Women Domestic Violence Survivors Subject to PTSD Symptoms

When an individual experiences an intensely traumatic event, the way he or she processes future challenges can be forever altered. For instance, people who have lived through a devastating hurricane may be overly sensitive to storms of any kind. When a storm approaches, they may develop physiological symptoms such as a racing pulse or cold sweats that can impair their self-efficacy and coping strategies. These reactions are similar to those of people with social anxiety and panic. They, too, can have a cognitive bias toward certain situations resulting in physiological symptoms that can impair their ability to cope effectively. There has been much research devoted to this phenomenon among people with anxiety, but little attention has been given to the coping self-efficacy processes in survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Jessica E. Lambert of the Trauma, Health & Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs wanted to find out if women who experienced repeated IPV would develop the same cognitive bias that panicked individuals developed—and specifically if these biases would erode their coping self-efficacy. Lambert led a study assessing 55 women survivors of IPV and found that they did indeed have increased bias to negative physiological reactions than non-IPV women. Additionally, this bias led to lower levels of coping self-efficacy and elevated symptoms of both depression and posttraumatic stress (PTSD).

It is possible that repeated exposure to violence creates a biased response in these women. But regardless of why it occurs, it sets the stage for a vicious cycle of negative responses and poor psychological outcomes. Lambert found that the women survivors catastrophized more than the non-IPV women, which suggests that the response bias is not merely the result of the physiological processes at work, but also how they are perceived by the women. Lambert notes that this study examined only physiological reactions at one fixed moment in time, and hopes future research will extend these results to include longitudinal data. Despite this limitation, the results show that women who have survived IPV are at increased risk for a cycle of self-defeating behaviors due to bias. “Although speculative given the cross-sectional nature of these data, this negative self-defeating cycle may lead to more impaired coping strategies for dealing with the abuse and increases in post-trauma symptoms,” Lambert said.

Lambert, J. E., Benight, C. C., Wong, T., Johnson, L. E. (2012). Cognitive bias in the interpretation of physiological sensations, coping self-efficacy, and psychological distress after intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029307

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  • Jenn


    October 25th, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    So I heard Dr Laura on the radio say the other day that there is no real thing called PTSD, this is just an extreme way of processing past events for some people. Thoughts?

  • Mr. Herman R. Roeben

    Mr. Herman R. Roeben

    October 25th, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    DR Laura’s Statement about PTSD only proves she need’s to return to school to update her professional understanding of PTSD. I am a disabled combat Vetran that suffers from PTSD, I served Combat tours in Vietnam and Desert storm.

    Your Current understanding is just what the Metal experts said 45 years ago. My god don’t make statements about subject matter you know nothing about. I am just glad its only your opinion!

  • sandy


    October 26th, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    never gonna be easy for a woman to have been through ipv. it sets the tone for future fear stress and anxiety and would influence them and bias them I guess.thats exactly why ipv is so vicious it’s not just the momentary pain but the lasting pain that stays well after the episode of violence is over.

  • Lorene


    October 26th, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    @Jenn- I could be a little biased but I totally believe that “DR” Laura doesn’t know crap about the real world. She is so demeaning to people when they call her, and to dismiss something that is medically accepted and determined just leads me to wonder where on earth she went to school to find someone to honor her with that dr in front of her name. She gives me the creeps, and this is one of the last people that I would ever want to solicit for advice!

  • Henry


    October 26th, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Hold someone captive or abuse someone enough and their behavior and temperament can change drastically.the crime in domestic violence goes far beyond the abuse and bruise,it scars the victim’s mind and that is exactly the reason why we need stricter laws against the same and awareness among women,the majority of victims.

  • sienna


    October 26th, 2012 at 11:16 AM


    Wouldn’t you have nightmares and be scared if someone held this type of abusive power over you for a portion of your life and you felt out of control, and at a loss for how to stop it?

