Trauma Informed Domestic Abuse HelpFeb 07, 2024
Trauma and Domestic Abuse
Did you know that many women, including Christian women, who have suffered from domestic abuse experience hypervigilance, can't sleep at night, have a hard time managing their emotions, or perhaps even have uninvited panic attacks.
Trauma goes hand and hand with abuse experienced in any relationship, especially domestic abuse. The good news is that it will not crush or destroy the victim because God is on their side. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
The very nature of domestic abuse is a form of relational trauma which includes deep betrayal. Consider the definition and description of domestic abuse by the Department of Justice,
“Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.... it can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.
Take a minute to think about what you just read.
Now, consider women who have experienced this specific kind of trauma repeatedly over a period of years by someone they love and are or had lived with. These wounds are emotional, spiritual, psychological, sexual, and sometimes physical. They impact the woman’s heart, mind, body, and spirit which in turn impacts how she lives her life.
It is understandable that their brain and body become overwhelmed and shift into survival mode. This prolonged abuse is called chronic trauma. It effects each person deeply and differently.
Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Trauma refers to events or experiences that are shocking and overwhelming, typically involving major threat to the physical, emotional, or psychological safety and well-being of the individual victim(s) and loved ones and friends (as well as to others).” 2
Domestic abuse certainly embodies the words “shocking”, overwhelming” and “threat”, to name a few. Dan Allender, Christian Counselor (PhD) and pioneer in the area of trauma, defines trauma as “any violation that brings a disruption that caused a threat to something about our life.” 3
These common emotions to traumatic events may fade in time, but reactions from that trauma may be prolonged and often involuntary. This is especially true when it comes to trauma from domestic abuse.
I want you to take another moment to think about that list
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has been abused and is experiencing these debilitating reactions. There are many more difficult symptoms for the women we work with in our online Oasis Bible Study support groups. This is just the top layer! Then you add on top of that, a church leader, friend, or family member who is uninformed about domestic abuse and trauma who tells a woman seeking help to “stay and pray” or to “just forgive him”. This results in yet another wound and sense of revictimization leaving a woman feeling even more hopeless. isolated… and trapped. You are to be applauded for reading this article to become a safer friend or church leader!!
Women who have experienced the trauma of domestic abuse need to know that God cares for them.
David writes in Psalm 56:8-9 out of his own season of abandonment and distress, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book… This I know, that God is for me.” These sisters in Christ need to be encouraged that God is with them and for them every step of the way.
Stress experienced after a traumatic event or series of events is called post-traumatic stress
There is a spectrum or range of symptoms and their intensity. Any woman coming out of domestic abuse will have post-traumatic stress to some degree. Having post-traumatic stress does not necessarily mean the person has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A professional opinion is always recommended.
PTSD is a consideration when 1) the symptoms of trauma are experienced for more than a month and 2) these symptoms meet a specific criterion determined by the American Psychological Association. The four key areas of trauma impact used to determine a PTSD diagnosis are 1) intrusive memories, 2) avoidance, 3) negative changes in thinking and mood, and 4) changes in physical and emotional reactions. There is a full list of criteria for PTSD at the end of this article in Appendix A.
There are a few different types of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder including Complex PTSD at the most severe level. This level of PTSD may include dissociation where there is a disconnect between the traumatized person, their thoughts, memories, and surroundings. When life is overwhelming, there is an involuntary response to separate from being fully present. This is a beautiful and amazing way God has designed the brain to protect itself and the person who has experienced trauma. Dissociation is more prevalent for women who have experienced childhood trauma. Healing in this area includes integrating these fractured pieces back together which typically takes time, intentionality, and professional help.
God has beautifully and intentionally designed our brains to cope with threats in life to help us function day-to-day. This is one of the amazing ways He has protected victims of abuse.
“This phenomenon called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, isn’t a personal failure; rather, it is a treatable malfunction of certain biological mechanisms that allow us to cope with dangerous situations.” 5
There are a specific number of requirements in each area that determines an official PTSD diagnosis. A person does not have to experience all the listed APA criteria symptoms to have PTSD, yet they may experience different symptoms over time. I want to pause here and say that Living Waters of Hope and our facilitators are not licensed counseling professionals. We are not qualified to offer any kind of diagnosis. Our intent is to purely to educate people in trauma to help them put a few more pieces together.
Again, everyone responds to trauma differently and fits within a spectrum or range of intensity and impact. That said, research indicates that “women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of posttraumatic symptoms and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of the trauma.” 6
- Encourage survivors that there is life after abuse. They need healing from betrayal and a building up of who they are after life has been shattered. Remind these women of these truths: “God has you! He is for you on your good days and hard days!
- Encourage survivors to stay connected to others, even though it is hard at times. Initiate that connection with yourself and others. Living Waters of Hope offers the safe Oasis Community to any woman seeking support.
- Be gentle, kind, and patient. Healing from the trauma of abuse takes years. Many of the physical and psychological reactions are involuntary. It is not a matter of positive thinking. The mind and body have been reprogrammed and it takes a lot of time and hard work to be able to manage trauma and do life at the same time.
- Pray with and for them. Jesus came to heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds. in Isaiah 61:1. Be the hands and feet of Jesus.
- Remind women in recovery, God’s word is always a great place to go to find comfort, hope, and healing. Psalm 56:8 says God cares for those in grief and sadness. His Word is the light in the darkness.
I hope this article has opened new doors of awareness and given you a deeper understanding of the impact of trauma in the lives of women who have experienced domestic abuse. Compassion, gentleness, and education are the best ways to be a safe and understanding friend. As a believer, God calls us to bear one another’s burdens and reach out with kindness and agape love. God’s word also calls us to rebuke the sinner who has done such a degree of harm to cause a woman to live with the impact of trauma. Both need prayer and help. May we all be the hands and feet of Jesus whether it is to rebuke the sinner or to care for the oppressed.
American Psychological Association – PTSD Criteria
Disclaimer: Living Waters of Hope and our facilitators are not licensed counseling professionals. We are not qualified to offer any kind of diagnosis nor are we doing so with this information. Our intent is to purely to educate you in this area of trauma assessment. For an official diagnosis of any kind, a licensed counselor or trauma therapist is needed.
Criterion A – (one required)
The person was exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence in the following ways:
- Direct exposure
- Witnessing the trauma
- Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
- Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the occupation of professional duties
Criterion B – Intrusive memories (one required)
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Criterion C – Avoidance (one required)
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Criterion D – Negative changes in thinking and mood (two required)
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
Criterion E – Changes in physical and emotional reactions (all required)
Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
Criterion F – Symptoms last for more than one month (required)
Criterion G – Symptoms create distress or functional impairment (for instance, in social and occupational settings) (required) 7
2 – https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/ptsd.pdf
3 – Dr. Dan Allendar – From a training session on trauma – 2022
6 – https://www.apa.org/advocacy/interpersonal-violence/women-trauma
7. This list is a combination/adaptation of the following two sources: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967 and https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/ptsd.pdf
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