In Syndromes & Disorders

The Ugly Reality Behind Battered Woman Syndrome

Do you think you understand domestic violence? Chances are you may not be as informed as you think you are. Unless you or someone extremely close to you has experienced a form of abuse you may not fully understand the depth and widespread consequences of domestic abuse including what is now called the Battered Woman Syndrome. 

The Facts:

Statistics cite that one in four women will experience an abusive relationship at at least one point in their lifetime, additionally an estimated 1.3 million women are physically abused by their spouse or significant other annually. Sadly a vast majority of these assaults are never reported to police. What is even more frightening is that a significant number of women not only fail to report their abuse, but they stay in these dangerous relationships.

Domestic abuse is an epidemic that doesn’t just effect the victim or their family, domestic violence has an incredible impact on our society as a whole. One of the main places where the overwhelming volume of these cases are found is in the law enforcement and court systems. Victims of this type of abuse often request protection orders from partners who are assaulting them or stalking them. Additionally, there are approximately 16,000 homicides committed annually by an intimate partner. These cases include arrests, investigations, and a multitude of court costs.

The National Council Against Domestic Violence reported that the economic impact on society exceeds $5.8 billion a year, with $4.1 billion of that spent on medical and mental health treatments for the victims.

Battered Woman Syndrome Defined:

Why wouldn’t a victim report their abuse to the police? Very often it is because the victim is suffering from a condition called Battered Woman Syndrome. Rainn.org explains the condition as a controversial concept that was first developed by Dr. Lenore Walker to describe the emotional and mental state of a battered woman. It goes on to define a battered woman as someone who has experienced at least two complete battering cycles. Walker defined four characteristics that are present in women suffering from the syndrome:

  • Believe the violence is their fault
  • Is unable to place the responsibility for the violence somewhere else
  • Fears for her life or the life of her children
  • Irrationally believes that the person abusing her is omniscient

The Cycle of Domestic Abuse:

Domestic violence nearly always follows the same pattern, this is the same cycle that Dr. Walker dubbed the battering cycle:

  • Abuse – The abuser exerts his power over the victim with physical or verbal outbursts
  • Guilt – The abuser displays guilt, but he is likely most concerned over any consequences he may face from his actions. The abuser often apologizes profusely and promises that it will never happen again during this stage
  • Excuses – The abuser will go out of his way to take responsibility for the abuse he has caused, instead he will find excuses to explain his behavior or place the blame on the victim for instigating the abuse.
  • “Honeymoon” period/Good Behavior – During this phase the abuser is working overtime to convince the woman not to leave him. He will likely revert back to his “old” self and court the victim as he did before the abuse began. The possibility of the re-emergence of the person the victim fell in love with can have an extremely strong pull and is often a major contributing factor to staying in an abusive relationship
  • Fantasy and planning – The urge to commit another violent act begins monopolizing the abusers thoughts. Before long the abuser will have discovered or invented something the victim did “wrong” and he will begin planning a way to commit another act of abuse.
  • Set-up – the abuser will put his plan of further abuse in motion and commit another act of violence against the victim.

What Makes a Victim Stay:

People who have not experienced abuse may have great difficulty understanding why anyone would stay in a relationship that follows this cycle and that very often puts the victims life in danger. There are a wide variety of factors that lead to a battered woman staying in an abusive relationship including:

  • Being economically dependent on the abuser
  • Fear of harm or retribution for herself or her children if she leaves
  • Belief that she can change the abusers behavior
  • Lack of self-esteem, believing that no one other than the abuser could love her
  • Dependence on the “honeymoon” phase of the cycle and the abusers normal behavior at that time
  • Severe depression or a belief that the abuse is her fault

How to Spot Signs of Domestic Abuse or Battered Woman Syndrome:

Battered women aren’t likely to go around telling people that they are being physically abused by the person that they love, however, in any abusive relationship there are often clues that the relationship is abusive. If you notice these clues and signs in a friend or loved one don’t just ignore them, ask them if they are being abused. Odds are the victim is too afraid of their abuser to go to anyone with their story, they are likely embarrassed that they are in the situation and they may be depressed or suffering from extremely low self esteem. They may even believe that they don’t deserve help or to be free of their abusers. Some common clues that abuse may be present include:

  • Frequently checking in with their significant other to update them on where they are, who they are with and what they are doing
  • Being overly anxious to please their partner or appearance of being scared of them
  • Getting frequent and/or harassing phone calls and texts from their significant other
  • Commenting that their partner has a temper, is possessive of them, or exhibits jealousy
  • Frequently have injuries or bruises which they explain by claiming to have had an “accident”
  • Miss work, school, or other social occasions or commitments
  • Wearing clothing that can easily hide bruises or scars even though it may seem inappropriate for their surroundings, for example, a victim may wear long sleeves, turtlenecks, or pants even if it is summer
  • Rarely or never go out in public without their significant other
  • Have limited access to a car, money, credit cards and other financial means
  • Be restricted from spending time with family or friends
  • Seem depressed, anxious, frightened, or suicidal
  • Experience drastic changes in personality, such as a happy, upbeat person turning sullen and withdrawn

How Can You Help a Battered Woman:

If you discover that a loved one is a battered woman, you can help! If you’ve gotten the victim to open up to you, you’ve already jumped a major hurdle. The most important thing that anyone can do for a person who is enduring domestic violence is to listen and provide them with all the support they need. Don’t push them or judge them for the situation they are in and never place conditions on your support or offer them ultimatums. Express your care and concern in a respectful way, you never want to run the risk of alienating your loved one because you can’t help if they aren’t speaking to you!

How to Get Help If You Are a Battered Woman:

No matter how isolated you feel, you are not alone! Most communities have shelters where women who are being abused can go. These locations are a highly guarded secret and will provide you with a safe place to stay while you decide what to do next.

Seeing a counselor to help you sort through your fear and confusion can help to restore your self esteem that has most likely been diminished through the cycle of abuse.

The best thing any victim of domestic abuse can do is prepare themselves. You should create a safety plan for yourself and your children if you have any. Learn what sets your abuser off, whenever possible avoid these triggers and if that isn’t possible determine the safest location in your home that you can go to if you need to get away from your significant other. Whenever possible, choose a spot that has a telephone or a way out of the home, try not to trap yourself in an enclosed space.

You should also have a full escape plan complete with the essentials you need to live, including money, clothes, extra medications and whatever other personal items you may need. Try to have a safe location arranged for yourself that you can flee to at a moment’s notice.

No matter what you decide to do, build as much of a support system for yourself as you can, a few trusted friends and family members can make a world of difference in keeping you emotionally stable and can be vital if you do find that you need to escape.

Finally:

Anyone can have battered woman syndrome. Domestic violence is present in every socio-economic sector, every race, every religion. It does not discriminate and it can be deadly. The only way to begin to see a decline in this problem is to break the cycle of abuse and battered women need the support of friends and family, so don’t be afraid to help, or to ask for help.

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