PTSD is No Excuse for Abuse


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month is full of images and stats about struggling service members. They can’t sleep because they keep reliving their experiences on the battlefield. They’re distracted. They’re agitated. On edge. All with good reason.

But you know what there’s no good reason for? Excusing abuse because someone has PTSD. I’ve worked with domestic violence from both sides for decades, and victims often downplay the seriousness of domestic violence because their service member loved one has PTSD. I’ve heard it from clients, and from my own military spouse friends, many of whom have given me permission to share their stories anonymously to help others.

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“I’ve been taking care of my husband, and I’m happy to do it. But, his anger…he gets angry at the slightest mistakes,” one military spouse told me. “My kids and I are anxious all the time. He is punching things, screaming at us. We love him, so we stay. We endure. I will always be there, but its taking a devastating toll. My health is suffering, and the kids are too.”

If someone is aggressive towards others, or themselves, after a traumatic situation, it’s a warning sign—a symptom something is seriously wrong. But many military spouses hide in the shadows, taking on the abuse as a responsibility–their contribution to the military family.

This is not okay. There are important differences between symptoms of PTSD versus abuse. There is a line.

“You know, it was supporting my husband. It was supporting a war hero. I thought, ‘well, this is my job, you know?’ He went and did his job, and this is mine.”

So what can be done? It’s a delicate situation. The service member needs to decide if they’re willing to receive, and actively participate in, treatment for PTSD.

PTSD is not an excuse for violence against oneself or another.

It is a medical condition as a result of a traumatic experience, and should be addressed as such.

“When you hide it, it makes it hard for people to believe that it happened, and then it makes you stay in that abusive relationship because you want everybody to think your life is perfect.”

Many in the military community are afraid to speak out, either because of fear of retaliation from their abuser, or because they don’t want to be labeled a victim. They’re scared of losing their significant other, worried about money, worried about how this could all impact their service member’s career or security clearance. And then there’s the love and worry for the abuser. Their spouse who they know has been through so much.

No Excuse for Abuse

We don’t want to blame the person struggling with mental illness, but we also don’t want to perpetuate a negative view of mental illness. This is important. Remember this one thing:

Abuse is abuse. Don’t be afraid to call it what it is.

And don’t be afraid to get help. The good news is, social support—especially for the spouse—may counteract or reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD. Also, with support and treatment, people do get better. 

On one side, you have military and veteran families suffering in silence. Living in a difficult reality. Trying to hold it together. Walking on egg shells. Dealing with isolation. Suffering with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and secondary traumatic stress. Wanting life to be normal. Supporting their spouse and fearing the moments when they are not themselves.

On the other side are tens (maybe hundreds?) of thousands of service members and veterans who live with PTSD, and are never violent toward anyone. In fact, the violence is often turned inwards against themselves.

Does PTSD cause violence? There is a link. But not everyone with PTSD is violent, and not everyone who is violent has PTSD.

We don’t know what the numbers are, but even it’s infrequent—which I suspect isn’t the case—these spouses who suffer in silence deserve our attention. Especially given the devastating, sometimes fatal, damage of abuse in the home.

This is the second post in our 5-part series on PTSD in military families. Read our first post, and follow along next week, where we’ll explore service member guilt and how they cope with the effects of PTSD on their family.

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline

7 Comments

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  1. 2
    Sarah

    This is so true. It’s such a hard thing to live with. You stay because you love your spouse & you know it isn’t them. But it’s hard because it is abuse. And it hurts. And you don’t want to leave them because of a mental illness. He hasn’t left me because of my physical disability. Neither of us can control our illness. But his illness makes us all suffer. I’m so glad he’s getting help. Even if it hasn’t helped yet, just knowing he’s trying means the world. He’s taking responsibility for his actions.

  2. 6
    Gavin

    It’s hard to find resources because my husband was abused as a child and that gave him PTSD and when I try and find help they always seem to stop listening when they find out he’s not a veteran and on top of that people take it less serious because where gay. It’s just hard because when he’s here he’s amazing but when he is dissociating he’s a completely different person his therapist describes it as dr jeckle and me hidie I’m trying to stay strong because I love him but I feel like I’m breaking on the inside

  3. 7
    Areuserious?

    My partner gets extremely abusive mostly verbally but each time it happens the behavior is worse for instance today he swerved the car several times which hurt my already severe back pain but he was threatening to get us all killed he myself and my bird coming back from the doctors veterinarian just yesterday I tried to talk to him about my pain in my needs as a partner of someone with PTSD which he has from childhood trauma not from the war.

    Nevertheless PTSD is PTSD his behavior can be extremely abusive as I said and I know I shouldn’t tolerate it but I love him just like a million other stories I’m reading I have a medical background several degrees for years of psychology which helps me a lot I’m also extremely loving caring accepting and non-judgmental and nurturing these things can work for or against me I’m a very honest person I’m very loyal person but I’ve been abused before and I don’t want to go through it again and I find myself making excuses for him but I’m reading there is no excuse for abuse PTSD or no PTSD where does that leave me with him unable to even listen to my needs sexually.

