Battered Woman Syndrome: How to Get Help

August 20, 2019
Many people who were once victims of long-term abuse are afflicted by battered woman syndrome. Learn how to cope with it and heal in this article.

Battered woman syndrome affects anyone who’s experienced long-term physical or psychological abuse in their past. This is a term coined by Lenore E. A. Walker in her book The Battered Woman Syndrome.

Her book addresses all the physical symptoms and psychological consequences of abuse in a relationship. Likewise, there’s also a special chapter in regards to situations where there are children involved.

How to Identify Battered Woman Syndrome

A distressed woman.

Battered woman syndrome has clear characteristics that everyone should be able to identify.


People should seek professional help as soon as possible. This is so the symptoms don’t progress and end up affecting the quality of life of a surviving victim.

Among them:

  • Body symptoms such as insomnia, weight loss, somatization of emotions in the form of eczema, migraines, cramps, etc.
  • Psychological symptoms like depression, low self-esteem, guilt, hopelessness, and fear.

Battered woman syndrome may show through various physical and mental expressions such as insomnia, weight loss, and depression.

These are just some of the symptoms that a person experiencing battered woman syndrome may have. However, there are many other things to consider at an individual level.

Let’s look at some of them as well as the steps to follow to reduce the trauma.

Learned Helplessness

This is a psychological state that often occurs in people who were abused by someone they trusted for a long time. It’s harmful compliance that keeps someone from making decisions on their behalf. They fail to stand up for themselves and get out of a situation in which they are being violated or abused.

These people believe that nothing they do will influence the outcome.

While it may sound simple to overcome, this is an extremely disabling condition. Thus, learned helplessness is the main reason why many people remain in a situation of abuse.

Meanwhile, not dealing with it could make them easy prey of another abuser.

Also read: The Most Common Sexist Beliefs

Posttraumatic Stress

A woman looking behind her.

When a person was exposed to a situation of repeated abuse for a long time, they’ve been under constant stress. This long-term stress lingers even after they leave the situation.

This fight-and-flight response, which is so important for animal survival, becomes completely maladaptive in people with battered woman syndrome. Stress, fear, and anxiety may appear under circumstances they shouldn’t fear at all.

To identify posttraumatic stress, it’s important to analyze the behaviors of a person who was a victim of abuse:

  • Nightmares and flashbacks that lead to night sweats, fear, and anxiety.
  • Avoidance of places, people, or thoughts that remind them of their abusive situation.
  • Hypervigilance, especially when on the street because they think their abuser if following them.
  • Difficulty remembering specific moments of their traumatic events.

Anyone who goes through periods of violence often has difficulties overcoming flashbacks. Their post-traumatic stress takes roots in thinking their aggressor will prevail in pulling them back into the old abusive situation.

Battered Women Syndrome: Getting Help

Even though a victim of abuse may believe they can’t get help and recover, this is not the case.

Yes, it’s true that in many instances abusers go home free with just a restraining order. Yes, it’s scary. And yes, it’s often out of your control.

However, it’s also true that it’s completely possible to take responsibility for your own life, get distance, and heal from any form of abuse or trauma.

So, let’s see what you can do about it:

Doctors, Dentists, Clergy, or Your Child’s School Officials

These people are all mandatory reporters and have at least some training in issues related to domestic violence.

They should be able to help you get out of a domestic violence situation by putting in touch with organizations that offer aid.

Note that most information you provide your doctor or clergy is confidential. Also, these individuals must report child abuse.

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Legal Aid

Attorneys specializing in family law often have connections to available resources that can help with cases of domestic violence. They can also help you create a plan for how to safely leave an abuser and assist in getting you an order of protection or temporary restraining order.

If you can’t afford an attorney, contact your state’s legal aid organization to see if you qualify for free representation.


There are many nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping people cope with domestic abuse.

First, there’s the national domestic violence hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE. Also, each state has organizations that provide services to domestic abuse victims.


Getting help from a therapist is one of the best and healthiest ways to help you to heal and move forward.

Find a therapist near you. If money is an issue, discuss options with local help centers. Make sure you get the help that you – and your children – deserve to move forward, live healthy lives, and ensure that abuse remains a thing of the past. 

Battered Women Syndrome: Hotlines

Most hotlines are non-governmental organizations you can call when you or someone else needs to talk. It’s a free service and that can be of great help in those moments when a person is feeling depressed and even suicidal.

When in a situation of abuse, don’t hesitate to call 911. The police can help with domestic violence cases by providing you with a safe place to live while they investigate your case. Also, they’ll get you in touch with other resources such as food banks, employment services, and attorneys.

Nobody should tolerate domestic violence and there are many ways to get out of it.

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