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How Domestic Abuse Affects The Brain

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Effects On Personal Relationships

What Emotional Abuse Does To Your Brain

A person who is subjected to emotional abuse, either as a child or within a relationship, may be less likely to trust people in the future.

For example, as they grow up, children might seek negative relationships that may continue to expose them to emotional abuse.

A person who is subjected to emotional abuse within a relationship may have trouble getting close to others in the future.

Tips For Healing And Recovery

It is important for a person who is currently experiencing or who has ever experienced emotional abuse to know that the abuse is never their fault.

In some cases, a partner may even be using emotional abuse to prevent the person from leaving or seeking help.

Some tips for healing and recovery include:

  • getting adequate rest

Who Is Involved In Domestic Violence And Abuse

Although a man abusing a woman is recognised more often, abusers may be male or female. Abuse can happen in any class, religion, ethnic group, occupation or age. It may occur in all types of relationships, including same sex relationships. Children may also experience domestic violence and abuse, or, if they are older, be domestically violent and abusive.

People often think that alcohol and mental illness can cause person to be violent. Alcohol does not cause domestic violence and abuse, but there is evidence that where domestic violence and abuse exists, alcohol is often present. Most people who are mentally ill are not violent.

Children of any age are affected by domestic violence and abuse. At no age will they be unaffected by what is happening, even when they are in the womb.

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Risk And Vulnerability Factors

Times of transition or adversity

All families have their ups and downs. While many parents or carers experiencing challenging circumstances are able to provide safe and loving care for their family, it can be difficult to cope if problems mount up.

Times of transition, such as pregnancy, having a baby, job loss or separation, can increase levels of stress and conflict in a relationship.

When parents or carers are already experiencing challenges such as mental health problems or substance misuse it can be more difficult for them to maintain healthy relationships.

In some cases, these factors can contribute to or exacerbate domestic abuse.

Links to other forms of abuse

If a child lives in a home where domestic abuse is happening, they’re more at risk of other types of abuse .

Domestic Abuse And Brain Injury A Hidden Issue

How Domestic Violence Can Injure the Brain

Contributing authors: Clizia Motterle

Brain injury, the effects of which are often hidden, has recently been found to be a big issue for women who have experienced domestic violence. What are the effects this may have and what can those who have experienced it do about it?

Almost a year on from its introduction, the Domestic Abuse Bill is still working its way through Parliament. The Disabilities Trust has recently called for the government to ensure that the needs of victims of domestic abuse who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury are addressed within the Bill. This following a study into female offenders at Drake Hall Prison.

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Case Study: Matty’s Story Aged 13

“Its only in the last year or so that I began to think that a family could be a good place to bea home. Im the eldest, and I took a lot of my Dads fury or just being pissed which is what it often was. I know my Mum wasnt always a saint she could really wind him up – in fact she does it to me sometimes and then I get terrified that Ill react like him.

Anyway sometimes they would just argue and shout, but then Id seen what he could do when he loses it. I had to take Mum to hospital once and it was just horrible. In fact I remember being amazed how she looked almost normal when theyd cleaned her up. But seeing it or even worse just hearing it was dont know … I couldnt bear it, and I wanted to kill him. I couldnt I know even if I was strong enough so I just used to hold on to the little ones and sort of hide with them till it was over.

But it did get so difficult. I didnt want to go home after school, so Id stay out late sometimes with my mates. Then my Mum started saying I was just like him. That was the worst time ever.

One day my mum spoke to someone on a helpline. After that, they had a big row and then he left home. Things sort of calmed down, but I was still scared that he would come back or Id be like him. Then we had this counselor who talked to my Mum, and me and my sisters together. Somehow it all began to seem better and I felt it was possible to move on.”

Treatment For Addiction And Domestic Violence

The key to sobriety and freedom from a destructive relationship pattern is to not only find treatment for the violence, but also for substance abuse. There are treatment centers available to help both the abuser and the abused overcome a substance addiction and improve their overall quality of life.

My biggest struggles while I was active in my addiction was being homeless and in a physical domestic violence relationship I have had struggles and difficult moments in recovery but its better than when I was active in my addiction. I am so glad that I decided to go into residential treatment, because getting clean was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

– Kimberly S., recovering addict

It may be beneficial to incorporate anger management classes to the learning and rehabilitation process. Counseling sessions with a therapist can help address issues related to control and find the underlying cause of the violence.

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Summary And Future Directions

The goal of this mini-review was to examine the evidence of the impact of exposure to IPV during the perinatal phase through early childhood. The definition of IPV is adult focused and is subsumed by other terms . In contrast to neglect, witnessing IPV occurs when a caregiver is present and is distinct from violent maltreatment, as when a child is exposed to IPV the witnessed violence is not directed against the child. These kinds of maltreatment are likely to affect the child differently in physical terms and psychological terms. For example, how the child cognitively processes each of those experiences may radically differ. Moreover, IPV and other forms of mistreatment almost always co-occur, making it problematic to identify singular effects specific to IPV. These problems make it difficult to evaluate many of the studies for the effects of IPV separate from other forms of mistreatment. Of course, in the real world, exposure to IPV is in actuality an assemblage of developmentally disruptive actions which will most often have multiple physical and psychological effects on the child.

