The Psychology of Trauma

Domestic Violence

What are the psychological reasons that battered women stay?

Hedda Nussbaum came to national attention after the 1987 beating death of her illegally adopted daughter, Lisa Steinberg. In 1989 her live-in companion, Joel Steinberg, was convicted of manslaughter in the child’s death. Initially, Nussbaum was also charged in her death, given her failure to take action to protect her daughter. However, Nussbaum was also a victim of Joel Steinberg’s abuse. Eventually, the court agreed that years of physical, sexual, and psychological torture rendered Nussbaum both psychologically and physically incapable of taking action against him, even to save her child’s life. Steinberg’s constant and brutal battery left Nussbaum permanently disfigured.

The whole aim of coercive control is to break down the independence of the victim. The verbal abuse, terror, unpredictability, and enforced social isolation all powerfully serve to crush a victim’s sense of self and even her sense of reality. A psychologically broken woman may not feel she is capable of living without her batterer. This is why so many women return to their batterer after they have left him.


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