Battered Woman Syndrome Research with Citations

Larry D. Beall, Ph.D.

The battered woman syndrome is a term that is associated with the “Cycle Theory of Violence.” A “battered woman” was a woman who manifested certain symptoms and ways of behaving that were characteristic of women caught in this cycle of violence.  This paper will delineate some of the major issues of the battered woman syndrome.  For ease of reading and research this paper is broken down into sections with references for each section.

Walker Cycle Theory of Violence

The Walker Cycle Theory of Violence (Walker, 1979, 2000) is a tension-reduction theory that states that there are three distinct phases associated with a recurring battering cycle:

(1)  tension-building, (2) the acute battering incident, and (3) loving-contrition.

During the first phase, there is a gradual escalation of tension displayed by discrete acts causing increased friction such as name-calling, other mean intentional behaviors, and/or physical abuse.  The batterer expresses dissatisfaction and hostility, but not in an extreme or maximally explosive form.  The woman attempts to placate the batterer, doing what she thinks might please him, calm him down, or at least, what will not further aggravate him.  She tries not to respond to his hostile actions and uses general anger reduction techniques.  Often she succeeds for a little while, which reinforces her unrealistic belief that she can control him.  It also becomes part of the unpredictable response-outcome pattern that creates learned helplessness, which will be elaborated later.

The tension continues to escalate, the woman becomes more fearful of impending danger, and eventually she is unable to continue controlling his angry response pattern.  ‘Exhausted from the constant stress, she usually withdraws from the batterer, fearing she will inadvertently set off an explosion.  He begins to act more oppressively toward her as she withdraws.  Tension between the two becomes unbearable (Walker, 1979, 2000).  The second phase, the acute battering or verbally attacking incident, becomes inevitable without intervention.  Sometimes, she precipitates the inevitable explosion in order to control where and when it occurs, allowing her to take better precautions to minimize her injuries and pain.  Over time she may learn to predict the point in the cycle where there is a period of inevitability–after that point is reached, there is no escape for the woman unless the man permits it.

‘Phase two is characterized by the uncontrollable discharge of the tensions that have built up during phase one’ (Walker, 1979, 2000).  The batterer typically unleashes a barrage of verbal and physical aggression that can leave the woman severely shaken and/or injured.  The woman does her best to protect herself often covering parts of her face and body to block some of the blows.  In fact, when injuries do occur, they usually happen during this second phase.  It is also the time police become involved, if they are called at all.  The acute battering phase is concluded when the batterer stops, usually bringing with its cessation a sharp physiological reduction in tension.  This in itself is naturally reinforcing.  Violence often succeeds because it does work.

In phase three that follows, the batterer may apologize profusely, try to assist his victim, show kindness and remorse, and shower her with gifts and/or promises.  The batterer himself may believe at this point that he will never allow himself to be violent again.  The woman wants to believe the batterer and, early in the relationship at least, may renew her hope in his ability to change.  This third phase provides the positive reinforcement for remaining in the relationship, for the woman.  Many of his actions that he did when she fell in love with him during the courtship period occur again here.  Research results demonstrate that phase three could also be characterized by an absence of tension or violence, with no observable loving-contrition behavior, and still be reinforcing for the woman.  Sometimes the perception of tension and danger remains very high and does not return to the baseline or loving-contrition level.  This is a sign that the risk of a lethal incident is high.

Once the code for the individual’s own personal cycle is broken, it becomes necessary for the woman to begin to protect herself and her children more vigorously.  Although battered women are quite sensitive to the rise of tension and perception of danger, they often shut off their intuitive feelings while trying to calm down the batterer.  Rarely do they connect the quiet during the aftermath of the violent incident with a constant repetitive cycle.  Nor are they consciously aware of how similar the behavior the batterer displays is to the behavior they saw during their courtship period.  Rather, they associate the phase three behavior with who they believed their batterer really is.  They reason that they were able to smooth the world for the batterer and so the real man emerged once again.  This becomes a powerful message for the woman, fitting right into the sex role socialization that teaches women to believe that they are responsible for the health, well-being, and psychological stability of their husbands.   Thus, it becomes important to teach battered women their cycle of violence so they can choose to stop being held captive by their belief that the person they see during the third phase is the real man and somehow, if the behavior he displays during phases one and two disappears, then they will be left with the person they fell in love with.  Only when they see the inevitability of the recurring cycle and understand that their partner has both the ability to be both loving and cruel will they be able to better protect themselves and their children.


Walker, L.E. (1979).  The battered woman.  New York: Harper & Row.

Walker, L.E. (2000).  The battered woman syndrome 2nd edition.  Springer Publishing Co.

Historical Background of the Battered Woman Research

Since the original battered woman syndrome research was completed in 1979, the field has become one that is most often studied by social policy, health and mental health scientists, students and professionals.  In 1994, the President of the American Psychological Association convened a special task force composed of some of the most respected psychology experts in the area of family violence to review the research and clinical programs to determine what psychology has contributed to the understanding of violence and the family, including battered women.  The goal was to prepare materials for policy-makers to aid them as they created social policy to stop and prevent all forms of interpersonal violence.  This anti-violence initiative has been ongoing in the Public Interest Directorate of the APA, continuing to publish materials in the mid-nineties (APA, 1995, 1996, 1996, 1997).

Although we have much more data on the topic today, the fundamental elements of The Battered Woman Syndrome, still hold up today, over 15 years after its inception.  Partner violence (as battering women, wives, or other intimate relationships is sometimes called) is still considered learned behavior that is used to obtain and maintain power and control over a woman. Findings have been that although racial and cultural issues might impact on the availability of resources for the victim, they do not determine incidence or prevalence of domestic violence. Many factors appear to interact that determine the level of violence experienced and the access to resources and other help to end to violence. 

Two basic findings are that domestic violence cuts across every demographic group, and batterers and battered women are very different when they first come into the relationship than when they leave.  Although there are ‘risk-markers’ for both men and women, increasing the probability of each group becoming involved in a violent relationship, the most common riskmarker is still the same one that the original battered women syndrome research found: exposure to violence in their childhood home.  Other studies have found that poverty, immigration status, and prior abuse, are also risk factors for women to become battered, although they are not predictive (Walker, 1994).

