Months or even years after an abusive relationship ends, abuse survivors may carry feelings of dread and panic on their shoulders, reacting intensely to certain smells, sounds, colors, or angles of light.

Because these symptoms can make survivors feel as though they are losing control, it is important to understand and be aware of the effects of trauma on a survivor’s mind and body.

Domestic violence frequently occurs in a repetitive series of violent or harmful incidents, so a survivor’s mind is too focused on preparing for the next violent incident to properly process the previous trauma. As a result, the mind struggles to heal years later, meaning symptoms of sensory overload, vivid flashbacks, and physical discomfort can appear several years after a survivor has escaped abuse. In fact, 88% of women in domestic abuse shelters suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And it’s not just adults: of the five million children exposed to abuse each year, many struggle with PTSD. As witnesses to abuse, these children often lose the essential feelings of safety and playfulness that promote health development.

If you are unsure whether you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD as a result from domestic abuse, understanding the symptoms can prove crucial to your healing journey. There are four major categories of PTSD symptoms:

  1. Flashbacks: Often, if confronted with a trigger, abuse survivors with PTSD may experience vivid nightmares or flashbacks reliving the event(s) of trauma. This can result in disrupted sleep or insomnia, waking up drenched in sweat, or fear of certain normal activities or experiences because of the chance of a flashback occurring.
  2. Avoidance: Because flashbacks can happen anywhere, abuse survivors with PTSD may begin to avoid any situation that will remind them of trauma, isolating oneself from friends, family, and the outside world.
  3. Shutting down: Abuse survivors with PTSD may also avoid flashbacks and panic attacks by cutting off any intense emotion. This emotional repression can result in depression or frequent outbursts of anger, guilt, or self-hatred. It can also result in dissociation.
  4. Jumpiness: Always on high alert, abuse survivors with PTSD may feel the need to mentally assess danger in everyday situations.

Recognizing symptoms of PTSD is the first step to allowing your mind to fully heal. While this diagnosis may feel overwhelming and hopeless, there are many ways to help minimize the effects of PTSD and begin to heal.