with non-abusive caregivers and deal with the emotional consequences of witnessing abuse. 

Preventing revictimization

An important finding from studies is that the long-term mental health of survivors needs to be cared for. If this is neglected, revictimization can occur, which is associated with more severe PTSD symptoms. 

Those living with PTSD can be in a state of constant fear and no longer aware of potentially threatening or harmful scenarios. It means they are at a high risk of revictimization because they are unable to recognize the danger and are left unable to protect themselves. 

This highlights the importance of recognizing and treating PTSD early so individuals can keep themselves safe and free from further harm. 

Treating PTSD 

If diagnosed with PTSD, psychological or talk therapy is generally the first recommendation. For those with severe PTSD, this may be combined with medications. Survivors of domestic violence need to be in a safe environment away from their abusers. 


Psychotherapy is essential to address the symptoms of PTSD, but it is also necessary to educate victims on what is and isn’t appropriate behavior in domestic settings. Therapy can teach the survivors how and when to vocalize concerns to prevent further harm from occurring. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy⁶ (CBT) addresses PTSD by changing how people think and act. Over time, they will essentially be able to “rewrite” their memories of the traumatic event (or see them differently) and identify unhelpful thought processes. 

Generally, individuals can expect to have around 8–12 sessions of CBT.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing⁷ (EMDR) requires recollecting the traumatic event/s while making eye movements. It is thought that this allows the individual to alter how they think about the experience. 


The recommended and most researched medicines for PTSD⁸ are antidepressants: paroxetine, sertraline, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine. 

These increase the amount of serotonin and sometimes noradrenaline in the brain, addressing the depression and anxiety symptoms of PTSD. 

The lowdown 

If you or anyone you know is being abused, don’t wait to seek help. Talk to someone you trust—a friend, family member, or a professional, to get support and a safe living environment. 

Don’t underestimate how much even one instance of domestic violence can have. PTSD can develop from any number of traumatic experiences, and it can drastically impact your day-to-day life. 

Remember to be kind to yourself as it may take some time to return to a state of feeling “normal” and able to re-engage with the activities and the people you love. 

If you are experiencing domestic violence or know someone who does, contact the national domestic abuse hotline by texting START at 88788 or calling 1-800-787-3224.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?