What Are The Causes Of Domestic Violence

Updated October 26, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Are you a survivor of domestic violence? Those who are experiencing domestic violence often feel there is no way out. Friends and loved ones often feel despair because they don't know what to do to help. Additionally, some abusers may not realize their behavior constitutes domestic violence. Therefore, knowing the causes of domestic violence and recognizing symptoms is important if the cycle is to ever be broken.

Domestic violence is defined as "violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the abuse of a current or former spouse, intimate partner, or child." Any form of physical or sexual abuse and emotional control or manipulation can be categorized as domestic violence. While some types of domestic violence may occur absent a physical altercation, it is not uncommon that other forms of abuse are coupled with physical violence.

It's Not Your Fault - Domestic Violence Shouldn't Happen To Anyone

The long-term effects of domestic violence may be present for months, or even years, after the abuse has ended. While this is a stark reality, it is worth noting that when partnered with the right resources, an estimated 71% of domestic violence survivors are able to escape violent relationships and prevent it from happening again.

Warning Signs Of Domestic Violence

Signs that someone is experiencing domestic violence are sometimes visible. For example, a black eye, busted lip, or broken bones. There are other indicators that may be less apparent.

Emotional symptoms may initially be less apparent than physical signs of domestic violence. The responses may be especially heightened in the presence of the abuser or when someone tries to address the issue of abuse with the person who is experiencing it. These symptoms may linger long after the physical injury has resolved. Some examples of emotional responses include:

  • Altered sleep patterns. The affected person may experience nightmares or insomnia.
  • Depression. Someone who was once very outgoing and enjoyed participating in social events suddenly becomes withdrawn. Children may stop eating, cry when they are separated from familiar "safe people," or cling to someone new in an effort to be away from their abuser.
  • Sudden, unexplained changes in weight and/or eating patterns. Persons experiencing domestic violence may be deprived of food as a form of punishment. Also, they may experience a loss of appetite due to the stress of the situation. Both of these instances can result in weight loss.

Do You Think You're Experiencing Domestic Violence?

It is often difficult for people who are experiencing domestic violence to grasp the fact that they are, indeed, experiencing domestic abuse. It's understandable; no one wants to be labeled as such. Nevertheless, knowing what behavior constitutes abuse and violence is the first step on the road to intervention.

If your spouse, intimate partner, or parent does any of the following, these could be indications of domestic violence:

  • Threatens to harm you or kill you
  • Deprives you of clothes, food, or medical care
  • Abandons you in a place you are not familiar with
  • Attacks you with weapons
  • Punches, pushes, kicks or bites you, or pulls your hair
  • Forces you to have unwanted sex
  • Restricts your communication with friends or family
  • Completely cuts off your relationships with others

People experiencing domestic violence often feel isolated. Whether it is due to a fear of rejection by others or retaliation from their abusers, they may not immediately seek help. Unfortunately, isolation may lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and, in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to Louise Howard, professor at King's Institute of Psychiatry, in her article in Medical News Today, "The evidence suggests that there are two things happening: domestic violence can often lead to survivors developing mental health problems, and people with mental health problems are more likely to experience domestic violence." This reflects how a cycle of abuse may be repeated. Violence may lead to a mental health disorder; then the mental health disorder may cause the person to be at risk of re-victimization.

This does not have to be your story! If you've been affected by domestic violence, although you may feel alone, you are not. There are several resources available:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233. Hotline advocates are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They provide confidential crisis intervention, safety planning, information, and referrals to agencies in all 50 states.
  • The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (1-800-537-2238).
  • National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women (www.ncdbw.org) helps address needs of people experiencing domestic violence who have been charged with a crime related to the abuse they have experienced. The phone number to the NCBDW is (800) 903-0111 (ext. 3).
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline is a culturally appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to helping Native American survivors of domestic violence. StrongHearts connects callers at no cost to one-on-one advocates who provide immediate support to survivors of abuse. StrongHearts Native Helpline's number is 844-7NATIVE (762-8483).

Risk Factors For Domestic Violence

While it may not be possible in every case to predict who may become an abuser or who may be affected by an abuser, there are some risk factors that increase the chances. It may surprise you to know that the risk factors associated with potential survivors and potential abusers are similar. This is because without help, many survivors become abusers or are re-victimized later in life.