New research on batterers suggests that there are several types of abusers.  Most common is the ‘power and control’ batterer who uses violence against his partner in order to get her to do what he wants without regard to her rights in the situation.  Much has been written about this type of batterer as he fits the theoretical descriptions that feminist analysis supports.  However, most of the data that supports this analysis comes from those who have been court ordered into treatment programs and actually attend them, estimated to be a small percentage of the total number of batterers by others (Dutton, 1995; Walker, 1999).

The second most common type is the mentally ill batterer, who may also have distorted power and control needs but his mental illness interacts with his aggressive behavior (Dutton, 1995).  Those with an abuse disorder may also have coexisting paranoid and schizophrenic disorders, affective disorders including bipolar types and depression, borderline personality traits, obsessive compulsive disorders.  Also, those with substance abuse disorders may have a coexisting abuse disorder (Sonkin, 1995).  Multiple disorders make it necessary to treat each one in order for the violent behavior to stop.  As the intervention methods may be different and possibly incompatible, it is an individual decision whether to treat them simultaneously or one at a time.  Usually, different types of treatment programs are necessary for maximum benefit whether or not the intervention occurs at the same time.

In interviews with battered women, during one of the APA sponsored research studies, they were asked for detailed descriptions of four battering incidents: the first, the second, one of the worst, and the last (or last prior to the interview).  The first two and the last incident, taken together, reflect the temporal course of a stream of acute battering incidents.  Each of these is an example of ‘phase two’ in the cycle theory.  After the description of each incident, the interviewer recorded whether or not there was ‘evidence of tension building and/or loving contrition.’  Comparisons between interviewers’ responses indicated a high level of agreement.

In 65% of all cases (including three battering incidents for each woman who reported three) there was evidence of a tension-building phase prior to the battering.  In 58% of all cases there was evidence of loving contrition afterward.  In general, then, there is support for the cycle theory of violence in a majority of the battering incidents described by our sample.

For the first incidents, the proportion showing evidence of a tension-building phase is 56%; the proportion showing evidence of loving contrition is 69%.  Over time, these proportions changed drastically.  By the last incident, tension building preceded 71% of battering incidents, but loving contrition followed only 42%.  In other words, over time in a battering relationship, tension building becomes more common (or more evident) and loving contrite behavior declines.”


American Psychological Association.  (1995).  Issues and dilemmas in family violence from the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association.  (1996).  Report from the Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association.  (1996).  Final Report of the Working Group on Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse.   Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association. (1997).  Potential problems for psychologists working with the area of interpersonal violence.  Report of the ad hoc committee on legal and ethical issues in the treatment of interpersonal violence.  Washington, DC: Author.

Dutton, D.G. (1995).  The batterer: A psychological profile.  New York: Basic Books.

Sonkin, D.J. (1995).  Counselors’ guide to learning to live without violence.  Volcano, CA: Volcano Press.

Walker, L.E. (1994).  Abused women and survivor therapy:  A practical guide for the psychotherapist.  Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association.

Walker, L.E. (1999).  Domestic violence around the world.  American Psychologist, 54, 21-29.

Walker Cycle Theory of Violence in the Research

The Walker Cycle Theory of Violence (Walker, 1979) has been confirmed by subsequent research.  Sufficient evidence has been found that there are three phases in battering relationships that occur in a cycle.  Over time, the first phase of tension building becomes more common, and loving contrition, or the third phase, declines.  Research results also show that phase three could be characterized by an absence of tension or violence and no observable loving-contrition behavior and still be reinforcing for the woman.  In those cases, it is the relationship interactions themselves that propel the cycle and not just the three distinct phases with their corresponding behaviors.

Lewis (1981) has tested the cycle theory in the laboratory to match its compatibility with the anxiety arousal model of the delay of punishment paradigm.  This paradigm has been found to have three phases of anxiety arousal: increase during the anticipatory period; asymptote at the moment of stimulus delivery; and then, relief with a return to baseline levels.  People have been found to prefer the immediate delivery of a negative stimulus in order to avoid a prolonged anticipatory period.  Thus, the experimental model parallels the cycle theory derived from battered women’s descriptions of the battering incidents.  Lewis (1980) attempted to measure the differences between battered and non battered women’s responses on a classic delay of punishment paradigm and compared these results to the cycle theory.   The results of Lewis' research are interesting in that it extends the descriptive work to experimental laboratory conditions.

The commonalities between the anxiety arousal model of marital dispute cycles demonstrated in the laboratory and the cycle theory of violence, which developed from battered women’s descriptions, were supported in Lewis' research.


Lewis, E.M. (1981, July).  An experimental analogue of the spouse abuse cycle.  Paper presented at the National Conference for Family Violence Researcher, University of New Hampshire, Durham.

Lewis, E.M. (1980).  The effects of intensity and probability on the preference for immediate versus delayed aversive stimuli in women with various levels of interspousal conflict. Unpublished manuscript, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle.

Walker, L.E. (1979).  The battered woman.  New York: Harper & Row.

Chaining and Fogging Effect

Patterson (1982) and his colleagues Reid, Taplin, and Lorber (1981) at the Oregon Social Learning Center found some insightful parallels to the behavioral descriptions of violence involved in battered woman research.  Their research included an elaborate behavioral observation and coding scheme designed to measure the types of behaviors emitted in families where was identified aggression.  The original design suggested two types of families to study, one with behavioral patterns approximating the average family and the other suggesting a dysfunctional family unit.  The dysfunctional family unit they studied tended to have a larger ratio of negative to positive behaviors expressed.  Early into the study, they found a third distinct pattern, that of the abusive family.  They measured the relationship between the aggressive acts and other events in terms of conditional probabilities of social interactions using mathematical psychology and probability theory.  Patterson suggests that the most accurate measurement paradigm to be used is: given that one event occurs, what is the likelihood that it was preceded by a particular behavior of another person?  Thus, behavioral events can be studied in sequence, like beads on a string or chain (Patterson, 1982).  What seemed to distinguish the abusive family pattern from the dysfunctional one was not simply the number of negative acts but also the sequencing of such stimuli.  They found that there seemed to be a ‘chaining’ of nasty acts together creating what they called a ‘fogging’ effect that seemed to make choosing an effective response to stop the aggression highly improbable.  While their observers rarely saw actual physically violent acts between parents or children, they did observe psychologically abusive behaviors and received reports of the physical abuse.  Thus, in the coercion theory they have developed, there is a set of statements about pain control techniques employed by one or both members of the dyadic interaction that affects their performance.