    I am sure that I would

  • samantha duffard

    samantha duffard

    November 13th, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    Yes..I have been out for five years…I was with my abuser for five years…I’m just now healing and I have terrible nightmares…I don’t sleep more than I do…and he overdosed on coke and died and I’m still terrified…

  • Cheryl


    February 17th, 2015 at 4:56 PM

    It took me 22 years to get out of my abusive relationship. He has done just about everything you can imagine to me. Why or how did I stay so long? Control. You learn to adapt and predict behavior. I have been separated from him since September 2013 and every day is still hard to this day. I have anxiety daily. I have lost everything my home, my vehicle, and I’m about to lose my job. Life on the outside is very dark and very scary. You wonder if or when he will snap because he finally lost his control. Others judge and or ridicule you, adding to the shame that already exists. I can’t be around too many people or with too much happening without my body reacting and fear setting in. The tone of someone’s voice the way they say their words all affect me because I constantly gauge their emotions to determine if I’m safe. The fear and anxiety prevent sleep, hinder eating, and physically hurts because every muscle in your body is tense and on fire. Your heart races and starts to palpatate.you look for doors or Windows constantly to find an escape. And you don’t tell a sole is even happening. You hide it while not making eye contact or while you fidget with something. It’s my own personal hell. And because I fought so hard to get out and to face the past 22 years of hell by receiving help and allowing myself to feel what has been so numb to me for so long, my employer has become my new form of abuser. I’m being harassed and challenged constantly because I miss too much work for doctor appointments or for my children. My hell will never be gimme because there will always be something that finds me to replace it.

  • Court


    April 13th, 2017 at 1:37 PM

    Cheryl – I can relate to you. I have been abused by my ex husband for going on 10 yrs now, since we have children together. I left him 6 years ago. I have very little support from family or friends…I am very isolated and pretty much do everything on my own. I had a job that paid me enough money a couple years ago, but I had constant anxiety because my boss kept telling me that my personal life was interfering every time one of my kids was sick (one was in the hospital one time and he told me this!) Also, my ex husband kept making me late for my mandatory sales meetings. I was on the verge of losing this job, and I was miserable at the job, and then my ex sabotaged me and stopped taking the kids to school for me (even though I was paying him to do it.) I lost the job. I was out of work for two months, but then I found a job with a very family friendly company. They don’t make me feel like I am going to lose my job if I need to stay home with a sick kid or take them to the doctors. It is possible to find companies like that. I am blessed that I found one, even though I don’t get paid nearly what I made at the job before. My emotional health and being there for my kids is worth it! Keep the faith that you can find something that is perfect for you.

  • Tiffany


    October 26th, 2012 at 11:32 PM

    My father used to beat mom when I was little.And whenever he was drunk and even screamed at her she would start to tremble and shiver.That the beating was having its effect even after such an episode was long over was apparent.At least she did the right thing by separating from him.Staying along with him would have been a daily mental trauma for her as I would expect.

  • heather d

    heather d

    October 27th, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    Sometimes it is hard to realize just how much of an effect this has on you until you try to get into another relationship again.Then when you do and you have all of these memories about what the prior experiences were that can just kind of freak you out and keep you from deevloping a strong relationship with another person. The impact might be great or it could be small but just knowing that it is going to effect you is something that is important to remember.

  • chelsie


    October 27th, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    violence from your partner can suck the life out of you.when someone you trust so much and have devoted yourself to turns around and harms you that can shake anybody up.having been through this in the past I can definitely say the experience is traumatic and nothing short of being part of a tragedy.

  • B howard

    B howard

    October 27th, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    must be so overwhelming to go through this.I have heard of cases where the women have taken permanent mental health damage from such things.We have to have better punishment for such offences as they only seem to be increasing even though women’s rights and equality has been around for decades now.

  • Lily


    October 28th, 2012 at 5:15 AM

    One of the most frustrating things is that women like this are bound to continue within this cycle of violence in their lives. They may somehow find a way out of the grasp of one and them immediately turn around and go right back into the arms of another just like him. I think that this pattern of bahavior is why there are some people who just refuse to get involved, refuse to help, and like to just stand back and watch over doing something to really help these women becaus they have seen too many times before how you extend a hand to help and then they go back to it again and again and sometimes you just get tired of dealing with that.

  • Andra


    October 28th, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    I think victims of partner violence should be treated as victims of trauma because in most cases trauma does result due to the abuse.And more than the physical harm involved,the woman could be shaken inside out to have her own partner abuse her.

