PTSD in Adults Caused by Trauma and Domestic Violence During Childhood

domestic violence

Research has shown that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in adults can be caused due to a traumatic experience or witnessing domestic violence during their childhood. In the Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2012, approximately 6.3 million allegations of maltreatment towards children were reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies. With the month of April being designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, people across the U.S. spread awareness as these numbers are an ugly reminder of the violence endured by children.

domestic violenceIt has been determined that when a child witnesses domestic violence, the experience is intense enough to cause PTSD. This occurrence of PTSD can also take place when the child reaches adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that in homes where violence among partners takes place even when a child is not physically assaulted, they witness 68 to 80 percent of such domestic attacks. Along with violence against the significant other, there is 45 to 60 percent chance of child abuse. The CDC has attributed domestic violence to poor quality of life and premature death among children who are exposed to an upbringing surrounded by violence. Also, the CDC has classified domestic violence as a risk factor to the more common causes of deaths that take place every year in the U.S.

The multitude of domestic violence that victims are exposed to ranges from threats, chronic yelling and arguing, controlling behavior, intimidation, to threats involving weapons, physical threats, threats of suicide or murder, further extending to serious injuries, and fatal assaults. Domestic violence has many forms and always exhibits the destructive tones of control and power. Offenders compulsively and commonly grasp for a replacement of control which they themselves lack. All intimate relationships with behavior patterns that display forcible control of one partner by the other, can be a foreshadowing or signal of abuse. Exposing children to this not only runs the risk of firsthand victimization, but it also affects them in the long-term. Children in danger of this are inevitably emotionally scarred.

domestic violenceVictims are not completely defined by the horrific acts they once experienced. Many grow up to live an overall happy, fulfilled, and passionate lives. While survivors are adaptable, it would not be accurate to call them unbreakable. When children witness or are victims of domestic violence, it gets imprinted into their brain permanently. While growing up, they may experience occurrences of bed wetting, insomnia, and learning difficulties including problems with developing motor, verbal, and cognitive skills. This could lead to self-harm, aggression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, low self-worth, and depression.

While years of therapies, group sessions, psychologists, meditation, and yoga may be comforting, it does not fix the permanent emotional damage. The uncontrollable crying, recurring nightmares, the impulse to go silent and freeze without any warning, and the rage in many adults can be a result of PTSD due to traumatic experiences or witnessing domestic violence during their childhood. The issue of PTSD is bound to continue even after the person has resolved the issue with his or her parents and shares an extremely loving and caring relationship with them after growing up. The problem is that in their sub-conscious mind, the memories of trauma and domestic violence are still very vivid. Today, many adults struggle and fight with these aspects of PTSD with hopes of getting some normalcy or closure. Sadly, it eventually makes them feel as if they are beyond repair and will never be normal again.

Many are working to spread awareness about domestic violence to help people understand some of the psychological probabilities resulting in guilt, excessive worry, fear of abandonment or harm, sadness, compulsive lying, emotional distancing, low frustration tolerance, poor judgment, inability to experience guilt or empathy, fear about their future, and shame about the past. The young parents and working adults from the present generation need to be made aware that even a single act of domestic violence and traumatic experience can lead the child to suffer from PTSD in his or her life.

By Ankur Sinha

Mental Health America
Joyful Heart Foundation
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network(NCTSN)

Photos by:
Gia Ciccone-Flickr License
Daniela Brown-Flickr License
andrechinn-Flickr License

10 Responses to "PTSD in Adults Caused by Trauma and Domestic Violence During Childhood"

  1. Lila Broadua   January 22, 2018 at 6:48 am

    I grew up with domestic violence.
    My dad beat my mother really bad.
    I am 50 years old and I am still having night terrors about it. I can be laying down ready for bed and I can hear him beating her this does not happen all the time but sometimes it occurs.
    This article really helps
    My faith has kept me this far.

  2. Gennia Pinheiro   April 11, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Great article ….I’m 57 and still struggling with what I saw, endured as a child and adult. I’m disabled now due to a car accident 5 years ago. It’s
    though God’s Grace and strong will that I’m alive. Working on being trapped in a car I have spinal cord injury along w/TBI. I just want to get well enough to pay it forward but as I’m peeling the onion more comes out that I didn’t want to remember.

