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Domestic Violence

Mental Health of Battered Women

07/24/2006

Question:

My sister has been in an abusive relationship for over 17 years with a man 10 years her junior. For the first 10 years of the relationship he beat her repeatedly, until her face was swollen and misfigured to where she looked like an alien (no pun intended) on a daily basis. He gave her two venereal diseases and has two living children, besides their two, he got while they were together, another aborted, and another on the way. He has a cell phone in his girlfriend`s, not my sister, name and cheats on her like a person eats and sleeps... that frequently.

My sister has caught him several times and still stays. She cuts her family down if they try and help her and she has always been the bread winner; he fakes disability to get a check! He doesn`t outright BEAT her anymore because I told him I would hurt him, but he publically calls her ugly b**ches, whores, dumb b**tches, stupid sluts, tells her he doesn`t want her and no one else will because she`s ugly, which she is not by a long shot, and if he left or she put him out, he could come back whenever he wanted too. Of course this makes the crowd they`re in laugh at her hysterically.

He has her self esteem so low, the police were called once when he beat her very badly and she told the police "he keeps calling me ugly, I know I`m ugly" the two police officers looked at each other as if to think if she really said that about herself. One of the police officers told her she was not ugly but if she keeps letting him use her face as a punching bag she would be! She has had countless women come on her jobs and pick at her. She has had women describe the inside of her house and say they`ve been in there when she`s gone! She had all 4 of her tires slashed and her side mirror broken off and her car scratched by these women. He comes and goes as he pleases and she better not question him if she doesn`t want him to threaten her and call her some of the names I mentioned above!

If she leaves the house, he wants to know her every move. These women flaunt their children around and make snide remarks about her at her job so she can hear him. He pays no bills and has not paid any for going on 10 years. He "sometimes" gives her $150 to $200 a month on bills that total approximately $900-$1000 monthly. Another thing, he has never helped her with "their" 14 and 15 year olds and they do not like him and will not call him their dad. I just want to know if something could be wrong with her mentally!

Answer:

Well, unfortunately there is no one clinical picture that adequately describes a mental health picture of a battered woman. There have been numerous studies conducted to examine the personality functioning of battered women, and the results tend to be inconclusive. One author, Rosewater, concluded that it would be quite easy to misdiagnose battered women as having a serious mental illness if caution weren’t taken to account for the influence of having to cope with battering. I.e., it is reasonable for the battered woman to feel paranoid and feel that someone is out to get her. This is a reality, and not necessarily an indication of a psychotic disorder. In another study conducted examining self-esteem in battered women, most women who participated in the study, saw themselves in a much more positive light than one would think. The author suggests that this is so, because they survive a violent relationship. Now this is not to say that battered women do not suffer from mental illness, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder – but the research suggests that surviving a battering certainly influences one's level of personality functioning.

I think a better explanation of your sister's behavior centers on the "Cycle of Violence". Here is an abbreviated explanation of the process: Phase 1 is called the Tension Building Phase: here, the victim of abuse denies the abuse is happening and may even deny that the abuse will get worse, while the abuser typically denies his actions. Phase 2 is called the Explosion Phase: this is where the actual abuse occurs – the hitting, slapping, verbal threats, and so on. The victim may deny the impact of abuse, minimize her injuries, blame it on the drinking, whereas the batterer may deny the behavior is abusive. In the final stage, often referred to as the Honeymoon or Calm stage, the abusive male may deny his violence; he'll say he is sorry and promise it will never happen again. He will become very charming and akin to the man she thinks he can be, and the victim may believe that the relationship may stay this way.

So, you see, it can be very difficult for her to see the reality of events, because there is so much denial and justification going on between the two of them, and there is perhaps a level of hope that exists that makes it difficult to put events into proper perspective. Education about battering and supportive services is likely to be of aid to your sister. Based on what you shared with the readers, she is certainly in need of additional support from those close to her.

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Response by:

Cathy   McDaniels-Wilson, PhD Cathy McDaniels-Wilson, PhD
Adjunct Professor
Department of Sociology
The Ohio State University