There is probability that the ‘chaining’ and ‘fogging’ observed by Patterson and his colleagues is the essence of the abusive behavior pattern described by battered women.  Some women reported that the distinguishing difference between tension-building behaviors they felt better able to cope with and those exhibited during the acute battering incident phase was how rapidly one aversive act followed another, the essence of the chaining process.  Control techniques developed during the less intense periods were not available nor able to be used successfully by the women during the more dangerous acute battering stage.  This may explain why battered women who were researched found the psychological abuse the most devastating. Some may perceive that the only way to break up the ‘fog’ created by the ‘chaining’ pattern and defend themselves against further harm is to bite, kick, scratch, shove, or push back.  Thus, mutual combat in these situations might be better expressed in terms of reciprocal pain control techniques.”


Patterson, G.R. (1982).  Coercive family process.  Eugene, OR: Castalia Press.

Reid, J.B., Taplin, P.S., & Lorber, R. (1981).  A social interactional approach to the treatment of abusive families.  In R.B. Stuart (Ed.), Violent behavior: Social learning approaches to prediction, management, and treatment.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.ion of women, Sage yearbooks in women’s policy studies, (Vol. 3).  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Cost-Benefit Models

The analysis of lower reinforcement rates presented with the results of the Walker Cycle Theory of Violence demonstrates that women who were out of the battering relationship left after the ratio between the tension-building and loving-contrition phases sharply diverged.  Women still in the battering relationship reported more positive reinforcement (loving contrition) following the last battering incident they discussed.  Thus, women who were less depressed while still in the relationship may have still been receiving some rewards from it despite the violence.  Once the cost-benefit ratio changes, however, and the rate of reinforcement decreases, then the women may be more inclined to leave the relationship, but subsequently become depressed as a result of the separation.  Further investigation into the psychological cost and benefits in these relationships is still necessary.

Gelles (1983) presented an exchange/social control theory of intrafamily violence in which he attempted to construct a multidimensional causal model to account for all forms of family abuse, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and sexual abuse.  Although Gelles does not use a social learning theory paradigm, he suggests that human behavior follows the pursuits of rewards and avoidance of punishment (Gelles, 1983).  As a sociologist, it is understandable that he utilizes traditional exchange theory (Blau, 1964) rather than the reciprocal contingency contracting models developed by behavioral psychologists (Barnett & LaViolette, 1993; Patterson, 1982; Weiss, Hops, & Patterson, 1973).  If the discipline vocabulary can be set aside, it is apparent that there are similarities between this approach and the one suggested by the cycle of abuse data, associated with battered women.


Barnett, O.W., & LaViolette, A. (2000).  It could happen to anyone: Why do battered women stay, Second Edition.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Blau, P.M. (1964).  Exchange power in social life.  New York: Wiley.

Gelles, R.J. (1983).  An exchange/social control theory of intrafamily violence.  In D. Finkelhor, R. Gelles, G. Hotaling, & M. Straus (Eds.), The dark side of families (pp. 151-164). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage

Patterson, G.R. (1982).  Coercive family process.  Eugene, OR: Castalia Press.

Weiss, R.L., Hops, H., & Patterson, C.R. (1973).  A framework for conceptualizing marital conflict, a technology for altering it, and some data for evaluating it.  In L.A.

Hamerlynck, L.C. Handy, & E.J. Mash (Eds.), Behavior change: Methodology, concepts, and practices.  Champaign, IL: Research Press.

The Escalation of Domestic Violence as a Part of the Cycle of Violence

A definition of a  battered woman is a woman, 18 years of age or over, who is or has been in an intimate relationship with a man who repeatedly subjects or subjected her to forceful physical and/or psychological abuse.  “Intimate” means a relationship having a romantic, affectionate, or sexual component.  “Repeatedly” means more than one assault.  “Abuse” within the context of such relationships differs from the typical marital or partner conflict by evidence of any of the following behaviors:

  • excessive possessiveness and/or jealousy
  • extreme verbal harassment and expressing comments of a derogatory nature with negative value judgments
  • restriction of her activity through physical or psychological means
  • nonverbal and verbal threats of future punishment and/or deprivation
  • sexual assault whether or not married
  • actual physical attack with or without injury  (Walker L. 2000)

In comparing the batterers’ behaviors in the first assault with one of the worst incidents (third one reported), it is evident that the violent acts increase over time and in some categories, dramatically so.  About two-thirds of the incidents included pushing, shoving, slapping, hitting, spanking, wrestling, and twisting arms.  Punching and throwing her bodily occurred in over half of the beatings.  Twice as many women were hit with an object during the worst battering as compared with the first one and about one-third of the women reported being choked or strangled.  A small percent were burned, attempts made to drown them, hurt with a knife, or hurt with a gun.  Almost 10% were hurt with a car.  In over 80% of the battering incidents reported, verbal abuse accompanied the physical assault.  Thus, it has been concluded that physical abuse rarely occurs without psychological abuse.  This is consistent with the statements of the American Psychological Association that domestic violence is a pattern of abuse that includes physical and/or sexual violence as well as psychological maltreatment and abuse (APA, 1996a). The women repeated throughout the interview that the psychological degradation and humiliation was the most painful abuse they suffered.


American Psychological Association.  (1996).  Report from the Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  Washington, DC. 

Susceptibility factors are considered an important part of the research on battered woman syndrome because of the patterns of background that can exist with these women as a group.

Susceptibility (High Risk) Factors

Some reported events in the battered women’s past occurred with sufficient regularity to warrant further study as they point to a possible susceptibility factor that interferes with their ability to successfully stop the batterers’ violence toward them once he initiates it.  It was originally postulated that such a susceptibility potential could come from rigid sex role socialization patterns that leave adult women with a sense of ‘learned helplessness’ so that they do not develop appropriate skills to escape from being further battered.  This theory does not negate the important coping skills that battered women do develop that protect most of them from being more seriously harmed and killed.  However, it does demonstrate the psychological pattern that the impact from experiencing abuse can take and helps understand how some situations do escalate without intervention.  While data supports this hypothesis, it appears to be more complicated than originally viewed.  This viewpoint also assumes that there are appropriate skills to be learned that can stop the battering, other than terminating the relationship.  In fact, the data does not support the theory that doing anything other than leaving would be effective, and in some cases, the women must leave town and hide from the man in order to be safe.  Later, it was found that even leaving did not protect many women from further abuse.  Many men used the legal system to continue abusing the woman by forcing her into court and continuing to maintain control over her finances and children.

