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Jaime Castillo
Jul 11, 2011

Battered Person Syndrome, PTSD, and Bullying

Yesterday I finished a very interesting book titled 19 minutes, by Jodi Picoult. It is a story (fiction) about a small town in New Hampshire that experiences a school shooting at the hands of a young boy. The story follows the life of several characters before, during, and after the event, offering the reader an interesting perspective into the minds of parents, teachers, and students during a truly traumatic time. The focus, however, surrounds a young boy named Peter (the shooter) and his experiences with bullying from Kindergarten through High School, ultimately leading to the shooting. Picoult offers an accurate portrayal of the various forms of bullying, direct/indirect, as well as cyber-bullying, and the psychological effects experienced by the victim. This is a great book to read and use to facilitate group discussions as well as issues of bullying, depression, PTSD, teen violence, pregnancy and suicide are all discussed.

During the book the main character -Peter attends trial for the crimes he committed the day of the shooting. The most interesting part of the story from my perspective, however, was when his lawyer, upon learning the severity of bullying his client experienced over the course of his life, thought to describe his client (Peter) as a victim of “Battered Person Syndrome.” For those of you not familiar with this term, Battered Person Syndrome occurs when a person attacks, or kills a partner, and it is done as a result of being physically and psychologically abused or beaten over an extended period of time. The theory is often paired with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now when Battered Person Syndrome manifests as PTSD, it consists of the following symptoms: (a) re-experiencing the battering as if it were reoccurring even when it is not, (b) attempts to avoid the psychological impact of battering by avoiding activities, people, and emotions, (c) hyperarousal or hypervigilance, (d) disrupted interpersonal relationships, (e) body image distortion or other somatic concerns, and (f) sexuality and intimacy issues. Because of this, the victim may develop an irrational belief system to justify their situation. They may adopt feelings that the violence is their fault, always fear for their life, and that the abuser is omnipresent, aka…everywhere always. In the story the lawyer pleads that his client suffered from this condition as a result of years and years of bullying victimization and that he engaged in the shooting as method to stop the bullies (abusers).

As I read this book, in particular the part that first introduced the “Battered Person Syndrome” application to victims of bullying, I found myself putting the book down to really think, “could this happen in real life?” Now if a bullying victim retaliates and badly beats up a known bully/aggressor, could that victim be acquitted of any charges pressed on the grounds of a type of PTSD or Battered Person Syndrome? How prevalent is PTSD among bullied victims?

What are your thoughts of Battered Person Syndrome and PTSD with regards to bullying victims? Have you experienced these traits in past clients who were victims of bullying?

Jaime Castillo is a counselor who works for a non-profit agency in New York City.

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