Abused Woman Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Today, despite the great strides and empowerment women have achieved, the scourge of domestic violence remains.

Thousands of women are abused and murdered by their partners every year. Violence does not only manifest itself in the form of bruises and physical injuries, but also involves a deep psychological imprint. Due to the behavioral and emotional symptoms exhibited by many women who have suffered, it has been proposed abused woman syndrome like the psychopathology that this group suffers from.

While the concept behind this syndrome has been debatable, the truth is that it has been of great importance in prosecutions for gender-based violence. Let’s take a closer look at what this psychodiagnostic proposal consists of.

    What is Abused Woman Syndrome?

    Battered woman syndrome is a proposition of psychological disorder suffered by women victims of gender-based violence. This syndrome has been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has gained greater recognition in recent years, especially in the judiciary, especially in cases where women, after years of abuse, have murdered her husband or her boyfriend.

    With gender violence, also called domestic by some sectors, we mean any act of physical and emotional violence normally produced in the home and perpetrated by a person belonging to the intimate or family circle of the victim. There are many consequences to this, manifesting feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear and a big impact on life in general.

    Although it plays a very important role in the field of forensic psychology, it is not yet included in the DSM nor in the CIM, especially since there are many doubts about its validity in as real trouble. Whether or not an agreement is reached and a new diagnostic collection is created to refer to this syndrome, there is good evidence that years of physical and verbal abuse involve psychological problems in the person.

    associated symptomatology

    Having suffered constant abuse leaves a deep imprint on the entire psychic world of women, showing itself more clearly when it comes to relating to the rest of the world and exercising as an adult individual. The victim’s ability to respond to violence decreases as it increases in frequency and intensity throughout the relationship. With time, the woman becomes very passive, submissive, with very low self-esteem and a deep fear of displeasing her attacker.

    No one likes to be assaulted or humiliated, but despite not wanting to be abused, they end up believing that they really deserve it, that they are as bad as the couples that their boyfriend or husband doesn’t. no choice but to teach them through violence. . They therefore feel totally guilty of the situation in which they are trapped. Women who are victims of this type of violence often feel tired and helpless, In addition to suffering in a constant situation of panic.

    All of this leads to a number of depressive and anxious symptoms such as bad mood, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, as well as sleeping problems such as insomnia. In addition, other disorders can occur, either mood or disorders such as eating disorders, addictions and PTSD. They have very noticeable cognitive problems, like lack of concentration, dissociation, distortion of body image, denial, pessimistic thinking …

      Cycle of violence

      In order to be able to understand the Abused Woman Syndrome more broadly and also to understand the terrible situation she is going 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.

      1. Stacked voltage phase

      At this point, the victim tries to negotiate with her abuser with the intention of calming him down. He thinks he can really make a difference.

      At this point in the relationship, loss of contact with the victim’s group of friends occurs.

      In turn, violence, which, although not yet physical, begins to escalate in the form of tone and screaming.

      2. Acute violence phase

      The accumulated tension shows itself in the form of sexual assault and abuse. The abuser insults, humiliates and beats his partner.

      3. Calm and reconciliation phase

      After the attacks, as after a storm, comes calm. This phase has also been called the “honeymoon”.

      At this point, the abuser sees how, through his actions, he contributed to the relationship being in danger, but to keep his victim trapped, he convinces her that it was his fault, although he promises that this will not happen again. and that all is it will be okay. However, unfortunately the cycle restarts, and these same phases recur, Go more and more but more and more likely that the abused will kill his partner.

      Phases of Abused Woman Syndrome

      In connection with 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.

      1. Trigger

      The first abuses already endanger a woman’s confidence in her partner.

      By breaking that trust, the idealized vision is also thrown to the ground. he had from his partner and the expectations placed on the relationship.

      2. Reorientation

      The woman, who is now a victim, tries to find other references, but it is difficult because the process has already started whereby their relationships will be more and more diminished due to the control that her partner is going to make over her.

      He blames the situation, in addition to enter into a deep sense of helplessness.

      3. Confrontation

      Here she assumes the behavior of her boyfriend or her husband and tries to redirect the relationship without success.

      4. Adaptation

      The woman does not blame her abuser, but projects this feelingor to blame other people or herself.

      The stages of recovery

      Fortunately, and with various therapies, it is possible that recovery can occur in people with battered woman syndrome. At first it is a bit difficult to get over the idea that you are being abused and that it is not a situation that you have no right to run away from. With the passage of the following recovery phases, little by little the woman sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

      1. Denial

      At first, the woman refuses to admit that she is trapped in a relationship where there is violence, or at least recognizes that the relationship is not on wheels.

      He often makes excuses for his partner’s violence, saying that it won’t happen again or that this is a truly exceptional situation.

      2. Guilt

      That much, the woman realizes that there is a problemBut she still believes that the blame lies with herself, not the abuser.

      She thinks she deserves to be treated this way because she really isn’t the woman she should be or she’s done something wrong.

      3. Illustration

      This is where you could say she starts to lift her head as she stops seeing herself as the culprit.

      Despite this, he continues to believe that he should stay on his partner’s side because he still hopes things can change.

      4. Liability

      This is the end point of healing because the woman sees that indeed her husband or her boyfriend will not change and that she does not have the right to do to him what he does to him.

      She learns that she has to get out of the relationship anyway, that the abuse won’t end until she pulls away from the abuser and reports him.


      As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the syndrome of battered woman is not a disorder that is not included in any of the two major diagnostic textbooks in psychology, although it is. 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 symptoms associated with this diagnostic proposition. Let’s look at the two most notable.

      1. Feminist therapy

      From feminist therapy, it is proposed to take into account during psychotherapy the structural elements of society that always favor gender differences.

      This, with respect to the syndrome explained here, is intended to empower women to take an active role in denouncing their abuser, as well as to enable the process of recovery.

      In addition, feminist therapy has been used to assess patients and to be able to explain, in forensic terms, the syndrome resulting from abuse suffered for several years.

      2. STEP program

      STEP stands for “Survivor Therapy Empowerment Program”.

      This therapy, which has been empirically validated in clinical and prison populations, comprises the following twelve steps: 1: Define domestic violence 2: Overcome dysfunctional thinking and design a safety plan. 3: Think, feel and act. 4: Think positively and control anger. 5: Stress control and relaxation practice. 6: The cycle of violence and the psychological effects of violence. 7: Post-traumatic stress disorder and abused woman syndrome. 8: Regret the end of a relationship. 9: Effects of domestic violence on children. 10: Learn to ask for what you want. 11: Build healthy relationships. 12: End a relationship.

      Bibliographic reference:

      • Walker, LE (2009). The Abused Women Syndrome – Third Edition. New York: Springer.
      • Walker, L. (2012). Abused woman syndrome. Editors of Desclée de Brouwer.

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