Abuse: Implications for Adjustment and Commitment to Leave Violent Partners
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
from an article of the same title by:
Ileana Arias, and Karen T. Pape, The University
Violence and Victims, V. 14 (1), 1999
What questions does this study address?
Psychological factors can
help or hinder in deciding to leave abusive relationships. The researchers
ask the following:
- How does psychological abuse affect
battered women's commitment to leave abusive partners?
- How do symptoms of posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) affect battered women's intentions to leave abusive
- How do coping strategies and sense
of control in response to abuse affect the development of PTSD symptoms?
How was the study conducted?
Sixty-eight women residing
at emergency women's shelters participated in the study; approximately
half the study participants were white and half were of minority backgrounds.
Within two weeks of their arrival at the shelter, study participants completed
self-report surveys on psychological and physical abuse experiences,
coping styles and psychological well being including the presence of PTSD
symptoms. Researchers distinguished between
styles of coping based on subjects' responses on the Ways
of Coping Checklist-Revised (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985; Forsythe
& Compas, 1987). After study participants wrote brief narratives about
the most recent episode of abuse they had experienced, they were asked
to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 their sense of control over the violence
and the likelihood they would leave their abusive partners. Statistical
techniques were applied to analyze participants' responses.
What are the study's findings?
Eighty-eight percent of
study participants had PTSD symptom scores at or above clinical levels.
(At two weeks post-trauma, study participants could not be diagnosed with
PTSD because the diagnosis requires symptom persistence for at least one
month post-trauma.) Measures also revealed that study participants had
survived frequent episodes of psychological and severe physical abuse.
They equally used emotion- and problem-focused coping. Most felt they
had little control over the violence and expressed strong resolve to leave
their abusive partners.
Significant results were found regarding
the effects of psychological abuse, PTSD symptoms and coping styles on
women's resolve to leave abusive partners.
- Psychological abuse predicted both PTSD
symptoms and intent to leave abusive partners, even after statistically
controlling for the effects of physical abuse.
- The PTSD symptoms determined the effects
of abuse on victims' intent to leave their abusers. Subjects with low
levels of PTSD symptoms expressed resolve to leave abusive partners,
but those with high levels of PTSD symptoms had less resolve to leave
despite the severity of the abuse.
- Coping style predicted psychological
problems. Study participants who preferred emotion-focused coping were
more likely to have PTSD symptoms.
What are the study's implications?
- Battered women are at risk for developing
PTSD, and PTSD symptoms increase battered women's risk of continued
abuse. Screening and appropriate interventions for PTSD are called for
among domestic violence survivors.
- Clinicians who serve battered women
should be aware that PTSD symptoms could disable them from leaving the
- Before victims can consider leaving
abusive partners and becoming self-sufficient they may first need services
that restore their sense of psychological well being.
- Deficits in coping skills in combination
with psychological distress can interfere with a battered woman's ability
to succeed at recreating a life without violence.
- Protective, supportive environments
such as shelters are needed.
- Shelter stays longer than 30 days may
be necessary to allow time for women to receive treatment that gives
them mental and emotional strength to address the problems caused by
Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, October