    • Jacqueline   June 2, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      wow Gennia I have suffered a TBI in a car accident as well plus just had the courage to leave a very abusive marriage. so I feel like I have PTSD 2xs in just a few years. now with domestic violence from my husband plus he is an alcoholic makes it so much worse to cope with everything. my son’s have been effected as well. wish there was a way to speak with you.

  3. Lisa Floyd   February 11, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Very acurate and well written. I grew up with chronic Domestic Violence in my home. (step dad abused my mother) I have ptsd. I’m still healing.

  4. Dognight   December 18, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    Lacking some normalcy in my life, I find it hard to define myself…to identify myself. Growing up, starting at an early age of 3, I had experienced abuse from a stepmother until I reached the age of 16. By age 16, I had enough and threatened the abuser if she didnt cease in her abuse I would do unto others as they have do to me.

    The physical and emotional scars exist today and my lack of self confidence and low self esteem has followed me since I was a child. How can I break free?

    I have hidden the real me for decades. Promoted self confidence in order to cover up from a childhood of extreme parental alcoholism and abuse. Being locked in a room without food…being pinned down and beaten to a bloody pulp as my so called parents called it. Being dragged around by a dog by my feet and laughed at. Dragged around by my hair. Fingers burned on the stove. Tied down to a bed to prevent me from escaping.

    You name it was done unto me and lying to people in the process that everything was fine results in a life of lies. I am a survivor that wants so badly to thrive. I learned impulsive behavior…risk taking types of behavior. Thrill seeking. I had no stability in life as a child.

    Now at age 47…divorced with a few young kids and living in poverty I search my soul for change in order to thrive instead of just survive.

  5. Lisa   November 12, 2016 at 4:06 am

    Reading this marks the start of my next phase of healing. I’m in my mid 30s and have come to realise that I am suffering ptsd a a result of what I experienced as a child. Thank you for helping me to heal.

  6. Dhyan Dennis   October 6, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you for posting this article. I, too, grew up witnessing domestic violence, and I, too suffer from PTSD. I am now 32, but to this day, I continue to have vivid flashbacks of the horrible acts committed by my father. He has beat her, he has stabbed her and choked her to near unconsciousness and abandoned her in the middle of the woods. Throughout my childhood into young adulthood, I dealt with uncontrollable rage and depression. I actually fought my father and asked him as he had my pinned against the wall with his hand ariund my throat if I was the new punching bag now that mom wasn’t around (she had literally fled for her life). In my early adult years, I found myself in a relationship that almost mirrored my mothers. I stayed during the emotional abuse, thinking that it was my fault that he was angry and completely changed myself, my being, my identity, to better suited him. However, when. He put his hands on me and it was the first and the last time. I am a black female. I say this because I want to show that race has no merit on abuse or who is a witness to it. I want to share my story (which is quite abridged), because for the longest time, I thought I was alone. I want others to know that they are not alone! To all those who grew up as witnesses to domestic abuse, I wish to send my love and my healing thoughts.

  7. Helen C. Gennari   April 16, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Thank you for putting this out there for folks to see. I was one of those children and it took me well into my mid-years to understood the root of some of my distorted thinking, feeling and behaving and begin to heal. At 74 I am writing about family violence and doing workshops that will help women who have grown up with family violence find their voice and experience healing.

    • Brenda   July 8, 2015 at 8:21 am

      Hello Helen, I am a 55 year old, mother of two, and grandmother of 3. I too was raised in a very dysfunctional family. I witnessed my father beat my mother, almost daily and attempt to kill her. She left him, only to marry another abusive man. They are still married and in their 80’s and 90’s still fighting. As you can imagine, I have been in several abusive, relationships and 1 of my daughters also. I left my husband, after he pushed me out of the car on the freeway, with the seat belt still around my arm, so I was drugged along side of the car. I still have depression, and still dealing with my parents, who are still abusive to each other. Can you please tell me where I can get help for them. Thank you for your time.

  8. Cherese Jackson   April 16, 2015 at 6:13 am

    Great article!


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