Battered Woman Syndrome: Never Feeling Safe

Battered Woman Syndrome the numbers for domestic violence have always primarily sided with women being the victims. In the United States alone, it is said that one woman, out of four will experience domestic violence from their spouse, which come only from the recorded numbers. These numbers do not even take into account the women that choose not to reach out for help or the ones that are not physically, or mentally able to. This is why Battered Woman Syndrome primarily focuses on women, due to the sheer number affected, and the amount that chooses not to share their traumatic experiences. However, what is Battered Woman Syndrome specifically, and how is it defined? What other factors influence battered woman syndrome and any famous cases that focus on this syndrome? There are answers to these questions and more information below.

Battered Woman Syndrome
Battered Woman Syndrome

What is Battered Woman Syndrome?

Battered Woman Syndrome is a mood disorder, but also known as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), since it comes from the victim’s violent experiences with their abuser, which the traumatic experiences reoccur in the victim’s mind, and leads to the feeling of learned helplessness.

Battered woman syndrome was termed by the founder of the Domestic Violence Institute named Lenore Walker, Ed.D. Brought up first in the 70s, Walker described abuse as a cycle with three phases that cascade onto one another.

Three Stages of Abuse:

  1. Tension Builds: Pressure from the amount of tension between the victim and the abuser begins.
  2. Explosion: Assault stage in which the victim is attacked.
  3. Honeymoon Period: The abuser pleads with the victim in which they promise to change, and never attempt to hurt the victim again.

Even though battered woman syndrome has come a long way from originally being diagnosable, this was reprimanded in court settings and was disbarred as being used as a way of showing why women were committing certain crimes against their partners. When this improved, the syndrome started becoming more so associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is now seen as a legitimate reason in the courtroom setting.

One-third of women in the United States have experienced some type of domestic abuse.

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” – Oprah Winfrey

When it comes to it being fatal for the victim, the numbers show that three women and one man are murdered daily as a result of an encounter with their intimate partner.

This type of environment in which the victim is constantly being barred for a long time, and then goes on to live on their own with all of these thoughts, and memories lead to many types of symptoms.

Battered Woman Syndrome Symptoms

  • Depression
  • High Anxiety
  • Deep Distrust
  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Avoidant (people, and situations)
  • Deep anger, sadness, and hopelessness
  • Weak and Fearful
  • Psychologically Paralyzed
  • Insomnia

These long-term issues are possibly there, to begin with before the relationship ended, or even began, but the severity of being able to cope with them increases since they are on their own most of the time. This also leaves other side effects that are more central to the abusive relationship ending.

Battered Woman Syndrome Consecuenqueces

  • Feeling of guilt for leaving the abuser
  • Low self-esteem
  • PTSD (long-term)
  • Disability from the injuries, or health issues
  • Severe emotional ties with friends or family
  • Refusal of help

Causes of Battered Woman Syndrome

The causes for battered woman syndrome always originate from the relationship between the victim, and the abuser, since the victim is affected beyond the relationship, due to the abuse. The trauma stems from the encounter that the victim suffered from and sticks with them even after a relationship ends. Since the relationship continues even after an encounter like this occurs, there are many reasons why the woman stays.

If the woman had been through abusive relationships before (which tend to begin with the parents or immediate family members) it continues on forward onto other relationships. The environment that is created from this kind of relationship, along with a partner that supports the negative views that they inwardly have of themselves, tends to be what keeps the victim in a relationship like this as well.

Since battered woman syndrome is a form of PTSD, there are other causes that are heavily linked with PTSD, and can explain some of the causes for battered woman syndrome as well.

