How Domestic Violence Affects Mental Health

Domestic violence is a pervasive issue. It transcends geographic, economic, cultural, and other demographic boundaries. Every community has instances of domestic violence, and every community member suffers from the second and third-order effects of that violence. A mother who is abused by her partner is less able to deal with the stresses of parenthood. She is less available to her community, to volunteer at her child’s school, or to be a present and stable co-worker. A man who is abused at home isn’t as able to support his friends or care for his elderly parents.

Domestic violence hurts everyone in the community, and at the root of that pain is the profound effect domestic violence has on the mental health of its victims. The physical scars may be obvious. The emotional ones are harder to see and more challenging to heal.

Thankfully, while the effects of domestic abuse on both the primary victims and the communities around them are devastating, ending the cycle of abuse can allow everyone affected to begin healing. Divorce lawyers see both the profoundly devastating effects of domestic violence on the health of our clients and their families and the changes that come when clients escape violence and begin healing.

Domestic Violence

Before we delve into the effects it has on mental health, we must understand what constitutes domestic violence. The term includes a range of abusive behaviors in a personal relationship. That may be physical, emotional, psychological, or economic abuse. Whether it involves punching a spouse or withholding access to money from a romantic partner, these behaviors cause harm to their victims.

Physical abuse involves the use of force, leading to injury. Emotional and psychological abuse controls and demeans victims with harmful language, insults, and psychological manipulation. It can include coercion, verbal threats, degrading language, or isolation from support systems.

Economic abuse controls a partner by limiting their independence through cutting off financial resources. A person feels they can not leave a relationship or access support systems if they don’t have the financial means to do so.

All of these behaviors fall under the umbrella of domestic abuse. All of them are damaging to their victims. All of them can happen to people in any strata of society. And none of them are the fault of the victims or a result of the victim’s decisions and behaviors. Abuse is always the fault of the abuser, never of the victim.

Domestic abuse is rarely limited to a single episode. It involves repeated exposure to these traumatizing experiences. These incidents happen in what should be the safe and nurturing environment of home life and intimate relationships. That prolonged exposure to trauma has profound effects on mental health.

The Mental Health Consequences Of Domestic Violence


The constant onslaught of fear, humiliation, and pain creates intense pressure. When home is no longer a safe place, sadness and hopelessness can quickly set in.

Isolation contributes to that sense of anguish. Abusers know that isolated victims have a more challenging time standing up for themselves or leaving the relationship. Perpetrators systematically separate their victims from healthy, supporting friends and family. Eroding support systems is a frequent tactic of abusers and makes their victims’ lives even more difficult.

All of this is a recipe for depression. It can look like a persistent feeling of sadness, which is what many people picture as depression. But it can also look like difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, or a constant lack of energy. Living in a hostile environment takes an emotional toll. One of the most common outcomes of that toll is depression.


Domestic violence victims live in a constant state of worry about when the next attack will come. This perpetual fear forces them into a hyper-vigilant state. They can never relax because anything–or nothing at all–could trigger the next attack. This constant vigilance as they anticipate and dread the next abusive episode causes intense anxiety. It can manifest as increased heart rate, muscle tension, panic attacks, sleep disturbances, or an exaggerated startle response.

As a victim considers leaving the relationship, this anxiety can increase. The fear of retribution can prevent them from contacting a friend, shelter, or divorce attorney. Those support systems can be the turning point for escaping the violence, but the overpowering anxiety makes it challenging to seek help.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is one of the most insidious mental health consequences of domestic violence. Through persistent exposure to abuse and living with the constant fear of the next attack, victims experience symptoms akin to those who have witnessed war or other atrocities.

Domestic violence is traumatic and stressful. Consequently, it can lead to post-traumatic stress conditions. Survivors may experience flashbacks to past attacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. Certain sounds, locations, or sensory input may cause involuntary associations with past violent episodes.

PTSD can linger long after any physical wounds have healed or the last insult has been issued in an attempt to degrade self-worth. Those ongoing effects can affect a survivor’s ability to form healthy relationships. Thankfully, once a victim is free from the abusive situation, therapy, time, and reestablishing healthy relationships can allow them to engage in life without the specter of past trauma haunting them.

The Role of Divorce in Beginning to Heal

Divorcing an abusive partner plays a pivotal role in providing an escape from the horrors of domestic violence. For many survivors, the decision to leave an abusive partner is a courageous step toward reclaiming their lives and healing their mental health.

Divorce severs legal ties with an abuser. Your family law and divorce attorney can also help you establish legal boundaries, including restraining orders when necessary, to help ensure your safety.

Divorce can empower domestic violence survivors, helping them regain control of their lives. Divorce proceedings don’t just formally end the violent relationship. Beyond the legal formality, ending the marriage can symbolize the rejection of the abusive dynamic and partner. Survivors redefine their identity and establish their power and self-worth.

Seeking Help

If your relationship is violent, know that you can be free of abuse. Your depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other symptoms can begin to heal once you are away from the stress, trauma, and fear of domestic violence. That will improve your daily life and make you better able to support, love, and contribute to your friends, loved ones, and community, all of whom want and need you to be safe and healthy. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, affecting their mental and physical health. But anyone dealing with abusive relationships can escape and regain their mental health.


How Domestic Violence Affects Mental Health

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