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By On December 30th, 2015

Domestic violence, brain injury and psychological trauma

BrainDamageA cause of brain injury that has been under-reported is domestic violence. Often the victims of domestic violence do not seek health care after the assault or they live in areas where the healthcare services lack the expertise and resources to identify brain injury. The nature of the victim’s relationship with the perpetrator may further prevent them from calling for help from the police, advocacy organizations or healthcare professionals. They may be one among several victims in a family or they be the one who absorbs the abuse to protect the others. Domestic violence is not confined to the poor, it occurs in all economic groups and involves men as well as women and children. For many it’s “a private issue” or “secret” that is kept hidden.

In the aftermath of abuse, the consequences of brain injury may be confused with mental health or substance abuse problems and not understood as the outcome of repeated blows to the head or strangulation attempts depriving the victim of oxygen during a violent attack by a domestic partner. The person who is agitated, depressed, forgetful, confused, having slurred speech, experiencing headaches, pain, vertigo and other physical symptoms that we associate with brain injury may be not appropriately diagnosed and treated. In situations were the abuse is ongoing, the effects of repeated brain injury are cumulative and not unlike those experienced by a boxer or football player who has had multiple concussions. Health care professionals need training in recognizing that the pattern of symptoms following domestic abuse may, in fact, be brain injury and learn to look for the real cause of problems.

In studies of the prison populations in many states, more female inmates were found to have experienced brain injuries than males. The higher rate of injuries was correlated with exposure to domestic violence. Do the behavioral and cognitive effects of brain injury account for some of the problems which land women in prison?

And, then we have the toll of psychological trauma, of living in fear of each attack and of the next event which could happen tomorrow or at any minute in a relationship characterized by explosive violence. Coupled with the effects of brain injury, PTSD symptoms are real and complicating factors.

As healthcare professionals we need to increase our awareness of domestic violence as a cause of traumatic brain injury and understand the cumulative and total effects of violence on the person. The victims of domestic violence are exposed to enormous and ongoing risk for severe brain injury and psychological problems stemming from trauma.

Click here to read a story from the New Yorker  on the real dangers of brain injury in domestic violence.

15 Responses

  1. Michelle Dias says:

    I am a victim of of repeated domestic violence for the last 20 year years and yes my head was his favorite place because no one could see the lumps or bruises or scars he would stab me beat me kick me bash my head in concrete tile choke me you name it it it was done untill I was unconscious sad to say i staid I am free now lucky still alive but I suffer from brain damage that affects my life I’m seeking help and looking to speak out to all women to leave ASAP that my story in short there is much more detail please contact me 2035240610 Michelle Dias

    • M.J. Clausen says:

      Dear Michelle, there are some really great support groups on both Facebook and Reddit that you may wish to explore and share your important story. You may want to begin with this TBI survivors forum.

    • Shannon says:

      I can totally relate to you on this. I married at 14 and two weeks later the abuse started and went on for 26 years repeatedly. At first it didn’t matter where the hits occurred but then after joining the military it did. If he hit me in my back and head noone would see. I to o stayed and am learning that that decision effected the rest of my life from scars that will never heal. I have been undergoing counseling for two years and it is helping but I suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD. I am having physical complications now also that are related to multiple brain injuries, skull fractures and concussions I was never treated for.

      • Marie P says:

        I just left a 6 year relationship from a guy who favorite place to hit me was my head I am now undergoing a bunch of tests to see what damage is there and I just found out that today my ear canal is black and they informed me that most likely I will have a 70-80% chance there is brain damage. I am honestly scared and don’t want to find out. I am wondering if anyone has any advice to help me through this because I don’t really want to know if there is any. But I need to find out. Does anyone know if there is any treatments for brain injuries?

        • Hi Marie I am a survivor of domestic violence with a brain injury and I am currently undergoing treatment and it has changed my life. finding out that I had a brain injury and confirming that finding with a neuropsychological evaluation was extremely empowering and frightening at the same time. I had no real explanation for some of the things that I couldn’t do and some of the things that I did. I can only highly recommended because at least if you know something you can work with it but it’s very difficult to work with or heal something that you’re only guessing about I would highly recommend taking your head out of the sand and facing what you suspect head on so that you can address the symptoms that you’re having and learn skills to help you live with them or improve them or overcome them.

    • Laura says:

      I went the samenthing

  2. robel says:

    I was 6 years when I started being blown in the head by a 16yo man whom I was living with that time. It happens everyday for 6years then. Eitherway, that Each time he hit the center top of my head or the back of my head near the tip of my spine, I felt like there is some nerves behind my skull that hurts. I then tried not to make a move unless the pain gets a lil better. No one knew about it except the two of us. I never consulted for any medications until now that I’m 23. Now, I always forgot random things which I am supposed to do after few minutes of thinking bout it. I also have changes in behavior whereas, I didn’t get to be someone I expected myself to be. I found myself even has a younger thinking than those that are younger than me. I also have a hard time expressing my thought because the words or the scenes that I’m supposed to tell won’t register or pop out on my mind easily. I’m also experiencing a “talking alone like I was talking with someone else in front of me”. I was wondering if it is true that I am experiencing the symptoms of having a brain injury? That blow was like “he doesn’t care whatever how hard he is going to hit me. It seems like he hit me by his full power”. Thank you for your respond.

