Is There A Link Between PTSD and Domestic Violence?

Last Update on July 18, 2023 : Published on May 24, 2023
can you get ptsd from domestic violence

Being in love is an adventurous experience, but when that love turns into something else, something that only hurts but provides no comfort, what then? Even the arms that felt like your safe haven can turn stressful and cause unwanted psychological hurt. I’m talking about how intimate partners or domestic violence can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

In the past years, researchers have found a link between PTSD and domestic violence. There’s so much we don’t know about how our abusive experiences can hurt our psyche. Intimate partner or domestic violence is more common than you might think.

Did you know that in the US, every minute, at least 20 people experience physical abuse from their partners?

Scary, isn’t it?

But is there a link between trauma and violence and vice versa? Let’s find out more below.

PTSD From Domestic Violence: Can It Happen?


When you hear PTSD, the first thing that comes to mind is undoubtedly war veterans, right? What many people still fail to see is that PTSD can affect anyone. Any event that threatens your safety – man-made or natural – can cause PTSD. However, not everyone with a traumatic experience may have PTSD.

Experiencing trauma is common, but developing PTSD – not so much. Domestic violence or intimate partner abuse can activate your stress response, aka the flight-fight-freeze response. This stress response can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some traumatic experiences such as car accidents don’t linger in our minds and are easy to recover from, compared to other traumatic experiences such as domestic violence. Trauma that comes from domestic violence is chronic and can continue indefinitely. This kind of ongoing trauma can cause complex PTSD, also known as C-PTSD.

Can Childhood Abuse Play A Role?

Other than PTSD, researchers have found a link between other traumatic experiences and domestic violence. It is noticed that women with a history of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse are more likely to be involved in abusive relationships than others without a history of childhood trauma.

Individuals with PTSD are also more likely to act aggressively and engage in abusive relationships than others, studies suggest. There are also studies conducted that suggest that people living with depression and PTSD are more prone to feelings of anger, and those with a history of trauma are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors.

However, it’s important to note that just because someone has experienced trauma or has PTSD means that they are prone to aggression or violence. Other factors can contribute to aggressive behavior other than PTSD.

Can Domestic Violence Cause PTSD?


Trauma triggers are little prompts that can activate your flight-or-fight response. Triggers can be physical (the place where the domestic violence happened) or verbal (words that the abuser said during the abuse). When you face a trigger, you may feel a reaction such as a rapid heart rate, startled reaction, or other sensory reactions.

Domestic violence triggers can be anything that you and your mind can relate to the abuser. Some common examples can be;

  • Sounds of breaking glass
  • Yelling or slamming doors
  • The smell of a cologne or other scents
  • A piece of clothing or a car they drove

Some triggers can be too subtle. You may see someone pet a cat and be reminded of how your abusive partner is allergic to cats or something else related to that. When you experience a long-term trauma, then it can have a severe impact on your brain, too.

Did you know that in a 2018 study, it was found that people with PTSD have smaller hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a major role in learning and retaining memories?

Domestic violence trauma can also affect the way you socially or causally interact with others. Your stress response continues to stay active, and you continue to live in a state of hyper-alertness. Living in constant hyper-alertness can also increase your stress and set you back on your recovery.

Here are some of the common symptoms of C-PTSD that you need to be aware of;

  • Getting aggressive and more impulsive
  • Experiencing rage and symptoms of depression
  • Experiencing relationship problems
  • Having physical symptoms without medical reasons
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Feeling shame or guilt
  • Experiencing nightmares
  • Having trust issues
  • Experiencing flashbacks
  • Dissociation
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Getting easily startled
  • Being negative, and more

Trauma from domestic violence can also affect your ability to trust others (even your loved ones). Some people who’ve experienced domestic violence may also feel like they are undeserving of a trauma-free relationship and find themselves getting involved in dysfunctional relationships because the pattern is familiar.

How To Cope With PTSD From Domestic Violence?

One of the most recommended treatments for PTSD from domestic violence and C-PTSD can include cognitive processing therapy, exposure therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR, cognitive restructuring, and family systems therapy. These approaches are all evidence-based therapy approaches and can help cope with domestic violence and PTSD triggers.

Other treatment options can include self-help strategies to help complement psychotherapy. When you feel overwhelmed and hesitate to make changes in your lifestyle, you can take it slow and start by adjusting your diet, exercise routine, and sleep routine.

You can also find it easier to cope with PTSD and C-PTSD when you work on stress management or reduction and building (or connecting) with a healthy support system.

PTSD from domestic violence or intimate partner abuse can make you lose all rationality, so it’s important to understand that the abuse is not your fault. Accepting this is a part of coping, so keep it in mind. You can also try to find social groups online or offline and connect with a trusted person to talk about your experience.


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What Next?

PTSD from domestic violence can have a lifelong impact and affect the way you socially, professionally, or casually interact with others. This traumatic experience can also change your brain structure. Domestic violence and PTSD triggers can also make you experience flashbacks, nightmares, and other unpleasant experiences.

To deal with them, therapy and self-help techniques can help. It’s not easy to stand up, speak, and reach out for help. However, if you find yourself in immediate danger, then do not hesitate to call your nearest emergency number.

You can also connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-7233, or text “START” at 88788. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or thinking about self-harm, then you can connect with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

I hope this blog helped you understand the link between PTSD and domestic violence and what you can do. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media.

You can also comment in the section below with your thoughts.

Domestic violence or any kind of abuse is NOT OKAY. If you’re in an abusive relationship, connect with the above-mentioned helpline numbers and seek the protection and help you need.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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