Domestic Violence & The Courtroom
Understanding The Problem... Knowing The Victim

Battered Women Syndrome

Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) is a collection of psychological symptoms, often considered a subcategory of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and can be measured by a trained mental health professional.

Battered Woman Syndrome can cause a woman to act in ways that confuse those who wish to help her, thus making it extremely difficult for her to cooperate with the legal system, even though she wants the abuse to stop.

Symptoms: BWS is a psychological reaction that can be expected to occur in normal people who are exposed to repeated trauma, such as family violence. It includes at least three groups of symptoms that assist the mind and body in preparing to defend against threats. Psychologists call it the "fight or flight" response.

The "Fight" Response Mode: In the "fight" mode, the body and mind prepare to deal with danger by becoming hypervigilant to cues of potential violence, resulting in an exaggerated startle response. The automatic nervous system becomes operational and the individual becomes more focused on the single task of self defense. This impairs concentration and causes physiological responses usually associated with high anxiety. In serious cases, fearfulness and panic disorders are present and phobic disorders may also result. Irritability and crying are typical symptoms of this stage.

The "Flight" Response Mode: The "flight" response mode often alternates with the fight pattern. Most individuals would run away from danger if they could do so safely. When physical escape is actually or perceived as impossible, then mental escape occurs. This is the avoidance or emotional numbing stage where denial, minimization, rationalization and disassociation are subconsciously used as ways to psychologically escape from the threat or presence of violence.

Cognitive Ability and Memory Loss: The third major impact of BWS is to the cognitive and memory areas. Here, the victim begins to have intrusive memories of the abuse or may actually develop psychogenic amnesia and not always remember important details or events. The victim may have trouble following his or her thoughts in a logical way, being distracted by intrusive memories that may be flashbacks to previous battering incidents. The victim may disassociate himself or herself when faced with painful events, memories, reoccurring nightmares or other associations not readily apparent to the observer.


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