It was expected that battered women who were overly influenced by the sex role demands just because of being women would be traditional in their own attitudes toward the roles of women.  Instead, the data indicated the women perceived themselves as more liberal than most

in such attitudes.  They did perceive their batterers held very traditional attitudes toward women, which probably produced some of the disparity and conflict in the man’s or woman’s set of expectations for their respective roles in their relationship.  The women saw their batterer’s and their father’s attitudes toward women as similar, their mother’s and nonbatterer’s attitudes as more liberal than the others, but less so than their own.  There is an absence of an attitude measure to indicate how a victim of battering actually behaves despite these attitudes.  It is probably safe to assume that the batterer’s control forces the battered women to behave in a more traditional way than they state they would prefer.  From a psychologist’s viewpoint, this removes power and control from the woman and gives it to the man, causing the woman to perceive herself as a victim.  It also can create a dependency in both the woman and the man, so that neither of them feel empowered to take care of oneself.

Other events reported by the women that put them at high risk included early and repeated sexual molestation and assault, high levels of violence by members in their childhood families, perceptions of critical or uncontrollable events in childhood and adolescence, and the experience of other conditions, which placed them at high risk for depression.  It is clear that there is a common thread among the various forms of violence against women, especially when studying the commonality of the psychological impact on women (Walker, 1994;  Koss et al., 1994).

Finkelhor’s (1979) caution that seriousness of impact of sexual abuse on the child cannot be determined by only evaluating the actual sex act performed has been supported by data from subsequent studies.  Trauma symptoms were reportedly caused by many different reported sex acts, attempted or completed, that then negatively influenced the woman’s later sexuality, and perhaps influenced her perceptions of her own vulnerability to continued abuse.  Incest victims learned how to gain the love and affection they needed through sexual activity.  Some battered women evidently do also (Thyfault, 1980).  These findings were consistent with reports of battering in dating couples studied on college campuses (Levy, 1991).  The critical factor reported for those cases was the level of sexual intimacy that had begun in the dating couples.  At the very least, the fear of losing parental affections and disruption of their home-life status quo seen in sexually abused children was similar to the battered women’s fears of loss of the batterer’s affection and disruption of their relationship’s status quo.

The impact of physical abuse reported in the women’s childhood has not been clear from the research.  Part of this difficulty has been due to definitional problems that remain a barrier to better understanding violence in the family.   The research data  does indicate women perceived male family members as more likely to engage in battering behavior that is directed against women.  They perceived the highest level of whatever behavior they defined as battering to have occurred in the batterer’s home, and the least amount of abuse to have occurred in the nonbatterer’s home. 

The opportunity for modeling effective responses to cope with surviving the violent attacks but not for either terminating or escaping them occurred in those homes where the women described witnessing or experiencing abusive behavior.  Certainly, the institutionalized acceptance of violence against women further reinforced this learned response of acceptance of a certain level of battering, provided it was defined as occurring for socially accepable reasons, like punishment.  Even today, those who work with batterers report that the men who do take responsibility for their violent behavior often rationalize their abuse as being done in the name of teaching their women a ‘lesson’ (Dutton, 1995; Jacobson & Gottman, 1998).  This is dangerously close to the message that parents give children when they physically punish them ‘for their own good’ or to teach them a ‘lesson.’ In fact, although the psychological data are clear that spanking children does more harm than good, the fact that it remains a popular method of discipline is one of the noteworthy dilemmas (APA, 1995).

Men’s dominance over women in a patriarchal society is an important factor in spouse abuse.  Walker's (2000) data, as well as those of Straus et al. (1980), Berk et al. (1983), and Fagan et al. (1983), demonstrate that in homes where the man is more dominant, the woman is more likely to suffer domestic violence.


American Psychological Association.  (1995).  Issues and dilemmas in family violence from the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  Washington, DC:  Walker.

Berk, R.A., Berk, S.F., Loeske, D., & Rauma, D. (1983).  Mutual combat and other family violence myths.  In D. Finkelhor, R. Gelles, C. Hotaling, & M.A. Straus (Eds.), The dark side of families (pp. 197-212).

Dutton, D.G. (1995).  The batterer: A psychological profile.  New York: Basic Books.

Fagan, J.A., Stewart, D.K., & Hansen, K.V. (1983).  Violent men or violent husbands?

Background factors and situational correlates of severity and location of violence.  In D. Finkelhor, R.A. Gelles, G. Hotaling, & M.A. Straus (Eds.), The dark side of families. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Finkelhor, D. (1979, new edition may be 1981)  Sexually victimized children.  New York:  The Free Press.

Jacobson, N.S., & Gottman, J.M. (1998).  When men batter women: New insights into ending abusive relationships.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

Koss, M.P., Goodman, L.A., Browne, A., Fitzgerald, L.F., Keita, G.P., & Russo, N.F. (1994). 

No safe haven: Male violence against women at home, at work, and in the community.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Levy, B. (1991,  new edition may be 1998).  Dating violence: Young women in danger.  Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Straus, M.A., Gelles, R.J., & Steinmetz, S.K. (1980).  Behind closed doors: Violence in the American family.  Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday.

Thyfault, R. (1980a, April).  Sexual abuse in the battering relationship.  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Conference, Tucson, Arizona.

Thyfault, R. (1980b, October).  Childhood sexual abuse, marital rape, and battered women: Implications for mental health workers.  Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Colorado Mental Health Conference, Keystone.

Walker, L.E.A. (1994).  Abused women and survivor therapy: A practical guide for the psychotherapist.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Walker, L.E. (2000).  The battered woman syndrome.  Springer Publishing Company.

