Enduring any length of abuse—whether physical or psychological—is a form of trauma. Some domestic violence survivors can suffer PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder and, as a result, relive their ordeal through flashbacks and nightmares that can interfere with their ability to function normally on a daily basis.
Studies of female survivors in domestic violence shelters found that 88 percent of women were living with PTSD. Even those without a PTSD diagnosis are living with other, often debilitating after-effects such as social isolation and low self-esteem. It’s estimated that at least 75 percent of abuse victims suffer severe anxiety.
The symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Intrusive memories of the abuse
- Loss of interest in other people and the outside world
- Outbursts of anger
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness, fear, despair, guilt or self-hatred
- Physical pain that migrates throughout the body
- An inability to imagine a positive future
- See printable list with these and 13 additional symptoms
Typically, the symptoms will last for at least a month and can occur either directly after the trauma, or be delayed, beginning six months, a year or 20 years after the abuse has ended.
While treatment of PTSD often includes psychotherapies or prescription drugs, survivors can also consider taking a holistic approach to their healing. According to a 2005 study, massage therapy has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body, while increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. Decreasing cortisol in the body can reduce the constant feelings of hyperarousal, or that sense that danger is always imminent. Increasing serotonin and dopamine two “feel good” chemicals in the brain, can help the body more easily deal with anxiety and depression.
Of course, massage therapy also has tangible physical benefits as well. Regular massage can help lesson muscle tension and stiffness, reduce scar tissue, regenerate skin tissue (as the result of burns), reduce insomnia and even help one’s digestive system, which can suffer as a result of stress.
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