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N C Med J. 2000 Sep-Oct;61(5):260-5.

Brainwashing and battering fatigue. Psychological abuse in domestic violence.

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Department of Psychiatric Medicine, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, USA.


Intimate partner violence occurs often in the United States; it involves an interrelated combination of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, usually directed against women. The psychological aspect deserves special attention because victims who lose their independence, self-esteem, and dignity tend to remain in abusive situations. The abuse is perpetrated by a domestic partner to maintain power and control in the relationship. To assert control, the abuser uses "brainwashing tactics" similar to those used on prisoners of war, hostages, or members of a cult. Common features of brainwashing include isolation, humiliation, accusation, and unpredictable attacks. The abusive environment produces real and anticipated fear, which contributes to the battered woman's belief that her situation is hopeless and that she must depend on her abuser. She develops coping strategies to deal with her oppressive environment, but eventually exhibits symptoms of "battering fatigue," similar to the battle fatigue of soldiers in combat who, like battered women, live in fear of being killed or severely injured. Recognizing the state of mind of these women can help us understand why it is difficult for them to flee their traumatic environment and why they may resort to suicide or homicide. For healthcare providers to screen and treat their patients adequately, it is imperative that they appreciate the complex and devastating psychological aspects of domestic violence.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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