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What is the Connection Between PTSD and Abuse?

By T. Briseno
Updated May 17, 2024
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Suffering abuse brings an immediate painful experience and often a delayed or repeated reaction in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Victims of domestic abuse, psychological trauma, and child and/or sexual abuse may relive the trauma of violence or even threats of violence long after the events occur. There is generally a connection between PTSD and abuse because of the numbness and withdrawal associated with many forms of abuse. Those who are abused or who witness abuse may filter or push away thoughts of what is occurring, and later, these submerged experiences will come out.

While there are many types of abuse, including physical, verbal, and psychological, the end result for most who endure the abuse is emotional distress. Being in the midst of the chaos of either a one-time abusive act or a lengthy, damaging relationship typically causes disorientation or a feeling that what is happening cannot really be real. Soldiers and survivors of disasters describe similar detachments feelings, and they too experience PTSD.

Unfortunately, these detached emotions may linger and extend to other areas of life. Long after events have taken place, PTSD and abuse are still bound together because an individual may be unable to move forward either from the trauma or into what is considered normal day-to-day decision making and actions. In a way, PTSD and abuse are as intimately connected as two people may be in an abusive relationship or as victims may be at the hands of someone or something that could destroy him or her. When and if a separation occurs, the stress and post-trauma state of mind often may need retraining through therapy.

Any form of abuse can lead to some isolation either in thought or in relationships with the outside world, and this separation adds to the connection between PTSD and abuse by almost feeding back on itself. People might find a different reality inside their heads about why something happened and how they might have contributed to it. Abuse often occurs in isolation, and the trauma may grow in that same kind of isolation. Without outside perspective and healthy replacement thoughts, the cycle can go on for years.

Tests for PTSD continue to evolve and some include specialized questioning devised for victims of abuse. Diagnosis can be a first step in seeking help, as can sharing thoughts of confusion, fear, or anxiety with family or clinical and faith-based counselors. Something as simple as wondering why a person "just can’t get past" something may be a clue to linking PTSD and abuse.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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