Historical Background of Spouse Abuse.   The origins of spouse abuse have been traced back to the times when history was first recorded. Biblical references to wife-beating are commonly cited as are similar religious exhortations to treat wives with respect and tenderness.  Patriarchy is often blamed for the introduction of sexism in society through its subordination of women concept (Stone, 1976), and the Dobashes (1981) carefully tract its linkages to spouse abuse. Familiarity with this historical analysis is critical for potential researchers so as not to get caught up in hypothesizing causation theories, which do not take its long history into account.  History also forces researchers to look at linkages of woman-battering to other violent acts committed by men against those weaker and less powerful than themselves, usually women and children.  Most agree that men continue to use violence as a method of getting what they want because it is successful and no one stops them (Straus et al., 1980; Walker, 1979).   The tenacity with which assaults against women continue provides the empirical evidence that violence is seen as a useful tactic to keep a male-dominant, patriarchal social order in place.  Commonalities seen in strategies by men to exploit and abuse women also are seen in the psychological consequences for women (Koss et al., 1994, Walker, 2000).


Dobash, R.E., & Dobash, R.P. (1981).  Violence against wives.  New York: MacMillan Free Press.

Koss, M.P., Goodman, L.A., Browne, A., Fitzgerald, L.F., Keita, G.P., & Russo, N.F. (1994).  No safe haven: Male violence against women at home, at work, and in the community. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Stone, M. (1976, new edition may be 1978).  When God was a woman.  New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Straus, M.A., Gelles, R.J., & Steinmetz, S.K. (1980).  Behind closed doors: Violence in the American family.  Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday.

Walker, L.E. (1979).  The battered woman.  New York: Harper & Row.

Walker, L.D. (2000).  The battered woman syndrome.  Springer Publishing Co.

Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS)

To measure the level of traditionality of the woman’s own attitudes toward the role of women as well as her perception of the attitudes of significant other people in her environment, the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS) was administered at four different times during the interview in one of the larger studies of battered woman syndrome Walker (2000).   

The 25 items selected for the shortened version of the original Likert-type scale are highly correlated with the full test (Spence et al., 1973).  The scores reflect the degree to which an individual holds traditional or liberal views about women’s roles.  The higher the score, the more liberal the views.  The normative sample consisted of college men, women, their fathers and their mothers.

It is noteworthy that, in Walker's sample, the reported mothers’ mean of 40.16 is about the same as college students’ mothers’ reported means of 41.86.  The reported father’s AWS score of

27.06 is considerably more traditional than the college students’ fathers’ reported mean score of 39.22.  Thus, the attitudes toward the role of women were either different in the battered women’s childhood homes than in those where the normative sample grew up, or they learned to think about gender roles differently (Caplan & Caplan, 1994).


Caplan, P.J., & Caplan, J.B. (1994, new edition is 2008).  Thinking critically about research on sex and gender.  New York: Harper Collins.

Spence, J.T., & Helmreich, R. (1972).  The attitude toward women scale: An objective instrument to measure attitudes towards the rights and roles of women in contemporary society.  JSAS, Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 2(66), 1-51.

Spence, J.T., Helmriech, R., & Stapp, J. (1973).  A short version of the attitudes toward women scale (AWS).  Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 2(4), 219-220.

Walker, L.E.  (2000).  The battered woman syndrome.  Springer Publishing Co.

Learned helplessness is considered an important feature of the battered woman syndrome.  As will be explained below there is a certain mind set that is common when a woman is caught in the cycle of violence and tries to control the outcome, when she is really unable.

Learned Helplessness

Those who have developed learned helplessness have a reduced ability to predict that their actions will produce a result that can protect them from adversity.  As the learned helplessness is developing, the person (a woman in the case of battered women) chooses responses to the perceived danger that are most likely to work to reduce the pain from trauma. Sometimes those responses become stereotyped and repetitive, foregoing the possibility of finding more effective responses.  In classical learned helplessness theory, motivation to respond is impacted by the perception of global and specific attitudes that may also guide their behavior. It is important to recognize that their perceptions of danger are accurate; however, the more pessimistic they are, the less likely they will choose an effective response, should such a response be available.

Psychologist Martin Seligman who first studied learned helplessness in the laboratory (1975) has now looked at the resiliency factor of ‘learned optimism’ as a possible preventive for development of depression and other mental disorders. (1991, 1994).  Walker was the first research to use the construct of learned helplessness to help explain the psychological state of mind of the battered woman (Walker, 2000).  Initially, many advocates who worked with battered women did not like the implications of the term ‘learned helplessness,’ because they felt it suggested that battered women were helpless and passive and therefore, invalidated all the many brave and protective actions they do take to cope as best they can with the man’s violent behavior.  This attitude change once the concept of learned helplessness was really understood as it relates to domestic violence.  It also makes good sense to train high-risk children and adults to become more optimistic as a way to resist the detrimental psychological impact from exposure to trauma.  Seligman (1994) has developed just such a treatment program called ‘posture psychology.’

Seligman’s (1978) reformulation of learned helplessness theory suggests an attributional style of assigning causality for successful experiences to external and specific factors and failures to internal and global ones.  Thus, someone with an external attribution might think that their success was due to luck and a particular combination of things that day whereas their getting a beating was because they failed to keep their mouth shut and didn’t pay enough attention to the abuser.  Attributional style is an integral concept to the battered woman syndrome, because of the central role her perception plays in her response to her husband's abuse.


Seligman, M.E.P. (1975).  Helplessness: On depression, development, and death.  San Fransisco, CA: W.H. Freeman.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1991).  Learned optimism.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1994).  What you can change and what you can’t: The complete guide to successful self-improvement.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1978).  Comment and integration.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 165179.

Walker (2000).  The battered woman syndrome.  Springer Publishing Co.

Survival or Coping Skills

The activity level of women after the first abusive incident shows a decrease, with 61% of the women being rated as ‘more active than passive’ or ‘very active’ before the incident and only 22% after the incident.  Also, after repeated battering, only 48% still remained ‘more active’ or ‘very active’ while 40% did something active following the third significant beating.  It should be noted here that subjective ratings were used by trained interviewers and despite attempts to do reliability ratings, their accuracy should be cautiously accepted.  Nevertheless, these findings demonstrate that even when most seriously battered, about one-half of the women still took some action to survive (Walker, 2000).

