What is battered husband syndrome?

Battered husband syndrome a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that happens when a man has been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused.
Battered husband syndrome a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that happens when a man has been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused.

Battered husband syndrome is similar to battered woman syndrome. It is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that happens when a man has been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused. It usually occurs in violent intimate relationships, which is called domestic violence, domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. For a long time, experts said that only women could experience this syndrome, though. The theory gained attention in the 1970s and became admissible in court as defense for a crime against an abuser.

Over the years, social movements helped show that men also experience domestic violence and its effects. Battered woman syndrome became battered spouse syndrome to reflect that domestic violence can happen to anyone.

Is battered husband syndrome a mental illness?

Battered husband or battered spouse syndrome isn’t classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Instead, the symptoms are linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Domestic violence can also cause other mental illnesses like depression. It’s likely that your doctor or therapist will treat you for PTSD, depression, or other mental health problems rather than battered spouse syndrome.

What are the signs of battered spouse syndrome?

Domestic violence and abuse is a pattern of threatening, controlling, degrading, forceful, and violent behavior against you. It can lead to intense fear, shame, and confusion. This violence and abuse causes profound effects on your mental and emotional health and can lead to PTSD.

Signs of PTSD from domestic abuse include:

  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive memories
  • Ongoing anxiety
  • Ongoing restlessness
  • Being easily startled
  • Believing you’re in danger even when you’re not
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Avoiding places and people who remind you of traumatic events
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear

Not everyone gets PTSD from experiencing domestic abuse. Having emotional support after a traumatic event can help lower your risk. If you are experiencing violence, it’s important to get help. Talk to your doctor and reach out to a support network. Make sure to take steps to protect yourself first.

Treatment for PTSD from domestic abuse

Treatment for PTSD includes therapy and sometimes medications. Different types of counseling therapy can help you express your emotions and learn how to interrupt the feelings and thoughts that cause problems. Counseling can also help you gain a better internal understanding of what happened to you.

Different types of therapy include:

Your counselor or doctor might use other treatments along with or after a period of counseling. These can include:

  • Narrative exposure therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, called EMDR
  • Brief eclectic psychotherapy
  • Medications

They might recommend other medications if you’re also experiencing depression, anxiety, or problems sleeping.

Help for battered men

One in five women have experienced domestic abuse from an intimate partner and one in seven men have, too. Abuse against men happens in heterosexual and same sex relationships. Men from all cultures and ways of living can experience abuse, regardless of age or profession. Men are less likely to get help, though.

If you have experienced abuse but haven't reported it, it’s important to know that this is common. Men often don't report abuse because they feel embarrassed and are socialized not to be seen as victims. Men can also be afraid their partner will retaliate, or that they won’t be believed. They also might stay in relationships because of children.

The first step to getting help is to recognize the signs of abuse. An abusive partner might:

  • Hit, kick, punch, choke, burn, or bite you
  • Destroy your belongings
  • Use weapons to hurt you
  • Threaten to hurt you, your children, or your pets
  • Belittle or humiliate you in front of others
  • Take your car keys
  • Control your money
  • Control where you go or who you see
  • Force you to have sex you don’t want
  • Threaten to expose your sexual orientation or identity to others, if you’re gay, bisexual, or transgender
  • Threaten to leave you or take your kids

If you think you might be experiencing abuse, reach out for help. Talk to a friend, tell your doctor, or talk to an organization. They can help you find local resources or a shelter for battered men, if necessary.

To protect yourself, make a safety plan. Get evidence of abuse by filing police reports and keeping copies with a phone and cash nearby. If you decide to leave, be careful who you tell. It’s important that your partner can’t find you.

Other domestic violence resources

Abuse is not your fault and there is help for battered men. If you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/28/2021
References
American Psychological Association: "PTSD Treatments."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Preventing Intimate Partner Violence."

Cornell University Law School Social Science and Law: "Battered Woman Syndrome," "Neurological Evidence and Battered Woman Syndrome."

Help Guide: "Help for Men Who are Being Abused."

Lincoln Memorial Law Review: "Battered Spouse Syndrome: A Comparative Regional Look At Domestic Abuse and Self-Defense in Criminal Courts."

Louisiana State University: "Battered men and our changing attitudes toward intimate partner violence."

National Domestic Violence Hotline: "Men Can Be Victims of Abuse Too."

NHS: "Domestic violence and abuse."

PTSD UK: "PTSD from domestic abuse."

United Nations: "What Is Domestic Abuse?"

Violence Against Women: "Mental Health Consequences of Intimate Partner Abuse."