Understanding the effects of domestic violence


In this article:

  • In situations of domestic violence, abusers use intimidation, verbal and physical assault and other abusive actions to maintain power and control.

  • There is no “typical” victim of abuse. More than 10 million adults in America experience domestic violence yearly, including one in four women and one in nine men.

  • October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness, improve education, share facts and support resources to aid victims and end cycles of domestic violence

We’re taught that home is where the heart is, but for the millions of Americans living daily with domestic violence, home is not a place of refuge.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence is a pattern of abuse against a partner, spouse, or family member by another household member. It takes many forms and affects one in four women and one in nine men in the United States. NCADV statistics show domestic violence is present in every community and affects everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or economic status.

“Nobody is exempt,” says Licensed Clinical Social Worker Lyndsey Williams, LICSW, PMH-C. “We are talking about power and control between two adults who live in a house together. They don’t necessarily have to be partners or in a relationship,” she explains.

Recognizing abuse

Physical and sexual assault are often the most apparent abusive behaviors experienced by victims of domestic violence. But they are not the only ways an abuser maintains control. Other tactics may include:

  • Physical abuse – slapping, hitting, shoving, hair pulling, biting, pinching or grabbing. It may also involve preventing a partner from getting needed medical care or forcing drug or alcohol use.
  • Sexual abuse – any forced sexual activity, including marital rape, sexual contact without consent and sexually demeaning treatment.
  • Emotional abuse – tactics used to undermine your sense of self-esteem or worth, including name-calling, constant criticism, damaging your other relationships and diminishing your abilities.
  • Economic abuse – uses manipulation, coercion or fraud to restrict your access to money and control how it’s used.
  • Psychological abuse – uses fear, threats of physical harm, forced isolation and destruction of pets or property to increase control.
  • Technological abuse – uses technology such as internet-enabled devices, online platforms, social media outlets, advanced imaging equipment and tracking devices to observe, monitor and stalk your activities and locations.

Argument or abuse?

Every relationship has its emotional ups and downs. In a healthy relationship an occasional disagreement can sometimes be a way to clear the air and start fresh. How do you know when it crosses the line from argument to abuse?

“Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. But the biggest indicator is recognizing how things feel,” says Lyndsey. “Does it seem like one person is taking more control than the other?  Does one person feel like they are walking on eggshells around the other or fearing retaliation? Are you starting to see a pattern? Are things equally distributed? If one person has a problem and expresses it, can the other person express themselves equally?”

“A lot of times, there are warning signs of a person being abusive. But we don’t identify them as that or we try to ignore them. And the situation can metastasize and become worse,” says Lyndsey.

Experts at the National Domestic Violence Hotline compiled a list of common signs of abusive behaviors in a relationship.

Does your partner:

  • Claim you never do anything right?
  • Show extreme jealousy when you spend time with others?
  • Discourage or prevent you from spending time with family, friends or co-workers?
  • Shame or insult you in front of others?
  • Prevent you from making your own decisions?
  • Control the household’s finances, take your money or withhold money for necessary expenses?
  • Pressure you to have sex or engage in sexual practices that make you uncomfortable?
  • Pressure you to consume alcohol or drugs?
  • Intimidate you with threatening actions, words or looks?
  • Insult your parenting and threaten to take your child or pet if certain conditions are not met?
  • Threaten you with weapons such as guns, mace, bats or knives?
  • Destroy your home or belongings?

“If even one or two of these behaviors are present, it could be a red flag for abuse,” says Lyndsey.

Is it time to leave?

 Experts say your safety is the most important thing to keep in mind. Call 911 if you feel you’re at immediate risk.

“If someone is in danger, they should get out as soon as they can. They should go to a safe place,” says Lyndsey. “If they are starting to realize that they’re in that type of relationship, they need to tell somebody and get help forming a plan to separate from that situation.”

“Leaving is not always the only option,” continues Lyndsey. “Seeking therapy or intervention is also an option, but both parties must be willing to attend. Some people have maladaptive ways of coping. They don’t know how to express their anger and other feelings. Therapy can help build coping skills and interpersonal communication skills. But you need to leave if your life is in danger or somebody’s harming you.”

The Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 assistance and resources if you need help leaving an unsafe home situation.

Far-reaching impact

Domestic violence can impact every aspect of your life.

“At its most serious, domestic violence can kill. If a person is physically abused, it increases their risk of death or sustained injury rate by leaps and bounds. Domestic violence can lead to unhealthy stress levels and other health complications as a result of these injuries,” says Lyndsey.

“The stress of living with domestic abuse has a negative impact on health. Those experiencing this may feel that they are frequently walking on eggshells or wondering what’s going to happen next,” she explains. “We know that people experiencing domestic violence are less likely to report it or come to doctor’s visits – even for injuries sustained through physical abuse for fear of retaliation. Domestic violence can lead to mental health diagnoses such as depression and anxiety. Depending on what happens, a person can have acute mental health concerns like post-traumatic stress disorder,” she continues.

Children who witness domestic violence may experience lifelong aftereffects, according to Lyndsey.

"Domestic violence has a detrimental impact on children. Seeing somebody they care about get hurt is a horrific experience for kids. It can affect their psyche and undermine their concepts of safety because adults are supposed to be their protectors. Domestic violence can cause chronic health issues, behavioral and mental health concerns, or even substance abuse issues for children and adolescents living in these environments,” she says.

Getting help

Although experiencing domestic violence may make you feel isolated and alone, help is available. Using hotlines or a search engine to get information about local resources can be helpful. You can also talk to a healthcare provider or caregiver. Healthcare spaces are confidential. Many of the team members at Swedish are specially trained to identify potential victims of abuse and family violence. Other domestic violence support resources include help hotlines and community and national organizations.

“If you’re receiving health care from your primary care doctor, talk to them. Your primary care clinic may also screen for IPV concerns or ask you questions about your safety. When patients answer these assessments transparently, caregivers are able to capture that information and provide mental health support and related resources,” says Lyndsey. “You don’t have to stay in an abusive situation. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own home.”


Learn more and find a provider

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Mental Health and Violence: Debunking the Myths

For Mental Health Awareness Week, a roundup of resources and information

Integrated outpatient mental health care

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 (SAFE)


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

Follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Swedish Behavioral Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

More Content by Swedish Behavioral Health Team
Previous Article
Back-to-school preparation includes vaccination
Back-to-school preparation includes vaccination

There's a lot to do to get ready for school. Don’t forget vaccinations to protect your kids in the classroom.

Next Article
Six things you should know about the new COVID boosters
Six things you should know about the new COVID boosters

A Swedish expert answers some key questions about the new COVID-19 vaccine boosters.