  3. VIOLET says:

    I’m the same as you. I act in a way that is younger than I am, I suffer blackouts, dizziness and identity confusion.
    I grew up in a family of four, and the three others were sociopaths. Each moment I was prepared to by physically hit, restrained or verbally hit. I was humiliated over and over and could never safely express who I was without abuse, or insincere support while they gained information to later abuse me with.

    I only just read in a book that being emotionally abused caused the same changes to brain structure as being physically struck.

    I do get a feeling when I experience a trigger of being hit between my eyes and going into a daze.

    I think the trauma was worsened by the facade of the wider family and pressure to pretend the violence wasn’t happening. I always thought my mother was a victim herself and too weak to get out, then I found out she is a sociopath and has been acting the whole time while sadistically enjoying my screams.

    I’ve lived two realities – the facade and the terror – and don’t feel that I will ever be ok. Every workplace and boyfriend I’ve been involved with had sociopath and narcissistic abuse.

  4. Becky says:

    I am a child abuse survivor who suffered many, many blows to the head from age 4-12. Now I am in my 30s with a son with autism who has also given me many head injuries in the last 9 years. I’m always afraid of what the next hit will do. I suffer major memory problems and almost daily headaches.

  5. PTSD claim says:

    I have suffered multiple head injuries through out my life. With an abusive parent and no medical insurance and proper healthcare. English being the second language in my country I got good with grammer and I could easily pass but I was very slow when it came to math and other technical sublects. Which made me repeat grades both in primary and high school. I also have vivid dreams and nightmares about my past and they are getting worse with age. With no money or a job, All I have is my self-awareness and no help. I could really use any help at the moment because my fears and claims are real and have never been discovered or addressed. I am still hopefull but with no one to help I cannot tell how my condition will turn into.

  6. jaydon says:

    I am the son and cousin to a family violence intervention order and currently have to attend court almost every 6 months over people breaching family violence I have many mental issues over the beating my mum copped whilst pregnant with me and I have seen first hand what family violence does to people I have been scared for life over the nightmares I have seen and endured myself I honestly feel sorry for all you

  7. Dayna says:

    Wow, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I ran into these posts ,but in some odd way I thought I was alone. It’s sad to hear your stories even tho I fit in some ware. I been hit in the head many times. Like it’s a fav place. I’m not sure if I lost my hearing from my head being put in a vice or smashed into the window , or with the knee that time . I tell everyone that I was knocked out by putting my dog on a slider at a park. That did happen and it did hit my hearing center, maybe it’s just better I think that instead off all the other crap that happens to my head. Anyway, not many people understand the shame I feel but maybe a few of you might. Being alone without friends and consiterd wierd is not easy. Being pretty was a curse and I was trained to except abuse. PTSD can get you hit again in a fight or flight mode and it can give you a assult charge on a state trooper when they start grabbing you. PTSD won’t stand up in court Even if you can’t hear . Good luck girl’s you start out so young and pretty then someone acts like they own you and your life is forever challenged

  8. BMiller says:

    I was physically abuse for two years in a relationship that I ended up having two wonderful children by. Luckily that relationship has ended and I thank god for protecting me through that horrible time. The guy would just hit me in the back of my head all the time and also did other horrific things. Time from time I will experience major headaches in the back of my head to the point that I can’t have my hair pulled in a ponytail for very long now. There are times that I get very forgetful on an important task. Often I will start to have panic attacks and worry constantly to where my hands will shake and I become very jumpy. So in regards I just wanted to know if there is an outlet on this matter??? Is there someone I can talk to without having someone thinking I’m crazy or not stable??? I just hate how I am and I would like to go back to how I was mentally before I dated that guy so I can be the best mom I can be

