Battered woman syndrome: symptoms, causes and treatment.
A concept used in trials of battered women's cases.
Today, despite the great advances and empowerment of women, the scourge of domestic violence continues to exist.
Thousands of women are abused and murdered at the hands of their partners every year. The violence not only shows itself in the form of bruises and physical wounds, but also has a deep psychological impact. As a result of the behavioral and emotional symptoms exhibited by many women who have suffered, the following has been proposed battered woman syndrome has been proposed as the psychopathology suffered by this group.
Although the concept behind this syndrome has been debatable, the fact is that it has been of great importance in judicial processes of gender violence. Let us take a closer look at what this psychodiagnostic proposal consists of.
What is battered woman syndrome?
The syndrome of the abused woman is a proposal of psychological disorder for those women who have been victims of gender violence.. This syndrome has been related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in recent years has been gaining more recognition, especially in the judicial field, especially in cases where the woman, after years of abuse, has murdered her husband or boyfriend.
By gender-based violence, also called domestic violence by some sectors, we refer to all acts of physical and emotional abuse usually occurring in the home and perpetrated by a person who is part of the victim's intimate or family circle. There are multiple consequences of this, manifesting feelings of sadness, anguish, fear and a high affectation in life in general.
Although it is playing a very prominent role in the field of forensic psychology, it is still not included in the DSM or in the ICD, mainly because there are many doubts about its validity as a real disorder. Regardless of whether or not an agreement is reached and a new diagnostic label is created to refer to this syndrome, it is well established that years of physical and verbal abuse lead to psychological problems in the individual..
Having suffered constant maltreatment leaves a deep mark in the whole psychic world of the woman, showing itself with greater clarity at the time of relating to the rest of the world and to perform as an adult individual. The victim's ability to respond to abuse decreases as the abuse increases in frequency and intensity over the course of the relationship. Over time, the woman becomes very passive, submissive, with very low self-esteem, the woman becomes very passive, submissive, with very low self-esteem and a deep fear of displeasing her abuser..
No one likes to be assaulted or humiliated, however, despite not wanting to be abused, they end up believing that they really deserve it, that they are so bad as partners that their boyfriend or husband has no choice but to teach them through violence. Thus, they feel totally to blame for the situation in which they are trapped. Women who are victims of this type of violence often feel tired and powerless, as well as suffering in a constant situation of violence.and suffer in a constant state of panic.
All this leads to a series of depressive and anxiogenic symptoms such as moodiness, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, as well as sleep problems such as insomnia. In addition, there may be other disorders, whether mood disorders or disorders such as eating disorders, addictions and PTSD. They have very noticeable cognitive problems, such as lack of concentration, dissociation, distortion of their own body image, denial, pessimistic thinking...
Cycle of violence
In order to understand in greater depth in broad strokes the battered woman syndrome and also to understand the terrible situation they go through, it is necessary to understand the three main phases that make up the cycle of domestic violence, proposed by the American psychologist Lenore Walker.
Phase of accumulated tension
In this phase, the victim tries to negotiate with her abuser with the intention of getting him to calm down. She believes that she can really make him change.
During this point in the relationship, there is the beginning of the loss of contact with the victim's group of friends.
At the same time, The violence, although not yet physical, begins to increase in the form of escalation and shouting..
Phase of acute abuse
The accumulated tension comes to light in the form of aggression and sexual abuse. The abuser insults, humiliates and hits his partner.
3. Calm and reconciliation phase
After the aggressions, just as after a storm, comes the calm. This phase has also been called the 'honeymoon'.
In this phase the abuser sees how his actions have contributed to the relationship being in danger, but to keep his victim trapped he convinces her that it was her fault, although he promises that it will not happen again and that everything will be all right. Unfortunately, however, the cycle restarts, and the same phases occur again.The battered person is more likely to kill his or her partner.
Phases of the battered woman syndrome
Related to the phases of the cycle of violence explained in the previous section, the phases that occur during the development of this syndrome are explained in more detail below.
The first maltreatment already jeopardizes the woman's trust in her partner.
When this trust is shattered, the idealized vision of her partner is also shattered. of her partner and the expectations placed in the relationship.
The woman, who is now a victim, tries to look for other referents, but this is made difficult because she has already begun the process by which her relationships will be increasingly diminished due to the control that her partner will have over her.
She blames herself for the situation, in addition to entering into a deep feeling of helplessness..
Here she assumes how her boyfriend or husband behaves and tries to redirect the relationship without success.
The woman does not blame her abuser, but projects this feeling of guilt onto others or herself.She does not blame her abuser, but projects this guilt onto others or herself.
Stages of recovery
Fortunately, and thanks to various therapies, it is possible for people who manifest the battered woman syndrome to recover. At first it is a little difficult for her to get used to the idea that she is a victim of abuse, and that this is not a situation she has no right to run away from. With the passage of the following phases of recovery, little by little the woman will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
At first the woman refuses to admit that she is trapped in an abusive relationship, or even to acknowledge that the relationship is not going smoothly.
She tends to make excuses for her partner's violence, saying that it will not happen again or that it was a truly exceptional situation.
At this point, the woman becomes aware that there is indeed a problem, but she continues to believe that it is her fault.But she continues to believe that the blame lies with herself, not with the abuser.
She feels that she deserves to be treated this way because she is not really the woman she should be or she has done something wrong.
It is here where it could be said that she begins to raise her head, since she no longer sees herself as the one to blame for the situation.
Despite this, she continues to believe that she should stay by her partner's side because she still has hope that things can change. she still has hope that things can change..
This is the final point of recovery because the woman sees that her husband or boyfriend is not going to change and that she has no right to do what he is doing to her.
She learns that she has to get out of the relationship no matter what, that the abuse will not end until she gets away from the abuser and reports him.
As it has already been commented at the beginning of the article, the battered woman syndrome is not a disorder that is included in any of the two main diagnostic manuals within the field of psychology, although it is included in the following treatments is used, especially in the United States, in domestic violence and husband murder trials..
However, there are a number of therapies that have been applied with the intention of reducing the symptomatology associated with this diagnostic approach. Let us look at the two most noteworthy ones.
Feminist therapy proposes to take into account during psychotherapy the structural elements of society that still make gender differences prevail..
Feminist therapy, with respect to the syndrome explained here, aims to empower women to take an active role in denouncing their abuser, in addition to making the recovery process possible.
In addition, feminist therapy has been used to evaluate patients and to be able to explain, in judicial terms, the syndrome resulting from the abuse suffered over several years.
2. STEP Program
STEP stands for "Survivor Therapy Empowerment Program.".
This therapy, which has been empirically validated in clinical and correctional populations, consists of the following twelve steps: 1: Define domestic violence 2: Overcome dysfunctional thinking and design a safety plan. 3: Think, feel and act. 4: Shifting to positive thinking and anger management. 5: Managing stress and practicing relaxation. 6: The cycle of violence and the psychological effects of violence. 7: Post-traumatic stress disorder and battered women's syndrome. 8: Mourning the end of a relationship. 9: Effects of domestic violence on children. 10: Learning to ask yourself what you want. 11: Establishing healthy relationships. 12: Ending a relationship.
- Walker, L. E. (2009). The battered Woman Syndrome - Third edition. New York: Springer.
- Walker, L. (2012). The battered woman syndrome. Desclée de Brouwer publishers.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)