Other Symptoms Of Ptsd Include:

Childhood Trauma and the Brain | UK Trauma Council
  • Trying to avoid people or places that remind you of the trauma, which can be extremely limiting.
  • Being anxious and finding it difficult to relax, including being constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This can lead to irritability, angry outbursts and trouble sleeping.
  • Negative changes in believes, such as struggling to have positive or loving feelings towards other people thinking the world is completely dangerous and no-one can be trusted developing negative feelings towards yourself.

If you’re supporting someone who has been through a traumatic experience, be aware that outside of specialist therapy talking in detail can have an adverse effect. it can cause the person to ‘re-live’ their trauma and reinforce feelings of vulnerability.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD, you can find a selection of grounding techniques and strategies for dealing with flashbacks in our self care section.

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How To Help The Brain

One of many ways victims can help their brain break a trauma bond is by facilitating the release of calming oxytocin . Igniting oxytocin receptors of this type can reduce cravings, ease withdrawal, and lessen pain.

How is this done? With good, quality social contact connection.

Sadly, many people who are with toxic, controlling, or personality disordered partners are isolated. Many abusers chase away one of the most important resources a victim has: people.

Maintaining social connections is not only good from a safety standpoint , but compassionate, genuine, loving people help our brain to function optimally.

It is important to note that social connection and support will not work for everyone. When it comes to oxytocin, culture matters. In a 2010 study, Drs. Kim, Taylor, and their team explored culture and the expression of the oxytocin receptor gene . Specifically, individuals of Korean culture do not respond to social support in the manner that is common for Americans when distressed. As you may recall, oxytocin is a contextual responder, and this fact appears to apply to culture as well.

Now that you have some information regarding oxytocin view the video below. I describe the trauma bond and a theory I have regarding oxytocins role in anchoring victims to their abusers.


Burkett, J. P., & Young, L. J. . The behavioral, anatomical and pharmacological parallels between social attachment, love and addiction. Psychopharmacology, 224, 126.

From Mother To Daughter

Debbie Ricker says domestic violence looms over three generations of her family. Both the California woman and her daughter Desiree say it led to Desiree’s drug and alcohol abuse, and other mental and physical health struggles.

Ricker fought a 15-year custody battle with her ex-husband. It ended only when her son turned 18. She says the emotional abuse she suffered and her children witnessed still affects them. “My ex was very open with his abuse toward me,” she said. “The abuse occurred in front of our kids, friends, family.”

Desiree, now 29, said “I never heard him be nice to her. He belittled her every step of the way.”

He acknowledges the children have been to multiple psychologists. But he cites Ricker’s family background and marriages before and after their relationship. He alleges that Ricker tried to undermine his relationship with the children.

“The children are fairly disturbed from anything that the mom has told them which is alienation,” Loehren said.

During an interview for a family evaluation during the custody fight, Loehren said Ricker was scaring the children by calling the police when he allegedly violated restraining orders.

Based on the evaluator’s recommendation, a family court judge ordered the parents into joint counseling. The judge said each had to educate themselves on “child development and high parental conflict.”

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Emotional Abuse In The Workplace

Emotional abuse at work often goes unnoticed. However, it can occur in several different forms, from intimidation and deceit to shaming someone or making them feel guilty.

It could also manifest as a person being led to build false hopes and not having a colleague or manager to listen to their concerns.

Being subjected to emotional abuse in the workplace may result in unfinished tasks. However, more importantly, it can have deeper emotional effects on a persons self-esteem and self-worth.

There are several signs of emotional abuse that a person can and should look out for. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some signs of emotional abuse within a romantic or marital relationship to watch for include:

If a person spots any of these signs within their own relationship, they should seek help as soon as they are ready.

If a person suspects that a friend or family member is being subjected to emotional abuse, they can consult a healthcare professional for advice on how they can help.

Witnessing And Experiencing Domestic Abuse

Courses Not In Use  Mrs. Way

Domestic abuse always has an impact on children. Being exposed to domestic abuse in childhood is child abuse.

Children may experience domestic abuse directly, but they can also experience it indirectly by:

  • hearing the abuse from another room
  • seeing someone they care about being injured and/or distressed
  • finding damage to their home environment like broken furniture
  • being hurt from being caught up in or trying to stop the abuse
  • not getting the care and support they need from their parents or carers as a result of the abuse .

Why domestic abuse is a safeguarding issue

The videos on this page feature Paddi Vint, an NSPCC Development and Quality Manager who is overseeing a three-year domestic abuse project at the NSPCC which is supported by the Covid-19 Support Fund.

