Free Essay On Battered Woman Syndrome

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Violence, Abuse, Bullying, Family, Physical Abuse, Domestic Violence, Children

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/12/17

The psychological theory known as Battered Woman Syndrome was developed by Dr. Lenore E. Walker to describe the emotional mindset of abused women. A battered woman is a woman who has experienced physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse at the hands of her partner. Battered Woman Syndrome is a model of behavior that explains why women remain in dangerous relationships.
Lenore Walker based her theory off of Martin Selligman's theory of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is the view that depression and other related mental illnesses result from a belief that one lacks control over events in one's life. When a person is in a state of learned helplessness, the person becomes unwilling or unable to take action against an undesirable stimulus, even if encounters with the stimulus are escapable.
There are four general characteristics of battered woman syndrome, according to Walker's Battered Woman Syndrome. One of the characteristics is that the woman thinks that the violence she is enduring is her fault. Battered women tend to operate under the belief that they deserve the abuse they are given, even if there is no evidence to suggest it. Another feature of battered woman syndrome is that the woman is unable to place responsibility for the violence elsewhere. Even though the source of the abuse is outside of herself, the battered woman feels that she is solely to blame for it. Additionally, battered woman syndrome entails that the woman fears for her life, and possibly the lives of her children, if she has them. Violence directed at one person affects everyone living in a household. The battered woman understands that though she may be the sole target of violence, her children could easily become targets of violence as well. And finally, battered women tend to irrationally believe that their abusers can read their thoughts and are always lurking nearby. The woman will believe that if she contacts the authorities and asks for help, she will be hurt or killed.
Women with battered woman syndrome also frequently show signs of depression. They are likely to take less joy in life and to lose interest in daily activities. They may begin to abuse drugs and alcohol, or engage in other reckless behaviors. These are just a couple of the common symptoms of depression. Battered women may also experience loss of appetite or changes in weight, anger or irritability, and sleep changes. The spectrum of symptoms of battered woman syndrome is broad.
Battered woman syndrome has also been associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a psychological condition that results after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. When battered woman syndrome manifests as PTSD, it results in several symptoms. Similar to a victim of PTSD, a battered woman will re-experience the battering as if it were recurring even if it is not. In addition, the person will attempt to stray away from stressful activities, people, and emotions, in order to avoid their negative psychological impact. Furthermore, the person may become hypervigilant, meaning that they will feel constantly tense and on guard. The person may also experience distorted body image and may have intimacy issues.
Since the term, Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) was first introduced in 1977, BWS has gained usage in the psychological literature as a subcategory of PTSD. In its original conception, BWS consisted of the pattern of signs and symptoms that occur after a woman has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused in an intimate relationship. As there are significant similarities between the symptoms of BWS and the symptoms of PTSD, the language used to describe the syndrome has been altered to include the language of PTSD. However, not every woman who is battered will develop PTSD, and not every battered woman will develop BWS.
One of the most important discoveries from the original research into battered woman syndrome was the existence of a cycle of violence that was described by each woman interviewed as part of the research (Walker, 1979). The cycle of violence has three phases. Once the woman was helped to identify the three phases, it became possible for her to break out of the cycle of violence and escape the abuser's control.
As part of the study, battered women were interviewed who were recruited from prison and jails, advertisements, outpatient family centers, mental health facilities, and other sources. Questioning of the women revealed that 68 percent were exposed to battering in their childhood home. Only 22 percent reported that they were not exposed, and 10 percent did not report either way. Fifty-four percent of the women indicated that they were hit with an object as children. With regard to sexual abuse, two-thirds, or 66 percent of the women intimated that they were touched inappropriately as children. This means that the number of women who participated in the study who were sexually abused outnumbered those who were not sexually abused by two to one. These findings were consistent with the prediction that a large proportion of women who are battered in an intimate partner relationship were also battered as children.
A significant portion of these women reported psychological abuse. Psychological abuse comes in the form of being humiliated, cursed at, and put down. The most common facets of psychological abuse involved the man constantly disapproving of and trying to control the behavior of the woman. Physical abuse was also commonly reported. Physical abuse entails being pushed, grabbed, slapped, and shaken. Physical tactics of control were often coupled with psychological tactics to make the women feel powerless and beat down.