These results are consistent with the learned helplessness theory in that they took this action without any belief that it would contingently stop the battering.  Their behavior could be interpreted as a basic coping mechanism, much like Seligman’s (1975) dogs, who used passivity as their way to stay alive.  The analogy is in the failure for both the dogs and the battered woman to develop adequate escape skills.  Failure to develop such adequate problem-solving skills can be seen in Seligman’s (1975) later human subjects caused by experimentally produced learned helplessness.  The data suggest evaluating the men’s violent acts for power and control differently than the woman’s, who strike back in self-defense, to stay alive or minimize their possible injuries.


Seligman, M.E.P. (1975).  Helplessness: On depression, development, and death.  San Fransisco, CA: W.H. Freeman.

 Walker, L.E.A. (2000).  The battered woman syndrome.   Springer Publishing Company.

Locus of Control

Attribution style is a concept from social psychology where people are believed to have consistent ways to view what happened to them.  These beliefs can be categorized into ‘internal’ and ‘external’ types.  Those who are more ‘internal’ believe that they have control over their lives–it is their abilities and competence or lack of it that results in what happens in their lives. Those who are more ‘external’ believe that other people and situations are more likely to control what happens in their lives.  Attribution theory suggests that whatever style the person has, it is pretty stable over time and across situations.

As part of the standardized tests administered at the end of the interview, each subject was asked to complete Levenson’s (1972) locus of control scale to measure her attribution style. Levenson’s items are written to apply personally to each subject, (i.e., whereas Rotter says ‘most people’s lives,’ Levenson says ‘my life’), and this scale measures three distinct types of control: internal, powerful others, and chance (IPC), rather than the broader categories of internal and external control.  The Levenson test gives a score for each of the three areas of attribution while the other test put internal-external on a continuum.

Internal Scale

It may be that battered women do believe they control their own lives.  Battered women often manipulate the environment in order to minimize the opportunity for the batterer to find a reason to be angry.  Most of our sample indicated that to avoid getting the batterer angry they would, on a day-to-day basis, keep the kids quiet so as not to disturb him (84%); make sure the house was clean when he came home (84%); cook something they knew he would like (87%); avoid subjects they knew he did not like to discuss (91%); and avoid starting conversations with him, waiting instead until he began talking to them (70%).  In addition, 40% of the women thought that they could sometimes control the batterer’s behavior.  It may be this sense of internal control that is the hope that allows the battered woman to believe she will be able to change the batterer or the environment in such a way that things will get better.


A battered woman’s life is often unpredictable. The meal she cooked last week, which conformed exactly to what he requested, may be dumped on the floor this week because now he says that he doesn’t like it.  There will be times, when no matter how carefully she plans things to keep him from getting angry, someone at work or a stranger on the street will make him mad and he takes it out on her.  When this happens she resolves to try harder next time.  Even the cycle of violence appears to make him unpredictable.  He can be violent and abusive one minute and very loving the next.  One battering may be followed by a great deal of loving contrition, while another time he may show little or no loving behavior.  Given these uncertainties, battered women’s attributional style may indeed be more complex than is measured by a single dimension locus of control scale.”


Levenson, H. (1972).  Distinctions within the concept of internal-external control: Development of a new scale.  Proceedings of the 80th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, 261-262.

Depression is a Common Symptom when a Woman is Experiencing Learned Helplessness

Radloff and Rae (1979) presented another model of depression, which may be the most helpful in interpreting results.  This model suggested that there is a causal sequence in which affective, cognitive, behavioral, and somatic realms of symptoms are logically linked.  It looks at susceptibility or vulnerability, and exposure to those factors that precipitate or trigger these vulnerabilities.  Radloff and Cox (1981) suggest that:

The cognitive dimension of depression (the expectation that goals cannot be reached by any responses available to the person) is a basic factor in learned susceptibility to depression. Depression itself will not occur unless a goal situation occurs. In other words, the precipitating factors that activate this kind of susceptibility are goals (rewards desired or punishments to be escaped or avoided).  Given a goal situation and the expectation that nothing the person can do will influence the outcome, then the person is unlikely to try to do anything.  This lack of activity is like the motivational/behavioral dimension of depression.  Depending on the environment and the generality of helpless cognitions, such as a person would be faced with more and more inescapable punishments and fewer and fewer rewards.  This would be expected to result in pain, anxiety, sadness, and lack of enjoyment (the affective dimension of depression).


Radloff, L.S., & Rae, D.S.(1979).  Susceptibility and precipitating factors in depression: Sex differences and similarities.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88(2), 174-181.

Radloff, L.S., & Cox, S. (1981).  Sex differences in depression in relation to learned susceptibility.  In S. Cox (Ed.), Female psychology: The emerging self (2nd ed.).  New York: St. Martin’s Press.


Battered Woman Syndrome as a Sub-group of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Battered woman syndrome describes a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms found in women living in battering relationships, and is best understood as a subgroup of what the American Psychological Association defines as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (American Psychological Association, 2000).  The symptoms identified as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are provided in Appendix A of this paper.  Researchers have noted that the symptom clusters of PTSD,  trauma source, intrusive symptoms, ie, flashbacks and nightmares, defensive avoidance, and withdrawal, all contribute to a kind of emotional destabilization that corresponds with a sense of helplessness characteristic of BWS.  For ease of reference the diagnostic criteria of PTSD follow, with specific symptoms placed in bold by the author.

Diagnostic Criteria for 309.81 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

A.  A traumatic event that has two of the following:

1.  The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.

2.  The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.  Note: In children, this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

B.  The traumatic event is persistently reexperienced in one (or more) of the following ways:

1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions.  Note: In young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.

2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.  Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.

3. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated).  Note: In young children, trauma specific reenactment may occur.

4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

5. Physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

C.  Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

1.  Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma

2.  Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma

3.  Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma

4.  Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities

5.  Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others

6.  Restricted range of affect (e.g. unable to have loving feelings)

7.  Sense of foreshortened future (e.g. does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or normal life span)

D.  Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:

1.  Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

2.  Irritability or outbursts of anger

3.  Difficulty concentrating

4.  Hypervigilance

5.  Exaggerated startle response

E.  Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C, and D) is more than one month.

F.   The disturbance cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

American Psychological Association (2000).  Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.  American Psychiatric Association. 