    With the right redressal they will then be in a better position to handle the after effects and will also learn to cope.If this is brushed under the carpet then things will only deteriorate for the woman.

  • Brown


    October 28th, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    As much trauma and suffering that these women go through,many of them continue to stay in the relationship and some even dread going away from their tormentor. that is just asking for trouble I think and they need to know better.

  • Nelly


    October 8th, 2018 at 3:26 PM

    Unbelievable how people comment and degrade women who stay or go back. you have no narrative or literature behind why they stay. Either you show empathy and genuineness of you actually are on the wrong page. They should know better? No …victims and survivors deserve better.

  • mandy


    October 28th, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    I have seen a few I time of abuse from partners and it can be horrible. Some even shake and tremble when they describe their experiences. That shows how much of an impact the abuse has had and the continuing nature of abuse from partner just makes it even worse.

    I hope newer and better intervention and support programs coupled with stringent laws puts a check to this heinous practice which in fact is a crime.

  • Jennifer


    October 29th, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    While being abused is nothing short of horror,having to continue living and seeing your abuser at all times must exacerbate the feelings and symptoms in victims.This is a serious aspect that is often overlooked. the effects of abuse are one thing but seeing that your abuser has not been punished and constantly living in fear of a repetition can wreak havoc for a victim.

  • Jenaynay


    February 2nd, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    Dr. Laura is a coldhearted and ignorant fool whom deserves no attention. I seriously despise her and her cruel opinions.

  • connie


    March 8th, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    my entire life ive been abused .. got out daughter murdered got back in got out got help fell back in .. my extreme responses good or bad to loud noises light..yelling .. confrontation scares me in both ways good and bad idk what to do ..

  • Kerri


    May 12th, 2013 at 7:19 PM

    Very interested in this topic as I thought I had put 10 years of domestic violence behind me. I’ve been remarried happily for five years and then my boss, female, triggered a horrible episode. Her screaming about nonsensical things, emotional charged criticism of my character was so similar to the emotional aspect I’ve since had nightmares, abdominal pain, tension, anxiety. Tomorrow, for the fist time in a 15 year career, I will give notice and leave without another job. I’d rather face minimum wage then go back and deal with that because drinking just isn’t an option.

  • joy


    July 2nd, 2013 at 3:09 AM

    I will try keep this short even tho my emotions are running high.
    To anyone that wants to post a degrading comment about someone being in a violent situation either not leaving or going right back in the same scenario, wake up. Yes, this is what normally happens because there’s a reason the victim allowed it or stayed in the first place. We suffer from emotional & psychological challenges that started, usually, from a young age. A “healthy” person normally doesn’t get caught up in ongoing domestic violence to begin with. The #1 goal shouldn’t be to get a person to leave a situation, it should be focused on healing the broken spirit that got them there in the first place. Without healing, one abused will either fall back in the same scenario, withdraw & be consumed with depression and/or ruin lives around them. I’m saying this from way too many years of experience. Been there, done that. And, after years of therapy and away from any type of domestic violence I still often feel hopeless, guilt ridden, full of despair, and especially when I constantly see the affects it had on those I love the most, my children.
    If you’re in a violent situation, do whatever you can to get out but put as much energy in getting help – past issues before this situation have only manifested into your current problems.
    And to all the Dr Laura references, I’ll withhold my opinions but please realize what her “dr” actually means – her doctorate is far from psychology – its in physiology – she’s a glorified P.E. teacher. She can’t brush up on PTSD, she hasn’t ever been professionally educated on it to “brush up” on anything.
    Know the actual facts before making statements that can hurt those seeking help or give props to “doctors” who don’t deserve it.

  • Rhonda


    June 24th, 2014 at 6:23 AM

    “Dr” Laura holds a doctorate in physiology, not psychology. She is nothing more than an arrogant bible thumping “shock jock” with no credentials whatsoever to speak to anything in the world of psychology and mental health. In fact, she was quoted saying “My show isn’t about mental health, it’s about moral health. I don’t give advice, I give my never-to-to-be humble opinion.” If I were to quote a celebrity Dr on this topic, I’d probably opt for Dr Phil, at least he has a Phd in clinical psychology. ;-)

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