    We started dating almost two years ago after a few months after you moved in we started a relationship sexual intimacy but not fully because I have my own pain issues nevertheless we were very happy working at it until one day he shut me off after two awful experiences for me at least he shut me off completely and forbidden me to even talk about sex at all it’s been months and months and I’ve tried several times to talk to him he does know what my needs are he doesn’t know what my pain is from the stress it’s causing me but he does nothing yesterday I tried to bring it up again at the advice of my physical therapist I’m under 30 F of pelvic floor therapy I’m also seeing a psychologist because I can’t talk to my partner about things I’m trying to learn how to deal with my own PTSD from abandonment and how to learn and how to learn how to deal with his behavior and just how we are in the relationship but I’m lost sometimes I feel so lonely and devastated you can tell me all he wants that it’s not because of me but obviously I triggered things in him this just no doubt about it I remember when I was in pain and could not have any relations he talked me into doing things and said that he had needs even that I didn’t and now the shoe is on the other foot and every time I mention his double standard way of living he goes crazy and he did he went berserk in the car he drove erratically several times he got out of the car and walked around in circles in the on the highway this past summer she screams so loud he uses his finger to point things like that he calls me horrible things and says horrible things and I’m beginning to believe some of those things he says when he’s angry he really wants any really believe the two minutes later which in and of itself is strange and not normal he’s fine and he expects me to forget everything I can’t be that forgiving that quickly although I’m not holding anything against him My partner gets extremely abusive mostly verbally but he’s trying it happened did behavior is the worst insurance today he sold the cast of all time with hurt my already so they are back pain but she was threatening to get us all killed he myself and my bird coming back from the doctors and veterinarian just yesterday I tried to talk to him about my pain in my need as a partner of someone with PTSD which he has from childhood trauma not from the war. Anti-theft nevertheless PTSD PTSD his behavior can be extremely abusive as I said and I know I shouldn’t tolerate it but I love him just like a million other stories I’m reading I have a medical background civil degrees it for years of psychology which helps me a lot I’m also extremely loving caring accepting and knowing judgemental and nurturing do things can work for against me I’m a very honest person I’m very loyal person but I’ve been abused before and I don’t want to go through it again and I find myself making excuses for him but I’m reading there is no excuse reviews PTSD or no PTSD what is that leave me with him unable to even listen to my niece sexually.

    We started dating almost 2 years ago after a few months after we moved in with Todd it over relationships excellent intimacy but not fully because I have my own pain is you have the last we were very happy it working at it until one day he shut me off after too awful experiences for me at least he shut me off completely in for Bonita even talk about sex at all it’s been months and months and I’ve tried several times to talk to him he does know what my needs are he doesn’t know what my pain is from the stress is causing me but he does nothing yesterday I tried to bring it up again at the advice of my physical therapist I’m under $34 for therapy and also seen a psychologist because I can’t talk to my partner about things and try to learn how to deal with my own PTSD from abandonment and how to learn and how to learn how to deal with his heavier and just how we are in a relationship but I’m lost and 10 SEC you’ll feel lonely and devastated you can tell me all he wants it it’s not because of me but obviously I traded things than him this just no doubt about it I remember when I was in pain and could not have any relation he talked me into doing things and said that he had needs even that I didn’t now the shoe was on the other foot and every time I mention his double standard way of living he goes crazy and you did he went with her in the car drove a tragically several times he got out of the car walked around in circles in the on the highway this past summer screen so loud to use is this thing go to point things like that he calls me horrible things and says Hubble think I’m beginning to believe some of those things he says anything week. I want any really believe 2 minutes later with ended up itself is strange and not normal he’s fine and he’s picking me to forget everything but I can’t be that forgiving that quickly although I’m not holding anything against him more well that’s my story I don’t know if you’ll ever get better since you won’t even listen to my niece with uses to go to counseling couples counseling that is he goes to his own therapy every time I mention my role in the relationship and that we are partners in winter relationship he goes for Zurich and all we can focus on is his uncomfortable this his therapy how hard it is for him to go all the way won’t talk about it do you know how hard it is you don’t understand how hard it is for me to go and no matter how I tell him that I do understand because I have been 2 more than most people very traumatic experience is in my life and imagine avoid experiences nothing I say help he turns everything on me a hundred percent around Johnny Blaze me for everything have you been awesome to stop using the word why I didn’t ask him I told him that I feel both the world according to relationship extra words always and never alive he is always telling me I always contradict him and I always under my everything he says and I never listen to what he said he says leasing all the time always and never and will not listen to me when I try to explain my feelings in my thoughts one very important thing is I hadn’t life savings from my parents because I’m handicapped in my office and all that cash disappeared several months ago and he swears he didn’t take it but there were only two of us here no one comes here at all so it wasn’t the birds of the dog and it wasn’t me but he’s trying to make me think I misplaced it and I know I didn’t so I asked him to take a lie detector test he went crazy then he said yes of course he may have several personalities for all I know from the PTSD because it sure seems like it and he may beat you may beat it although I don’t have the money to do it I really would like him to I need that money for dental work I went to modeling school and everyone tells me I’m beautiful but whether I am a nut I’m going to be much less attracted to look at with no teeth I’m going to lose all my teeth cuz that’ll keep me around him on it now you can see how I’m beginning to think about things doesn’t want me to spend money on anything specially the pets and I have to than my pet that’s my money and it’s my right to spend it on what I want you told me he was paying for utilities for months and months and months and he wasn’t and he still hasn’t yet he has been caught in some lies so he’s got financial difficulties he’s on a lot of pain medications he has a lot of pain but he enjoys taking the pain medicine to access you over medicate and I can’t stand that insists on having a room downstairs separate from me blames that on his PTSD we could be in their hours or days at a time if I let him I tried to encourage him to come out and sometimes it’s impossible but all these times of very very difficult for me if not impossible due to my own abandonment issues with my PTSD with that
    PS you should allow people to post anonymously I’m afraid to say this because I know that if my partner reads this I feel he’ll know it’s me maybe it isn’t so but I’m afraid that is the truth so now I’m not going to give my real name on my email address does that mean I don’t get to post like everyone else that’s really a shame

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