  • Genetic – this at times is mistaken with there being a genetic link, which can impact the person through the family having a history of depression and can serve as a primer for being in a destructive relationship like this, but it is more so seen as the family primarily being raised in a hostile environment. This continues throughout the generations, which can be more so linked to the environment that they live in, such as an area that is stricken by poverty, or one that supports male dominance.
  • Evolutionary – with the way that things are changing, this cause will be seen less, and less as a cause of battered woman syndrome, but at one point it was important, since women were seen a particular way in society back then, and abuse was an appropriate expression of emotions. They had to take the abuse because it was seen as normal, but now there are changes, with relationships being an equal ground for both partners to express themselves.
  • Neurological – psychological abuse develops during the childhood stages and continues to impact the person by leading to receptors (kappa opioid) being unavailable, and the cortisol levels are reduced. This receptor, when gone, has been heavily linked to depression, and addictions impacting the individual.

Also, battered woman syndrome tends to be reliant on another disorder, or from the overwhelming stress, which can lead to another disorder coexisting with it at the same time.

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Battered Woman Syndrome Comorbidity

Since this is a sub-type of PTSD, the disorders that show comorbidity with the patient mainly revolve the ones under the Psychiatric Disorders category.

Battered Woman Syndrome: Substance Abuse Disorders

This kind of disorder will usually arise from previous trauma or high-stress levels. The trauma, and anxiety/stress levels can be extremely high during the relationship, and also after the relationship ends. The victim will use drugs in order to cope with all of the feelings they are going through, and during the relationship, use it as a way to ignore their current predicament.  

Battered Woman Syndrome: Major Depressive Disorder

This is known as the long-term type of depression, and can occur during the relationship, or afterward. Mainly expressed when the relationship is over, the emotions become overwhelming, since the source that was able to distract the individual from their inner feelings is gone, and they come pouring out of the person after, especially when many regret being in an abusive relationship afterward.       

Battered Woman Syndrome:  Anxiety Disorders

This would tend to arise mainly during the relationship, or possibly be an issue that the victim is dealing with before. The anxiety starts here since after the first violent encounter occurs, there is an increase in fear from the victim around the abuser. This gets worse when they stay with the abuser since there is an eerie feeling that arises when the victim thinks of leaving the relationship. Leading reasons for staying are out of fear and anxiety of what might happen if they leave or jeopardize the relationship.

Battered Woman Syndrome: Treatment

It has been shown that what is most effective as a form of treatment for battered woman syndrome,  is a treatment plan that assesses the woman’s resiliency, by having her open up about her previous experiences, and how her response is to them.

The Survivor Therapy Empowerment Program is usually used in order to get this assessment. It is effective in a personal setting, with the victim getting the primary attention, but has been shown to be effective in a group setting as well. Since this type of experience is not shared on a daily basis, even though most women do experience it, it is great to provide an environment in which the victim can feel comfortable, but also feel relatable to other people’s issues. It gives them a better insight on their own personal feelings of their abusive relationship.

Another therapy option is known as feminist therapy in which tries to empower the woman, by helping her realize that she has more control. By being able to escape the abusive relationship, it is a clear sign of how much control she has, since most of it feels like it is gone, especially after the relationship ends.

Trauma therapy is used for people that have been dealing with PTSD symptoms, and with battered woman syndrome, it primarily focuses on dealing with inaccurate beliefs that the woman has of themselves, and the abusive relationship that they were in. The victim tends to think that they were possibly overreacting to what they had been through, and that they feel alone when it comes to this type of experience, which trauma therapy tries to rid these distorted views.

Battered Woman Syndrome: Prognosis

What tends to happen if the woman does not get help with her relationship, is that the abuse continues, and does not end. There are promises made, but the abuser is not able to change. At times, one of the partners will bring up a way to fix this kind of relationship in order to preserve the love that they have for one another, but handling the relationship singularly, without professional help, only gives the illusion as if things are changing, when they aren’t.

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The abused partner won’t see the faults in their partner since there is a distorted view that they have of them. At times it can be that they are perfect, and other times it can be that the victim sees the abuser as being vulnerable, when they are actually emotional unstable, and nothing is truly being shared about the abuser’s personal feelings. There are other times when nothing is done about the issues in the relationship and leads to more extreme cases.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Battered Woman Syndrome: Cases

Angelina Napolitano: on April 16, 1911, Napolitano had killed her husband in his sleep, and caused a lot of commotion at the time, since this was the first case of its kind. Even though she was not granted parole till eleven years after her sentencing, she was one of the pioneer women, that broke away from the abuse in the only way that she could.

