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Understanding Battered Woman Syndrome

Updated: May 18, 2023


Largely unrecognized, battered woman syndrome has been found to affect a number of women who deal with abuse. Battered woman syndrome is “a symptom complex in which a woman has received deliberate and repeated (more than three times) demonstrable injury from her husband, the minimal injury being severe bruising” [1]. This is not just a condition that deals with physical condition; it also involves psychological abuse. The effects of psychological abuse are “often more vivid and longer lasting than those of the physical abuse” [1].


There is a pattern that comes in three different stages, which include: “that in which tension builds, that in which violence erupts, and that in which tension is relieved” [1]. This can be seen as a husband getting violent and then love-bombing (a controlling tactic used to get affection). Oftentimes, it starts early, with the father. At an early age, young girls will attempt to escape their father’s mental and physical abuse, feeling imprisoned. In a study done on 60 patients with battered wife syndrome, there was a pattern of strong psychological responses to violence. Some things that were consistent in these patients included: “agitation and anxiety bordering on panic” [1]. There were also signs of “agitation, pacing, screaming, and crying. They remained vigilant, unable to relax or to sleep. When sleep did come, it was accompanied by nightmares of violence and danger” [1].

How can those with battered woman syndrome heal or avoid their condition worsening? It would be nice for the violence in the relationship to stop, but it is not something that you can count on happening, as abusers usually do not stop their pattern of abuse. The best way to prevent battered woman syndrome is to leave the relationship, and if children are involved, to get them out of the house, as well. After that, seeking help would be the next option. It is important to be educated about what battered woman syndrome is and how to build confidence and independence. This is all much easier said than done, so a strong support system is essential if someone needs the extra help to leave an abusive relationship. Reversing helplessness can be achieved, but only after leaving the toxic relationship.


References:

1. Swanson RW. Battered wife syndrome. Can Med Assoc J. 1984 Mar 15;130(6):709-12. PMID: 6697278; PMCID: PMC1875950.


2. Schuller, Regina. (1992). Battered woman syndrome evidence in the courtroom - A review of the literature. Law and Human Behavior. 16. 273-291. 10.1007/BF01044770.


Contributors:

Author: Kayjah Taylor

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Catherine Sarwat


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