Hidden Scars: How Physical Abuse Affects Mental Health

Abused woman with mouth coveredPhysical abuse is a traumatic and damaging experience that leaves deep emotional scars that can take a toll on an individual’s mental health. It can lead to a number of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. It is an all too common problem that can be difficult to detect – because it is so well hidden. Yet, its effects can be far-reaching and long-lasting. It is important to know how physical abuse can affect mental health, what signs and symptoms to look out for, as well as which red flags may indicate possible physical abuse.

What is physical abuse?

Physical abuse is a form of trauma that involves intentional and harmful physical acts perpetrated against an individual by another person. It often falls under the umbrella of gender-based violence, where women and girls are more commonly affected than men and boys. Physical abuse can take many forms, such as hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, strangulation, and other forms of physical harm. The use of weapons or other objects to inflict harm is also a common occurrence.

Regardless of the specific form it takes, physical abuse can leave a lasting impact on the victim’s mental health. It can cause significant emotional distress, anxiety, and depression, and may lead to further trauma if not addressed promptly. It is important to recognise the signs and symptoms of physical abuse in order to identify and provide support to individuals who may be experiencing it.

The link between physical abuse and mental health

Physical abuse affects millions of individuals worldwide, and the impact it can have on a victim’s mental health is profound. Anyone can be physically abused but one of the most common forms of physical abuse is gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is a form of physical abuse that refers to acts of violence that are primarily committed against women and girls simply because of their gender. This includes physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, and other forms of abuse that are often accompanied by coercive control and manipulation.

Research has consistently shown that physical abuse has significant consequences for a victim’s mental health. It can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health disorders. The long-term impact of physical abuse can also manifest in physical health problems, including chronic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.

One of the most challenging aspects of physical abuse is that the trauma can be invisible. The physical scars may heal, but the emotional trauma can persist for years, leading to ongoing mental health problems. The cycle of abuse can also contribute to ongoing mental health problems, making it difficult for a victim to escape the cycle and seek help.

In some cases, physical abuse can lead to a lack of trust in others, making it challenging to form healthy relationships. This can also contribute to a sense of isolation and loneliness, which can further exacerbate existing mental health problems.

It’s important to recognise the link between physical abuse and mental health so that victims can get the help they need to heal from the trauma. This requires not only providing victims with the resources and support they need to escape an abusive situation, but also addressing the long-term impact of physical abuse on mental health. This may involve counselling, medication, and other forms of treatment to help survivors overcome the trauma and begin to rebuild their lives.

Signs of physical abuse

Physical abuse can take a serious toll on a person’s mental health, causing a wide range of symptoms and behaviours. Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect someone may be experiencing physical abuse:

  1. Bruises or injuries:
    Unexplained bruises, cuts, or marks on the body can be a sign of physical abuse. These injuries may be in various stages of healing and may be in unusual or hidden locations, such as the thighs, abdomen, or back.

  2. Anxiety and fear:
    Victims of physical abuse may appear anxious or fearful around their abuser or in situations that may trigger memories of the abuse. They may be hesitant to speak or make eye contact, or they may become easily agitated or irritable.

  3. Depression and sadness:
    Physical abuse can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness. Victims may appear sad or withdrawn and may have difficulty experiencing pleasure or interest in activities they used to enjoy.

  4. Changes in behaviour:
    Victims of physical abuse may experience significant changes in their behaviour, including mood swings, irritability, or agitation. They may become more aggressive or may have trouble regulating their emotions. They may also become anxious, or paranoid. They may seem scared to be alone or may avoid contact with others altogether.

  5. Frequent absences: If someone you know suddenly starts missing work or school more frequently than usual, it could be a sign that they are being physically abused. They may be staying home to avoid their abuser or may be unable to leave the house due to their injuries.

  6. Becoming withdrawn or isolated:
    Perpetrators of abuse often isolate their victims from friends and family. That way their secret stays hidden and it is easier for them to keep control over their victim and keep them from leaving.

  7. Control by their partner:
    If someone is being controlled by their partner, it could be a sign of physical abuse. This may manifest in a number of ways, such as being isolated from friends and family, having limited access to money or resources, or being forced to engage in sexual activity against their will.

  8. Difficulty sleeping or nightmares:
    Physical abuse can lead to insomnia, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances. Victims may struggle with falling or staying asleep, or they may experience vivid and distressing nightmares related to the abuse.

  9. Substance abuse:
    In an attempt to cope with the trauma of physical abuse, some victims may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to numb their feelings or escape their reality.

  10. Change in self-esteem:
    Individuals who are being physically abused may feel worthless or undeserving of love and support. This can manifest as low self-esteem, self-doubt, or a lack of confidence.

If you suspect that someone you know may be experiencing physical abuse, it is important to take action and offer support. Remember that physical abuse can have long-lasting effects on a person’s mental health and well-being, and it is important to take these signs and symptoms seriously.

What to do if you are a victim of physical abuse

If you or someone you know is a victim of physical abuse, it is crucial to seek help as soon as possible. The following steps can help ensure safety and well-being:

  1. Reach out for help:
    If you are in immediate danger, call emergency services such as the police. Seek medical attention for any injuries. Contact a helpline or support group for survivors of abuse, such as the TEARS Foundation.
    TEARS Help Line : *134*7355# For an emergency dial 2 (24/h free call)

  2. Consider seeking legal protection:
    Talk to a lawyer or law enforcement about getting a protection order to keep the abuser away from you. Document any instances of abuse with photographs, recordings, and written accounts.

  3. Create a safety plan:
    Develop a safety plan for leaving the abusive situation. This may involve finding a safe place to stay, identifying trusted individuals to confide in, arranging with someone that you can call them if you are in distress, and packing a bag with essentials such as identification, money, and important documents.

  4. Seek counselling and support:
    Mental health support can help you work through the trauma of physical abuse and help you to find your voice again.

Remember, it is not your fault and you deserve to be safe and respected. Seeking help can be a difficult but essential step towards healing and recovery.

Dealing with the aftermath of physical abuse

The aftermath of physical abuse can be difficult to deal with. Survivors often face emotional scars that can last a lifetime. If you or someone you know has experienced physical abuse, there are steps you can take to help with the healing process.

First and foremost, it is important to seek help from a therapist or counsellor. Therapy can help you work through the trauma and address any mental health issues that may have arisen as a result of the abuse. It can also provide a safe space to process the emotions associated with the experience.

It is also important to take care of your physical health. Physical abuse can leave lasting physical effects. Seeking medical attention can not only ensure that any injuries are properly treated but can also document evidence of abuse for legal purposes.

Building a support system is also crucial in the aftermath of physical abuse. Surrounding yourself with people who love and support you can provide a sense of safety and validation. This can include friends, family members, or support groups for survivors of domestic violence.

It is important to remember that healing is a journey, and there is no one “right” way to move forward. It is normal to experience a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, self-blame and anger. Taking small steps towards healing, such as practising self-care and setting boundaries, can help you move forward and reclaim your power.

Dealing with the aftermath of physical abuse can be a long and difficult process, but it is possible to find healing and move forward. Remember, you are not alone and there is help available.

Scroll to Top