Intimate Partner Violence and Trauma

The Complex Relationship Between Intimate Partner Violence and Trauma

There is no denying the fact that there is an inextricable bond that exists between intimate partner violence (IPV) and the experience of trauma. It does not take a doctor to figure out that those who have experienced IPV will most likely develop some mental health consequences from their abuse. An earlier Pets Empowered blog post looked at the mental health effects that are most likely to occur. Some people, however, are so scarred by their abuse that they do not just experience one of two of these mental health problems. Rather these individuals become so affected, that they become “traumatized” by their experience.

Just What is Trauma Anyway?

Trauma is a set of symptoms that develop after experiencing or even witnessing an event so distressing that it causes physical, spiritual, emotional, or psychological pain. This type of event is also known as a “traumatic event” (Healthline). Of course, the longer a person is exposed to a traumatic event, the more the effects of the event are compounded. For instance, a person who witnesses a shooting or experiences that death of a loved one might be traumatized. However, it is unlikely that this trauma will be as severe as it is for someone who has experienced IPV; someone who has likely experienced the traumatic event repeatedly. The very fact that IPV victims are often re-exposed to abuse time and time again, is the very thing that makes the relationship between IPV and trauma so complex.

Common Responses to Trauma

This complexity is only precipitated by the fact that everyone responds differently to trauma.  Some people are in such shock after a trauma that they do not know how to react. This often causes a person to deny that the event has even occurred. Most people can only live in denial for so long, however. There is a high probability that after a short time, the shock will wear off; and the person will begin to exhibit responses to the traumatic event in their daily behavior. Just what this behavior will be, however, can vary widely from one person to another. Some people will develop symptoms/behaviors usually associated with anxiety; such as sleep problems or insomnia, an intense fear that the event will repeat, or flashbacks or nightmares. Other people may become angry and irritable all the time. Still, others become depressed in the face of trauma. This is usually accompanied by one or two other symptoms of depression; such as trouble concentrating, sleeping too much, sudden mood changes, appetite changes, or withdrawal from daily activities and commitments.  Some people might even develop what is known as psychosomatic symptoms in response to trauma. This is when a person’s psychological distress manifests itself in a physical way. Common psychosomatic responses to trauma are stomach symptoms like nausea or the worsening of any existing physical condition.

The IPV and Trauma “Feedback Loop”

I am sure that it is not hard to see how the latter of these trauma responses is particularly troublesome for someone who is experiencing IPV. It often only enhances a victim’s physical and or sexual abuse injuries, some of which are often long-term. However, it must be noted that there is a dangerous “feedback” cycle between several of the typical responses the trauma and IPV. Most of the above response behaviors only end up putting the victim right back in danger for more abuse. For example, it is not hard to see how an abuser would find it easier to victimize or isolate someone who is already withdrawing from everyday activities on their own. And that same could be said about most of the other common responses to trauma. It is much easier to abuse someone who is too anxious to go out of the house, or too depressed to care if they are battered again. And thus, the complexity between and IPV and trauma only grows.

That is probably why those who have experienced abuse at least once in their life are at far greater risk for IPV than those with no prior history of abuse. In fact, studies in both clinical and shelter settings showed that a high rate of childhood experience with domestic violence was consistently found in current victims of IPV. (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health). There is ample evidence to suggest that the issue of domestic violence should be looked at through a “lifetime lens,” so to speak. That is to say; one in which the complex relationship between trauma and IPV is explored in a manner that helps victims move on to completely safe intimate relationships no matter what their past was, or what the future holds for them.