The hypothesis was tested whether exposure to battering during childhood led to physical abuse in adulthood. The results of the study indicated that there was a strong correlation between women who were exposed to violence growing up and being shaken and grabbed later on in adulthood.
During phase one, the tension between the couple slowly rises. It may start with name-calling and other intentionally patterns of behavior. During this time, the batterer may initiate physical abuse. The batterer puts on a display of hostility to manipulate the woman, who attempts to placate the batterer by doing what she thinks will please him or calm him down.
Throughout phase two the tension continues to increase. Eventually it reaches such high levels as the woman will begin to fear for her physical safety. She begins to find that her tactics to control and mitigate her spouse's hostility have stopped working. “Exhausted from the constant stress, she usually withdraws from the batterer, fearing she will inadvertently set off an explosion. He begins to move more oppressively toward her as he observes her withdrawal Tension between the two becomes unbearable” (Walker, 1979, p. 59). According to Walker, this phase is defined by the violent release of the tension built up in phase one. When injuries occur in a battering relationship, they usually occur in the second phase. If the police become involved, it is also usually during this phase. The acute battering phase only stops when the batterer stops using violence, and the cessation brings with it a reduction in tension.
During phase three, the batterer will try to show kindness and remorse for his actions, and will usually apologize profusely. He will try to make it up to his girlfriend or wife. This phase always leads to the woman and the man reconciling, with the woman believing at last in the man's ability to change.
At the time this research data was collected in 1979, the women were asked whether they believed they were in danger of dying while in the relationship. Three quarters of the women who participated in the study responded positively to the question. Half of the women responded that not only was it possible their spouse or lover might kill them, but that it was probable. Nearly ninety percent of the women believed that, if someone was to be killed in the relationship, it would be them. In addition to this, nearly half of the batterers had, at one point in the relationship, threatened suicide. Threats of suicide were interpreted by the researchers to be indicative of homicidal tendencies.
In the original research of Walker, almost 90 percent of the women interviewed responded that their childhood physical health was average or above average. However, two thirds of the respondents reported that they had suffered from depression in childhood. This inconsistency in reporting complicated the researcher's findings (Walker, 2006).
Of the sample interviewed by walker in 1979, a fifth had reported a need for medical intervention after the first instance of physical violence. Almost half reported needing medical help after the worst instance of violence. Despite this, only two-thirds of the women who needed medical attention, sought it. This reporting was consistent with the other evidence that was available at the time that indicated that battered women were less likely to seek needed medical care (Walker, 1979). And those who did seek medical treatment were unlikely to reveal that they were being abused.
More recent data from the 2000's suggests that battered women are more likely to open up to their doctors about the abuse they are experiencing if they are the ones who seek out treatment for themselves. The doctors who have been interviewed on the subject have reported that the women who seek treatment tend to have a higher tolerance for pain. This may be due to the fact that these doctors are observing the women in the process of dissociation, in which the battered woman detaches herself from her physical body. This is an adaptive response that helps ensure survival in crisis situations.
In the original research, the women were asked questions about their sexual abuse at different parts of the interview, rather than in just one section. This was both to relieve the stress of having to answer emotionally charged questions, and to provide a reliability check. 59 percent of the women reported that they were forced by their partner to have sex. 41 percent said that they were asked to perform “unusual sex acts,” and some of the women even reported that they had been forced to partake in group sex activities against their will. When they were asked if sex was unpleasant, 85 percent said yes.
The study confirmed the hypothesis that battered women also experience interpersonal functioning difficulties. Half of the women in the study said they felt dependent on others, while 60 percent said they felt trapped in their relationship. In addition, two thirds mentioned that that they felt lonely most of the time, while half said they felt like they were being treated as objects.
There is a strong and well-known correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence. Although there is no clear cause-and-effect relationship between drugs and violent behavior, it is commonly thought that the use of drugs such as amphetamines, alcohol, and cocaine contributes to violence in the home. Recent investigations have found that men's alcohol use is strongly associated with greater risk of injuries resulting in hospitalization, whereas no similar relationship is seen in women who abuse alcohol or other substances. A study carried out by the CDC found that women who drink regularly or who binge drink are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. In addition, earlier research by Walker found that women were less likely to leave an abusive relationship if they had substance abuse problems. Unfortunately, there are few programs available in the United States that combine treatment for both domestic violence and substance abuse.