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Other Policy And Guidance

The Home Office has published a strategy on tackling violence against women and girls . The elements of the Strategy which relate to crime, policing and justice apply to England and Wales. The elements relating to health, social care, and education apply to England only.

In England, the Home Office has published factsheets on the measures included in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, why they are needed and the impact they will have .

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of Justice have published a strategy for tackling domestic and sexual violence and abuse. The strategy seeks to prioritise the emotional and psychological needs of children who have suffered as a result of violence and abuse. The strategy includes an annual action plan and Department of Justice, 2021).

In Scotland, the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have published Equally safe: Scotland’s strategy to eradicate violence against women. It aims to prevent and end violence against women and girls in Scotland .

Keep up-to-date with new legislation and guidance by signing up to CASPAR, our current awareness service for policy, practice and research

Smith, E. Domestic abuse, recovering together : evaluation report. London: NSPCC.

Stanley, N. Children experiencing domestic violence: a research review. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Welsh Government Domestic abuse, sexual violence and slavery: guidance for professionals. .

Neuroscience: The Shocking Impact Narcissistic Abuse Has On The Brain

byLachlan BrownNovember 17, 2017, 8:06 am

Narcissistic abuse is one of the worse types of psychological abuse that one person can do to another, but unfortunately, many people are stuck in these types of relationships.

Whether its a child and an emotionally abusive parent, or an adult with a narcissistic partner, the effect is the samenarcissistic abuse that can leave much more than just emotional damage.

Because according to recent studies, neuroscientists have discovered that long-term narcissistic abuse can lead to actual physical brain damage.

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Societal Solutions For Societal Problems

Maltreatment takes many forms. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse, extreme neglect, and separation from parents are the more obvious forms. More insidious causes of toxic stress, including poverty, food insecurity, and systemic racism, can also affect psychological and physical health. Social-educational programs directed at early childhood or adolescence have shown mixed results in addressing poor health outcomes from these less overt but more widespread toxic-stress environments. A few stand out.

For example, the Nurse-Family Partnership was started in the 1970s to bring nurse educators into the homes of new and expectant parents to provide training as well as social and emotional support in the basics of care and nurturing of a child. The program has demonstrated a host of benefits to both infant and maternal health, including lower rates of infant mortality and pre-term birth, and a significant return on investment in terms of cost vs. adverse outcomes prevented.

The only way that many of us can understand this is that this program is providing the child, a young adolescent, the ability to be resilient, says McEwen. Theres a huge amount of plasticity of the brain that enables it to adjust to a new situation and perhaps overcome some of the problems of the impaired development in the first place. Thats hopeful.

A Link Between Brain Trauma And Violence

First Impressions: Exposure to Violence and a Childs Developing Brain.mov

Because the NFLs statistics on concussions are incredulous, there are a lot of missing links in the possible theory of linking traumatic brain injury with a propensity to violence. Adrian Raine, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is the countrys foremost neurocriminologist, studies how brain function might explain criminal behavior.

Raine told Forbes:

We all get aggressive at times. What stops us from lashing out? Its a well-functioning prefrontal cortex If you get a whiplash injury, the very front ridge of the brain is especially likely to be damaged. The region that is very much involved in emotion regulation.

Whiplash-like injuries dont just come from car accidents. They also take place, regularly and violently, on the football field.

In one recent study, Raine and a neuroscientist scanned the brains of men arrested for domestic abuse. They indeed found abnormalities in those brains, such as a hyperactive amygdala.

It has been well documented by now that head injuries sustained by NFL players may lead to whats known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The disease seems to be slow but progressive essentially, the brain deteriorates over time. Early CTE symptoms include impulsivity, explosivity and aggression. Its the same disease that was found in the autopsy of Junior Seau, the former NFL star who committed suicide in 2012. Two years prior to his death, he was arrested on charges of assaulting his girlfriend.

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The Hidden Ties To Toxic Partners

For some men and women, love will be dangerous because of their mate choice. They fell for a partner who seemed like a safe match in the beginning. However, over time a darkness infested the relationship. Before they knew it, the rings of control were in place growing tighter and tighter by the day. Toxic partners can destroy lives.

What causes someone to violate a person they claimed to love? There are many reasons, for example, substance or alcohol abuse, a neurological condition impacting behavior, or a disorder of character such as antisocial personality/ psychopathy, borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder.

Although the reasons may vary, the painful reality and outcome for many victims are the same. He or she will suffer. And to make matters worse many of those individuals will find it nearly impossible to walk away. The neurochemistry of love and attachment, particularly in the presence of abuse, can seal a victim to a grim future with a malignant partner.

You might think, they should simply walk away leave immediately. They do not have to stay with someone who frightens, controls, or intimidates them. That solution is the logical and best approach to an abusive situation. However, the natural functioning of our brain can prevent that from happening. Let’s look at why.

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