Domestic violence, brain injury and psychological trauma

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A 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.

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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10 Responses to Domestic violence, brain injury and psychological trauma

  1. Michelle Dias March 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    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 March 17, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

      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 April 7, 2017 at 8:07 am #

      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.

    • Laura October 11, 2017 at 12:00 am #

      I went the samenthing

  2. robel April 4, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    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 April 19, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    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 May 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm #

    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 September 23, 2017 at 12:23 am #

    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 October 23, 2017 at 6:20 pm #

    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 November 24, 2017 at 3:53 am #

    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

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