Different treatment methods are needed to address intimate partner violence and substance abuse. There is still debate over whether both conditions should be treated simultaneously or separately. Further complicating matters is the comorbidity of mental illnesses with substance abuse tendencies. Some domestic violence courts, such as the Miami/Dade County Domestic Violence Court, order interventions for all three conditions for those who are willing to undergo treatment as a condition of deferral. However, defendants who are deferred into community or residential treatment programs are not always screened for prior domestic violence perpetration.
There is a longstanding legal argument over whether or not the use of substances is under the person's control if an addiction is present. While it is commonly known that alcohol use may, under some circumstances, lower inhibitions and increase physically violent behavior, “some of these effects may be due to the expectation of other non-physiological effects” (Walker, 1979). It is probable that the high rate of alcoholism among known batterers may play a role in their high rate of arrest.
There is a natural tendency to relate alcohol abuse with batterers and battered women. However, the association between violence and abuse of other drugs (not alcohol) is less well understood. Research investigating the link between substance abuse and violence against women has found that more than 50 percent of men in batterer treatment programs were also diagnosed as substance abusers. Between 50 and 60 percent of men in domestic violence programs were alcohol or drug abusers (Walker, 2006). Researchers had difficulty establishing a cause and effect relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence, not knowing whether the men were primarily substance abusers using violence, or domestic violence offenders using substances. Studies of substance abusers and batterers found that there was significant similarity between the childhood histories of each (Nandy, 2010; Craven, 2003).
With regard to substance abuse's effects on men's proclivity to use violence in a relationship, the researchers asked the question, “should practitioners focus on the addictive behavior of batterers prior to treating their aggressive behavior toward their partners?” (Walker, 2006). This is a question that has yet to be answered definitively. This is partly due to the fact that practitioners in the fields of domestic violence and substance abuse do not often communicate with each other. In most U.S. states, in fact, practitioners are required to obtain different licenses to work with court-ordered clients. This means that each group works within their own domain, and the relationship between substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness remains largely unstudied.
Though drinking and violence appear to be correlated, a 1987 study (Kantor & Strauss) found that between 60 and 75 percent of batterers they surveyed said they were not drinking at the time of their battering incidents. This evidence does not suggest a lack of association between battering and substance use, however, as a batterer who is a substance user may be as likely to engage in abusive behavior while sober as while high or drunk.
The impact of violence in the home on children is severe. It is more severe even than the impact of being raised in a single-parent home. Children who are exposed to violence are at a high risk for using violence themselves later in life, against their partner or their own children. These children are also at risk for becoming delinquent, having behavior problems, and developing life long mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptomology.
In a review of four large scale surveys (Savage, 2006), approximately 10 to 20 percent of children lived in households where domestic violence had occurred during a one year period. In a 1995 study interviewing a population of school children, researchers found that between one quarter to one half of them had witnessed a family member being slapped, punched, or hit in the past year. One third had reported seeing someone being beaten up in their home. In some instances it was the children themselves or their siblings who were the recipients of violence. In all cases, the children were victims.
There are other ways in which children can become victims of domestic violence other than by witnessing it happening to other family members. These include, but are not limited to overhearing verbal conflicts, attempting to intervene in the violence or becoming a target of it, and observing the aftermath. There appears to be a major discrepancy between what parents state and what children report about violent conflict in their homes. Studies estimate that between 10 and 20 million children are exposed to violence in the home each year (Walker, 2006).
It is not known how many women worldwide live with the condition known as battered woman syndrome. The traumas associated with BWS have various adverse effects on the health of the mind, body, and spirit. Domestic violence harms not just women, but also the children who are exposed to it. The response to trauma varies from person to person, even when the survivors experience similar types of abuse. Battered women must take responsibility for their own lives in order to escape abuse. Assistance for battered women and their children is available at shelters and clinics throughout the country, in addition to 24-hour hot lines that can be called any time. There are lots of people who care and want to help women in battering relationships, and the first step towards attaining a better life is to seek help.


Walker, L.E. (2006). Battered Woman Syndrome. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1087(1):142-157.
Savage, J. (2006). Battered Woman Syndrome. Geo. J. Gender & L., 7, 761.
Craven, Z. (2003). Battered woman syndrome. Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse.
Nandy, P. (2010). Battered Woman Syndrome. Available at SSRN 1689521.
Walker, L.E. (1979) The Battered Woman. New York: Harper & Row.

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