Psychological Abuse as a Contributor to PTSD

The details for psychological abuse do not tend to be quantifiably measured very well in the research, even though the women’s qualitative reports were that it caused them the most pain. The physically abusive incidents are usually so compelling and overwhelming in the amount of overt violent behavior that the psychological components get less attention.  Further, it is easier to measure and count discrete units of physically violent acts than it is to quantify the subjective pain from psychological abuse.  One of the more useful tools for measuring psychological abuse is derived from Amnesty International.  It provides the most encompassing way to categorize the qualitative data that is obtained.  Another problem with classifying psychological abuse in battering relationships is the sequencing of the pattern of abuse.  In Patterson’s (1982) study of coercive behavior in aggressive children’s family interactions, it was found that the psychologically abusive acts occurred in a pattern with negative behaviors being chained one after another followed by positive acts in the same chaining sequence.  This created what Patterson labeled, ‘chaining and fogging’ behavior that was extremely difficult to respond to.     Research over the years has supported this view,  demonstrating that it was the sequence and timing of the psychological abuse that impacted the women as well as the nature of the acts themselves. 

Two areas of psychological abuse, other than verbal harassment, that has been directly measured were social and financial isolation.

The definition of psychological torture used by Amnesty International was to understand its impact on prisoners of war and hostages.  This definition was the best objective measure of the reported psychological abuse in domestic violence and has since been used as a measurement standard in clinical assessment cases by others (Sonkin, 1995; Walker, 1994).  It includes eight areas of abuse.  They are: (1) isolation of the victims; (2) induced debility producing exhausting such as limited food or interrupted sleep patterns; (3) monopolization of perception including obsessiveness and possessiveness; (4) threats such as death of self, death of family and friends, sham executions, and other indirect threats; (5) degredation including humiliation, denial of victim’s powers, and verbal name calling; (6) drug or alcohol administration; (7) altered states of consciousness produced through hypnotic states; and (8) occasional indulgences which, when they occur at random and variable times, keep hope alive that the torture will cease. 


Patterson, G.R. (1982).  Coercive family process.  Eugene, OR: Castalia Press.

Sonkin, (1995).  Counselor's guide to learning to live without violence.  Volcano, CA:  Volcano Press.

Walker (1994).  Abused women and survivor therapy:  A practical guide for the psychotherapist. Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association.

Sexual Abuse in Marriage as a Contributor to PTSD

While the definition of a battering relationship has always included sexual abuse as part of physical abuse, not until the research data from Public Interest Directorate of the APA, (APA, 1995, 1996, 1996, 1997) were collected, it was not known precisely how the sexual abuse in the battering relationship differed from other forms of sexual abuse.  It may be the most significant fact was the realization that sexual abuse in intimate relationships is more like incest than stranger rape, that is more violent.  It is not unusual for batterers to use sexual coercion to shame and humiliate women, making it easier for them to gain their desired psychological control. Battered women often use sex to barter for their safety–if they give in to sex, even when they do not desire it, then perhaps they will not be as badly physically or psychologically harmed.  What has been researched is the impact of repeated sexual coercion and assault by someone who is capable of tender lovemaking at other times (Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985; Walker, 1979, 1994).

Rape within marriage or marriage-like relationships has been found to occur far more

frequently than previously estimated (Laura X, 1981; Martin, 1982; Russell, 1975, 1982).  Part of the difficulty in measuring incidence and prevalence rates is that of confusing definitions. Since marital partners are presumed to engage in sexual relations, such consent given automatically along with the marriage vows, it is difficult for many to conceive of either partner having the right to say, ‘no.’  Sexual assault statutes used to exclude marital rape but now, according to the National Clearinghouse for the Study of Marital Rape, all states in the United States now permit some form of criminal prosecution (Laura X, 1981).  Even so, as long as the couple is living together, unless the forced sex includes physical assault that can be prosecuted under the regular assault of domestic violence laws, it may not be considered criminal behavior and its effects are usually discounted.  Even when they are no longer living together, it is difficult to persuade prosecutors to take on these cases.

Walker (2000) noted that in one large sample of battered women,  59% said that they were forced to have sex with the batterer as compared to 7% with the nonbatterer.  With the batterer, 41% were asked to perform what they described as unusual sex acts, as compared to 5% of the nonbatterer.  Women reported being forced to insert objects in their vaginas, engage in group sex, have sex with animals, and partake in bondage and various other sadomasochistic activities. 

Walker's (2000) research on battered women reporting forced sex is consistent with that of other researchers on violence against women.  Frieze (1980) found that 34% of the battered women in her sample were victims of at least one incident of marital rape with 11% stating it occurred several times or often.  Finkelhor and Yllo (1985) report Pagelow’s (1982) study found 37% said their husbands or cohabiting partner raped them.  This compares to 59% in Walker's (2000) sample, a figure that is almost twice as high as the others.  None of these studies used a random sampling technique due to the difficulties in obtaining a sufficiently large population of women who had experienced partner abuse.  One explanation for the larger Walker number is that their questions were more carefully worded due to the experience of underreporting that the other researchers had previously reported.


American Psychological Association.  (1995).  Issues and dilemmas in family violence from the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  Washington, DC.

American Psychological Association.  (1996).  Report from the Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  Washington, DC.

American Psychological Association.  (1996).  Final Report of the Working Group on Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse.   Washington, DC.

American Psychological Association. (1997).  Potential problems for psychologists working with the area of interpersonal violence.  Report of the ad hoc committee on legal and ethical issues in the treatment of interpersonal violence.  Washington, DC.

Finkelhor, D., & Yllo, K. (1985).  License to rape: Sexual abuse of wives.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Frieze, I.H. (1980).  Causes and consequences of marital rape.  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Montreal, Canada.

Laura X. Clearinghouse on Marital Rape (1981).  Women’s Herstory Research Center, 2325 Oak Str., Berkeley, CA 94708.

Martin, V. (1982).  Wife-beating: A product of socio-sexual development.  In M. Kirkpatrick (Ed.), Women’s sexual experiences: Explorations of the dark continent (pp.247-261). New York: Plenum Press.

Pagelow, M.D. (1993).  Justice for victims of spouse abuse in divorce and child custody cases.  Violence and Victims, 8, 69-83.

Russell, D.E.H. (1975).  The politics of rape.  New York: Stein & Day.

Russell, D.E.H. (1982).  Rape in marriage.  New York: Macmillan.

Walker, L.E. (1979).  The battered woman.  New York: Harper & Row.

