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The Unspoken Shadow: Mental Effects of Domestic Violence

Some effects of domestic violence are apparent, but more often than not, the invisible struggles linger the longest. These invisible subtleties can go unnoticed by others and even the people personally affected. One person's obstacles cannot always be seen by the visible eye. Whether you are a survivor, witness, or loved one it’s crucial to understand that pain can be hard to see, but there are always resources out there.

Defining Domestic Violence

Let’s break it down to its bare bones. Domestic violence is categorized as one person, who exists in the recipient's domestic circle, exerting power over them in the hopes of control. It can come in many forms, but all of them are damaging.

Domestic abuse can take place once, or multiple times. People can be in a situation for minutes to years and show symptoms. These symptoms can apply when only one instance of abuse is noted or multiple.

There is no direct textbook scenario for abuse, it comes in many forms, situations, and severities. Comparing two people's situations is not applicable when pain is relative to the individual.

What we do know is that this violence has long-term psychological effects that can lead to a variety of mental disorders. Trauma has been found to affect brain function in regard to emotional regulation, impulse control, and memory. This can lead to difficulty with short-term memory and a continuous state of hypervigilance (a state in which the brain suppresses memory and impulses, leaving the survivor in a state of emotional reactivity). This reactivity often leads to difficulty in maintaining long-term relationships and healthy behaviors.

These symptoms can be challenging for the survivor to notice, and many times it may take time before they are aware they may be suffering from any symptoms at all. It is possible for a survivor to go years without realizing they are affected by past trauma.

It’s important to note that this mental damage does not have to last forever and can be addressed, treated, and healed over time. It is never too late to start taking the steps toward a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Symptoms of Trauma

Every person is unique and reacts differently to being in a situation of domestic violence, however, some symptoms are commonly seen. These symptoms can affect anyone that has been in a domestic abuse situation regardless of age, sexual orientation, or gender.

These can include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Eating Disorders

  • Trouble getting to or staying asleep

  • Fatigue

  • Reckless sexual practices

  • Thoughts of suicide (call 988 for immediate assistance if you or a loved one is in danger)

  • Sudden shifts in mood

  • Sexual dysfunction

These symptoms are out of the control of the person experiencing them and often take the assistance of both professional and personal help to heal. A crucial part of healing is having patience and kindness toward yourself or your loved one.

Secondary Victims

What is a secondary victim? This may not be a term you have heard before. A secondary victim is someone who is close to a survivor of a domestic abuse situation. Secondary victims are not required to have been directly abused nor are they required to have witnessed the abuse firsthand.

Being a secondary victim has its own set of possible symptoms that may include but are not limited to:

  • Feelings of pity, shock, or disgust

  • Blaming the survivor

  • Denial or confusion regarding the event

  • Thoughts of revenge or anger

  • The desire to control or protect the survivor

Just as the symptoms of domestic abuse can be treated, so can the symptoms of being a secondary victim. There are resources out there that can help you or your loved one cope with the events of abuse.

A Plethora of Resources

Reaching out for help can be a challenging step, but it’s a crucial one in anyone's journey. Remember that those offering assistance regardless of if they are an organization, volunteer, family member, or friend are doing so out of the desire to help.


One of the things to keep in mind when seeking out a licensed therapist is compatibility. If you are not comfortable speaking to a therapist they will be unable to help you. Consider their age, gender, and personal experiences when making a decision.

Some therapists specialize in experience with LGBTQ+, BIPOC, specific age groups, or mental illnesses. Once you find the right therapist it will be easier to develop a working relationship with them for your personal growth.

Never feel trapped with a therapist just because you filled out paperwork or started having sessions with them. If you are not compatible that’s okay, they will understand.

Many therapists offer options in regard to in-person or remote sessions in regards to your comfortability as well.

Support Systems

A support system is a network of close friends and family to whom you are emotionally connected. These are people you trust in regards to your thoughts and feelings. Having people to talk to, support your goals, and spend time with can help with feelings of isolation.

If you do not currently have a support system that’s okay! It’s never too late to start developing bonds with others.

Here are a few ways to meet new people to build a support system:

  • Join a gym (exercise has been shown to be a proven way of dealing with feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression)

  • Start or join a hobby club (this can include things like a book or an art club)

  • Consider getting to know neighbors or co-workers

  • Check out volunteer organizations near you (many organizations offer free events, programs, and festivals to attend)

Remember building a support system can take time, don’t give up hope. There are people out there who would love to get to know you.


If you are in a place where you are not ready for consistent therapy sessions or need immediate assistance there are several hotlines available to you.

Hotlines can offer the option of text or call to fit your current needs.

Here are a few hotlines to keep in mind:



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