Geneva Ayala: she went to the police, and reported that her ex-boyfriend Jahseh Onfroy (formerly known as xxxtentacion) was abusing her for years. After Jahseh had passed away, she showed that she was deeply upset by his passing, and if the allegations she made were true, would show an instance that a victim still holds feelings for the abuser, even when they are trying to move on with their life.

Battered Woman Syndrome
Battered Woman Syndrome

Josephine Smith: was imprisoned for nine years before released on murder charges. She had murdered her abusive husband and was never able to win an appeal for her case until a women’s activist group named Justice For Women demanded that another court look at her case, since the former did not understand the battered woman syndrome, and were not able to make the right decision.

Joyce Hawthorne: convicted of a first-degree murder of her husband in 1985, but her testimony was denied by the court when it was focusing on how the defendant had suffered through the relationship, and an expert argued for battered woman syndrome. The court had denied this because of the lack of information that was provided by this particular syndrome and had to be tried the same as many other murderers.

All of these cases ended with fatalities, be it from the victim, or the abuser, which resolving violence with violence should never be the needed action for resolution, but it should never be an option, to begin with. These people were driven to such extremes since they felt cornered, and alone. Having no support (financially, and emotionally), a difficult childhood in which the person’s self-esteem becomes absent as they get older, and neglect from all parties that are associated with an abusive relationship (abuser, the victim, and friends/family), lead to actions that dehumanize all of the people affected.

Battered Woman Syndrome: Issues Now

With the increase of violence in many fields, particularly in domestic abuse, there is now an increased focus on not on the victim’s side, but also the abuser’s side. How the abuser became increasingly violent, and what had led to them to destroy another person’s life. Events in their lives can at times even be reminiscent of the victim’s life as well, but they handled situations afterward much differently.

Abuse and all of its sub-types all are dominated by cycles. Cycles that continue from generation to generation. Even though these cycles seem unbreakable, with the expansion of our views on all of these issues, there will be solutions that can lessen the impact of abuse on the future. That is why there cannot be a blame always placed on separate factors, such as drugs, video games, alcohol, and environment since each individual has their own reaction to each of these factors. Simply limiting, or siding blame to a factor instead of the specific reason that led to the person becoming an abuser will only have the primary reason of helping, and healing the people affected by this, and lessening the impact of abuse for the future, become covered by ideologies that lead to arguments, instead of discussions.

If there are any women that are in an abusive relationship, please reach out immediately to your family or friends. It is an issue that is difficult to express to others, from the connotation it carries with being the abused, but hopefully, the information provided can show the amount of repercussions that come with this kind of relationship. Below are numbers where you can also reach out to.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to leave a comment, even personal stories that could help other people dealing with an abusive relationship.

  • 1-855-BTS-1777. Break the Silence Survivor Hotline
  • Text START to 741741.  Crisis Text Line
  • 1-800-985-5990. Disaster Distress Hotline (free)
  • 866-488-7386. Trevor Project


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Bressert, S. (2018, March 03). Depression Symptoms (Major Depressive Disorder).

Ehrensaft, M. K., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2004). Clinically Abusive Relationships in an Unselected Birth Cohort: Mens and Womens Participation and Developmental Antecedents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,113(2), 258-270. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.113.2.258

Graves, D. (2002, January 08). ‘Battered’ wife wins a murder case plea.

Salters-Pedneault, K., & Gans, S. (2018, July 1). Types of Psychiatric Disorders.

University, N. S. (n.d.). Lenore Walker | College of Psychology.

Varathan, D. (2016, October 11). How to Live with PTSD.

Walker, L. (2016, May 19). Battered Woman Syndrome: Key Elements of a Diagnosis and Treatment Plan.

Women, J. F. (2017, June 4). Justice For Women Home.

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