Walker, L.E.A. (1994).  Abused women and survivor therapy: A practical guide for the psychotherapist.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Walker, L.E.A. (2000) The battered woman syndrome.  Springer Publishing Company.

Misdiagnosis of  Emotional Symptoms because of PTSD

Rosewater’s (1985) research on Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) profiles for over 100 battered women was a turning-point that helped measure and explain some of the initial misdiagnoses.  Rosewater found that her sample appeared to have profiles that were similar to other emotionally disturbed women, particularly those with schizophrenia and borderline diagnoses.  But when using a subscale analysis, inconsistencies were found that could differentiate battered women from the others.  Rosewater concluded that it would be quite easy to misdiagnose battered women as having a serious mental illness if cautions weren’t taken to account for the influence of having to cope with battering.  For example, it is reasonable for a battered woman to believe she has been betrayed and that someone is out to get her without it being indicative of paranoid ideation.  And, it is common for battered women to become cognitively confused without having psychotic ideation.

Herman’s (1992) formulation of a complex post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis that occurs in many female trauma victims further explains the inherent problems in looking for a personality theory to explain battered women’s psychological functioning.  She found that many trauma victims, particularly those who have experienced multiple forms of trauma beginning in childhood, develop a complex form of PTSD that is directly related to the experiences and not personality.  When their situation becomes safe, many of the so-called personality traits drop out spontaneously or respond to therapy unlike personality disorders.  Barnett and LaViolette (1993) use behavioral constructs that also are more consistent with the clinical and research data on battered women while Hansen and Harway (1993) add a feminist family therapy approach.


Barnett, O.W., & LaViolette, A. (1993).  It could happen to anyone: Why do battered women stay.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Hansen, M., & Harway, M. (Eds.).  (1993).  Battering and family therapy: A feminist perspective.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Herman, J.L. (1992).  Trauma and recovery.  New York: Basic Books.

Rosewater, L.B. (1985).  Feminist interpretations of traditional testing.  In L.B. Rosewater & L.E.A. Walker (Eds.), Handbook of feminist therapy (pp.  266-273).  New York: Springer.


The Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS)was originated as a concept by Dr. Lenore Walker, in the  late 1970's.  Since that time BWS has been subjected to further research, has been used by mental health practitioners who treat victims of domestic violence, and has been used by the defense in criminal cases, since the early 1980's.  Walker noted a pattern in the responses of women to domestic violence.  This pattern is a three phase cycle and is the central feature of BWS.  First is the tension-building phase, followed by the second phase of intensified battering/ psychological abuse.  The third and culminating phase is a calm, loving respite, often referred to as the honeymoon phase.  Considerable research since this original work by Walker has affirmed the actuality of BWS and this three stage cycle of abuse.  In addition, characteristics of women suffering from BWS and conditions that contribute to this syndrome have become better understood. 

Over the years research has been undertaken in order to identify variables which would identify and assist in understanding battered women and to test theories specific to understanding the violence.  Two theories figure prominently in the research in this field:  The Walker cycle theory of violence and Seligman's theory of learned helplessness.  Support has been found for both theories tested–the application of the Walker cycle theory of violence and learned helplessness to battered women.   An analysis of the perceptions of battered women corroborate the persevering symptom cluster known as The Battered Woman Syndrome.

Research indicates the interrelationship between gender roles and violence in the environment does have an impact on the woman's reaction to violence.  The data indicate that the woman’s current state of functioning is influenced by her earlier experiences, a finding common in psychological studies.  This susceptibility to remaining a victim has been described in the development of learned helplessness.  However, the reality of fear and terror was also found to be a factor in making it difficult to terminate these violent relationships.  The role of the cycle theory has been found to reinforce the positive factors in the relationship.  Battered women were most likely to terminate the battering relationship when the divergence between the tensionbuilding and loving-contrition phases begins to widen, and the reinforcement begins to decrease.

Sex was used as a power weapon to dominate the battered women in the same manner that physical violence was used.  Marital rape has been commonly reported.

Battered women are most likely to leave the relationship when the rewards from the loving kindness phase 3 decrease.  The divergence between the tension building phase 1 of the cycle and the loving-contrition phase 3 widens, so that the cost benefit ratio changes and the woman receives less reinforcement for staying in the relationship. 


The author of this paper has worked with female victims of domestic violence for over 20 years.  He has found BWS to be a useful paradigm with which to treat these women.  It is a paradigm that fits the world of these women well, and one they understand by experience.

The clinician has attempted to demonstrate from the professional research the empirical support for “Battered Woman Syndrome.”  Variables that constitute this phenomena have been identified and researched, as any other behavioral science theories have been.  The combination of research findings with clinical observations resulting from mental health practitioners working with women in domestic violence relationships, have given strong scientific support for BWS. Furthermore, forensic precedent in the courts, based on the work of expert witnesses testifying of Battered Woman Syndrome, have provided significant support of this paradigm. 

If the clinician may be non-academic for a moment, as part of this conclusion.  Many cases he has observed follow this scenario:  A women enters a relationship with a man full of hope that this is going to be a loving relationship, based on his behavior during courtship.  At first he continues his loving behaviors.  Then gradually she observes that her husband becomes more controlling and more demanding.  There were few if any clues of him being this way as they dated and courted.  She desires to please him, but his negative behaviors escalate, and she feels increasingly unable to satisfy his demands.  But periodically he seems loving again, like he used to be, and her hope is renewed.  She thinks, “this is the real husband, and the other mean man is someone else he becomes when he's stressed.”  She anticipates being with the “real husband,” again but his appearances seem to be less often, and she cannot make a connection between what she does and her husband's responses.  What does she do to make the “real husband” come back? She begins to fear the mean husband, but she feels trapped;  trapped by her desire to be with the man she married but fearful of the other man who has taken over their relationship.  Other fears plague her as well.  How will she provide for herself and her children? How will she justify leaving him?  Who will believe her?  By the time their relationship reaches this stage there may be a child or two.  As things worsen it becomes clear there seems to be no way out of this hurtful and even dangerous relationship that began full of hope.  This, of course, happens over a period of time.  Her self-esteem, her sense of worth and adequacy, her selfreliance is eroded away, leaving her with few resources with which to solve her problems.  She feels increasingly powerless, but this doesn't abate the intensifying feelings she has, building like a pressure cooker on a burner.