The Connection Between PTSD and Domestic Violence

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Researchers have found a link between post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and domestic violence. In fact, intimate partner abuse happens more than you may think.

To understand the potential risk, it can help to define how common domestic violence is overall—in the population as a whole (both those with and those without PTSD).

National Estimates of Domestic Violence

National estimates indicate that in a period of one year, eight to 21 percent of people in a serious relationship will have engaged in some kind of violent act aimed at an intimate partner. Relationship violence has also been found among people who have experienced certain traumatic events or have PTSD.

Childhood Abuse (Trauma) and Relationship Violence

Separate from PTSD, a connection has been found between the experience of certain traumatic events and relationship violence. In particular, studies have found that men and women who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional neglect in childhood may be more likely to be abusive in intimate relationships as compared to people without a history of childhood trauma.

In addition, people with PTSD have also been found to be more likely to be aggressive and engage in intimate partner abuse than people without a PTSD diagnosis. The connection between PTSD and violence has been found for both men and women with the disorder. Knowing that trauma can lead to both violence and PTSD, how are these related?

How Trauma, PTSD, and Domestic Violence Are Related

Several studies have been conducted in an attempt to better understand what may lead people with a history of trauma or PTSD to engage in aggressive and violent behaviors. In studies of U.S. veterans, it has been found that depression played a role in aggression among people with PTSD. People who have both depression and PTSD may experience more feelings of anger and, therefore, may have greater difficulties controlling it.

In line with this, a couple of studies have found that violent and aggressive behavior, especially among men, may be used as a way of attempting to manage unpleasant feelings. Aggressive behavior may be a way of releasing tension associated with other unpleasant emotions stemming from a traumatic event, such as shame, guilt or anxiety. While aggressive and hostile behavior may temporarily reduce tension it is, of course, ineffective in the long-run—both in regard to relationships and dealing with unpleasant emotions.

Not Everyone With PTSD Is Predisposed to Violence

Despite these findings, it is important to note that just because some people have experienced a traumatic event or have PTSD does not mean that they will exhibit violent behavior. There are many factors that contribute to aggressive behavior and much more research is needed to identify the specific risk factors for aggressive behavior among people exposed to traumatic events or who have PTSD.

That said, one shouldn't rule out a potential romantic partner simply because she has experienced a traumatic event. It is important, however, to find out if the person has sought help for the trauma she endured or her PTSD diagnosis.

What Can Be Done

Mental health professionals have long recognized that trauma and PTSD increase the risk of aggression. Therefore, many treatments for PTSD also incorporate anger management skills. Learning more effective ways of coping with PTSD is a major part of reducing aggressive tendencies, such as deep breathing and identifying the short- and long-term negative and positive consequences of different behaviors.

In addition, learning to cope with anger in healthy ways is a good way to not only lessen the chance of violence but can help those with PTSD approach situations which cause anger in a better way. If you are the victim of relationship violence, it is important for you to also take immediate steps.

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