  9. Tammy says:

    I just got attacked and this wasn’t first time I have come out of seizures shot with 45 with no memory and same thing but stabbed. He acted like I did this to myself but years later I realize he only ever attacks me when I just had knee surgery or I have my back turned. He choked for so long that I was squeaking and about to pass out but i realized he wasn’t facing me or using his hands it was from behind with his forearm in a wrestling hold with 200 pounds of weight. He left I hid cause I knew this was different he was going to finish and say that I had btried suicide before and get away. He called his parents and they showed before cops but I couldn’t tell the cops much I could breathe. I had at least ten seizures outside and in police car but I had cuts on my fingers cause he tried to attack with a lamp first. The bulb was missing and I didn’t see him clean it up but because he had a cut that I didn’t do and only hit him when I felt death coming and his hold was tightening I was in flight or fight. I was arrested cause I couldn’t really breathe buthad twenty plus seizures cause I was handcuffed and my seizures were confining and not letting me thrash. The cop opened to helpe out and I was foaming and they got medics and when my ex kept asking how I was doing I would not be able to breathe and seize all over again. The cop tackled my ex so while I’m in hospital injuries Dr could tell what happened and that stress and being 100 pounds and him200 would never let be aggressive. My ex knew about a stalker that locked me up and broke bones during bad dreams and wouldn’t let me go for help. Hi finally got away but he is stalking me to this day but telling your health issues doesn’t seem like a good idea at all. These two men used my problems with memory lost and had me believing them that I can’t believe I’m in trouble cause I refused to let him kill me and he knew that epilepsy is a hard case to prove without confessio. Our brains aren’t trustworthy enough but I have to tell people around what to do cause I am not breathing during them and I have PTSD which is worse and I will never trust any man again. I feel like he has been trying to kill me the whole time but convinced me I did it and even wiped the gun off. My Drs told me that I couldn’t have done it cause I’m too short and the trail of the 45 caliber is in the frame of the house after it went through me breaking collar and shoulder. I’m intuitive and this guy I never would have dated but I knew I could take him and he knew it. They let me out in few hours free but I am 44 and never been an aggressive person . I am not out of the woods but just have bits and pieces but the good cop tackled him so he took restraining order against me . Coward. He makes over 1000 calls a day but nothing I can do just sorry and wants me back but if I got within a foots range I might hurt him and I won’t know what I did cause PTSD. I think I will always keep this to myself cause when people know your weakness then they get jealous…they get to hurt you really bad and you may not live or be brain dead which is worse and I don’t want that. I’m so hurt and angry and I’m going to move with my dad so I am safe. I hope. When is it ok to tell people you have seizures because it’s worked against me the whole time and I feel weird and i don’t know why they didn’t believe him but afterwards they did. My ex wrote different statements like he wasn’t there or was hoping I didn’t notice. He is scared of a unhealthy 100pound woman when he can sit on me. Just be careful cause stress is my major trigger and it has to be over the top stress but I hate the memory loss the most and I think I’m good at blocking teaumas cause I have enough to deal with.

  10. Skitdora says:

    I’ve been having memory problems for years, where I would honestly forget something happened within a half hour. It got worst and I found I could hardly read books anymore as I would be reading along and then realize none of it made sense and going back to where it sounded familiar would be chapters before, yet I knew I had been actively reading and had felt I had understood what I had just read moments before. My reading skills had been excellent through out my life. Also, I was gaining weight fast, everything tasted wonderful, even humus which I always found disgusting before. Anyway, suddenly in my kitchen one day I felt fingernails digging into me and then random images fell into my eyes and wouldn’t get out and began replaying nonstop. I remembered being attacked by a drunk stranger on a weekend but don’t remember when. I remember him having a BMI over 40 and he had swung me around when I was hiding from him and my side of the head hit the chair I had been hiding behind and my mind had gone blank or I was momentarily knocked out. Then after remembering that I remembered all this other awful stuff, some I always had known but forgotten, others felt familiar to have known but seem unreal. I lost all my gained weight and humus tasted gross again. I used to get beaten regularly by my older brother when he was drunk, he is 5 years older than me and he weighed 190 and I weighed 72lbs, he would slamb my back of the head into the ground or furniture corners. I would blackout or just feel stunned seeing nothing but light specks for a period of time. My mom said she couldn’t help unless she saw it happen. He would sexually assault me and a few times raped. He did it in front of his friends sometimes. Including the rape. I told my school counselor, my mother denied it, they did nothing, and the beating became more often and more violent. Nobody cared because it was an older sibling doing it to me, and people only care when it’s a parent. Anyway, my short term memory of things like lists is awful, and I don’t recognize people I know in public out of context like run into at a store- including family members. I don’t recognize my face when I see a mirror unexpectedly in public but freak out seeing a stranger standing where I thought I was. I’ve started drawing mind maps, and logging and note taking. This is helping me very much. I’m also taking ginkgo and trying to take other herbs said to repair the brain or make new neuro pathways. I would like to know why I was abused. Why me? Psychology places say those chosen are isolated, unattractive, and have low IQs. I was none of those things. I was a straight A student before, and then once again in college. My class rank in HS was 11. I am not ugly, even if I often felt that way. I am not isolated either, I have a non-identical twin. He never touched her. I also have flashes of memory hit me in public, where it takes over my vision and I can’t see what’s around me anymore. It will last a few seconds and its disorientating as I will forget where I am for a few seconds. I wish that would go away.

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