Common Risk Factors Related to Domestic Violence Include:

  • Low self-esteem: There seems to be a link between low self-esteem and the risk of being both an abuser or someone affected by an abuser in domestic violence cases. Those experiencing abuse often believe no one wants them or that they don't deserve to be loved. Therefore, they are more likely to try to endure abuse in hopes the abuser will change. Abusers, on the other hand, often attempt to mask their low self-esteem by degrading others. While it doesn't make sense to people who are not affected, it makes perfect sense in the mind of both the abuser and the person who is abused.
  • Desire for power or control: Domestic violence often occurs in relationships where one person has a desire to control another. The abuser may try to control the other person’s social life, travel, and money.
  • Low academic achievement: Individuals who have poor academic achievement often battle with self-esteem issues. Potential abusers often display aggressive behavior as a way of "distracting" others from what they view as personal lack of achievement. Those who are being abused, on the other hand, may feel trapped because they think they are unable to provide for themselves of their children. Therefore, they may stay in an abusive relationship as a means of financial support.
  • Previous history of being abused: Unfortunately, without intervention, the cycle of abuse is often difficult to break. Survivors of domestic violence often tend to either become abused again or become abusers themselves. Survivors of domestic violence often believe they "deserve" the abuse. This mindset leads them to be less likely to stand up for themselves. Those who become abusers, on the other hand, often do so because they feel so much anger and frustration related to the experience of having been abused.
  • Cultural beliefs/traditional viewpoints: It may seem odd to think that culture or traditions lend to the risk of domestic violence, but many cultures have deep-rooted beliefs that men are superior to women. In some instances, those men may resort to domestic violence to gain control of their spouse or children.
  • Mental illness: As mentioned above, the role of mental illness within the cycle of domestic violence is prevalent. Individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, may go through times of highs and lows when they are unable to control their anger. These people may become aggressors and abuse others. This is especially true if they are not following a medication regimen. Some people who experience depression or other mood disorders are often more likely to be abused.
  • Substance abuse: People who abuse drugs or alcohol are more susceptible to someone who is abusive. A person’s need for acceptance or money to support their habit may cause them to be vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Being educated about who is at risk and what signs may indicate the presence of domestic violence will help decrease the chances of entering or staying in an abusive situation.

In 2018, the Domestic Violence Resource Center reported that schools that provided education and resources for students about domestic violence reported a 40% increase in the number of reports by students regarding instances of domestic violence. This is significant, as it shows that the more education a person has about an issue, the more likely they will be to reach out for help. This is one way to help combat the occurrence of domestic violence.

It Is Okay To Take Care Of Yourself

Often, the fear of leaving a toxic relationship can feel as crippling as the actual abuse. Survivors usually feel guilty about leaving an abuser. However, your safety and the safety of any children in your care is of utmost importance.

Therefore, if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, seek help immediately.

Facing Your Fears

Change is scary. Unfortunately, fear is one of the main reasons people experiencing domestic violence do not seek help. However, tapping into the right resources can be crucial to recovering from abuse. When traveling to meet a counselor or therapist in person is difficult, online counseling is a great alternative.

It's Not Your Fault - Domestic Violence Shouldn't Happen To Anyone

You’ll likely need support from a lot of different sources to recovery after domestic abuse. If you’re unsure of how effective online therapy might be in your case, consider the following: post-traumatic stress disorder was one of the first types of therapy to be studied online. A recent publication looked at a total of 38 of those studies to affirm that cognitive behavioral therapy (a common type of talk therapy) is more effective than being put on a waiting list and just as effective as traditional therapy.

Online therapy also allows you more flexibility as to location. You don’t need to go into an office if you’re worried about being seen there. You can have a session anywhere you feel safe with a secure internet connection. As mentioned above, there’s no being put on a waiting list if you’ve been working up the courage to start therapy. In fact, most people are matched with a BetterHelp counselor within 24 hours.

For more information on how online counseling may benefit you or a loved one, see some reviews of BetterHelp counselors below.

Counselor Reviews

"Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships and really gaining skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I really like how direct she is, it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can't wait to see where I am after working with her a year!!!"

"Dr. Thiem is extremely caring and knowledgeable. She has helped me work through my trauma with such patience. Dr. Thiem uses a variety of therapy techniques and is truly supportive. I didn't think that I would ever feel okay again until I started working with her. I'm grateful for her kindness and skill. She's wonderful!"


If you or someone you know is the experiencing domestic violence or you are a survivor of domestic abuse, contact one of the resources listed in this article. No matter how difficult or scary things are, you can move forward. All you need are the right tools. Take the first step.

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