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How Domestic Abuse Affects The Brain

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

The brain is a complex organ that is made up of millions of neurons.

Every situation, environment, memory, and thought process creates new connections within the brain, and this translates into the way we act, and feel.

In the article you will learn How Domestic Abuse Affects The Brain.

How Domestic Abuse Affects The Brain

Those who have been victims of domestic violence have endured an obscene amount of trauma, and this trauma has a serious effect on the brain.

These victims can experience all kinds of emotions, from feelings of confusion and shame, to anger as a result of how they were treated.

Some victims may constantly wonder why they didn’t walk away when the abuse started happening, but as humans, we often have little control over how our brains react to certain situations.

This article will be discussing what happens to the brain in situations of domestic abuse, and how that affects how victims respond and behave toward their abuser and those around them.

How The Brain Reacts To Abuse

When subject to domestic abuse, the neurochemistry within the brain can become unregulated.

The neurochemicals affected are:

  • Oxytocin: This is known as the ‘love hormone, and is responsible for human connection. It is the chemical thought to be responsible for bonding the victim to their abuser.
  • Endogenous opioids: These are responsible for dependence, pleasure, pain, and withdrawal.
  • Corticotropin-releasing factor: This is also responsible for withdrawal and also stress.
  • Dopamine: Craving, seeking.

The above all make up the biochemistry of the brain, and when they are operating at different levels, it can be hard to make logical decisions, and manage emotions.

The Trauma Bond

Many victims of domestic abuse will also experience a trauma bond to their abuser – this is especially common if there was a constant pattern of abuse.

A bond can be created with positive reinforcement after a cycle of abuse.

The abuser will profess their love and regret to their victim after each episode of abuse. This, in turn, makes the victim feel safe and needed.

This bond is what makes it so hard for the victim to leave, and can leave them feeling very confused and overwhelmed.

Oftentimes, an abuser will isolate the victim from their friends or family, making them feel dependent on them.

This, in turn, can strengthen that bond, making it difficult for them to leave the situation willingly.

Signs Of A Trauma Bond

If you are worried that someone you love is in the middle of a trauma bond with an abuser, there are a few signs you can look out for.

The victim may often make up excuses as to why the abuser behaves in the way that they do. They may also try and cover up any abuse that has taken place.

They may also feel the abuse is their fault, and they may feel like they are unable to leave the situation in order to get help.


Gaslighting is another form of abuse that is very common in domestic abuse situations.

It involves the abuser manipulating their victim to a point where they question their own actions and behaviors.

Abusers use it because it effectively increases their power and control over their victims.

This, in turn, makes the victim more dependent on their abuser, making them less likely to leave the relationship.

This kind of behavior makes victims feel isolated and vulnerable and destroys their self-worth. Victims often lose the ability to think clearly or trust their instincts.

There are several ways in which abusers can gaslight their victims.

They may deny certain scenarios and question their victim’s recollection of memories, accusing them of not remembering them accordingly.

Gaslighting normally occurs when the victim has witnessed or heard that the abuser has done something they shouldn’t have.

The abuser does not want to admit to what they did, so they will deny any accusations and begin to belittle their victim, resulting in them questioning their own beliefs and understanding.

These abusers also tend to speak with such conviction and self-confidence, they sound very convincing.

How Domestic Abuse Affects The Brain

How To Break The Trauma Bond

As mentioned in this article, the behaviors that abusers demonstrate can lead to a trauma bond between the victim and abuser.

As difficult as breaking this bond, it is still possible with the right steps and support.

Safety Plan

If you find yourself in an abusive situation, then leaving it once you have created a safety plan is a way to get yourself out of it.

This means finding a safe place to go, where you will have support.

This doesn’t need to be figured out on your own. Many helplines offer support in your local area.

You can also reach out to friends and family that you trust, to help figure out your escape plan.


Attending therapy sessions is a wonderful way to help you move past trauma.

It can help you release any conflicting emotions you may be feeling about the situation, and it can help you identify warning signs for the future so you don’t end up falling into the same situation.

Support Groups

Communicating with others who have experienced a similar situation to you can really help you through the healing process.

It can help you feel less alone, and will help you move fast any feelings of shame you may be experiencing.

If a support group feels like too much, then you can consider opening up to those closest to about what you went through.

Knowing you are supported will really help you through your healing journey.

Final Thoughts

Domestic abuse is a serious and traumatic situation for anyone to be in. What victims experience in these relationships can affect their brains dramatically.

Those who have experienced these relationships need support and guidance from those closest to them.

Therapy and support groups can go along way for them on their healing journey.

We hope this article has provided useful information on domestic abuse and how it affects the brain and behaviors of those involved.

Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

911 Emergency

The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)

Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E)

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Trauma & Child Abuse Resource Center

Domestic Violence Shelters & Resources

Futures Without Violence

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Prevent Child Abuse America

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org

Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish

Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222

National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255

LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories


UK & Republic of Ireland

  • Emergency: 112 or 999
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
  • YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/

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