Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Migraine, and Understanding the Invisible Nature of Abuse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While some people might not see a connection between domestic violence and migraine, it’s there, both as an explicit connection (with domestic violence increasing the risk of migraine) and as a more implicit connection. Domestic abuse, like migraine and chronic illness, is often invisible, and like many invisible illnesses it can affect people in specific ways.

Domestic abuse survivors – like those of us with chronic illness – are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders and depression than other people. This is likely due to the sense of isolation and alienation that often accompanies life with an invisible issue and the feelings of helplessness that often come hand in hand with chronic experiences we can’t control. Domestic abuse survivors, like chronic migraineurs, also are at an increased risk of suicide.

(Whether or not you are a domestic abuse survivor or a chronic migraineur, if you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless, please talk to someone right away. See below for resources on who to call.)

Domestic abuse survivors may also experience many other effects similar to those experienced by people living with invisible illness:

  • Problems with sleep;
  • Weight gain or loss;
  • Problems at work;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Problems establishing or maintaining friendships;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Feelings of guilt and/or embarrassment; and/or
  • Difficulty confiding in people.

Some forms of domestic abuse are more visible, especially once they escalate. Invisible forms, however, such as emotional and financial abuse, can be just as devastating to those experiencing them. In fact, some research suggests that emotional abuse is a more potent trigger for chronic pain and chronic conditions like migraine than physical abuse.

Regardless of the form it takes – visible or invisible – domestic abuse takes its toll on survivors. If you know someone who may be experiencing domestic violence, reach out. If you are experiencing it yourself, please get help. You do not have to go through this alone. Just because others may not see what you are going through does not mean they don’t want to help.

Helpful resources:

For more information on domestic violence and/or abuse and its connection to migraine, see the following articles:

Migraine and Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence: A Hidden Cost of Disability

Migraine and Abuse

Migraine and Childhood Abuse

Important note: The relationship between chronic illness and domestic violence runs both ways. People with chronic illnesses, especially mental illnesses and chronic pain are significantly more likely to experience domestic violence than are people without chronic conditions. If you are unsure whether you are experiencing abuse, please see the bulleted list in the first article listed above.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Luna
    4 years ago

    I used to think that the verbal and emotional abuse were the hardest to recover from. Rebuilding self-esteem, self-worth is really difficult to do. The old feelings of inadequacy and not being able to measure up crop up at the oddest times. But I don’t let that define me anymore.

    Bones may heal and bruises fade but nerve damage may not heal or may return the older I get as arthritis sets in and causes terrible nerve problems. And it seems that as my migraines have turned more silent that any weak point in the body gets in on the pain and discomfort. So there is not only a mental rememberance of the abusive relationship but a physical one as well.

  • Jules2dl
    4 years ago

    Thoughts On Verbal and Emotional Abuse

    Having been married for 27 years to a man who regularly abused our 4 children and I verbally and emotionally, I often wish he had physically abused us instead. Had he done so, I truly believe I would have left him much earlier than I did. I would not have been able to bear him physically hurting our children.
    It is so easy to believe that the person who yells at us, insults us, and shames us on a regular basis still actually loves us somehow…he or she is just stressed out. It is easy to believe that our children will grow up unscathed by a childhood of emotional abuse, but the fact is…they don’t.
    It may affect them in radically different ways, but it affects them nonetheless. It affects adults profoundly as well.
    I have 2 daughters (ages 32 and 28), and 2 sons (ages 28 and 26)…yes, the middle 2 are twins.
    My oldest daughter, Megan, is gay, which may or may not have anything to do with the emotional abuse which she endured, or which she saw me endure at the hands of her father. I’m not convinced on that point. But both girls are over-achievers. They both have Master’s degrees, Megan in Creative Writing, and Ariel in Psychology. They have made certain that they will be able to support themselves, so they will never be stuck in a bad relationship for lack of money as their mom was.
    Megan has had 5 books of poetry published, and much of her childhood angst has found its outlet in the pages of those books. She has been happily, though not yet legally, married to her partner for 5 years now. Ariel is terrified to commit to a relationship; she overanalyzes everything and everyone. She wants to make sure that there will be a happily ever after before the 2nd date.
    My boys, on the other hand, have been under achievers. The youngest, Jonathan, has pulled out of it the last 3 years or so. After going through a few really bad years of drug abuse, dropping out of high school with 1 semester to go, and just laying around doing nothing, he decided to get his GED. Then he went through Job Corps and did so well he was selected to go represent Job Corps on a trip to Washington D.C. Now he’s home, has a 1 year old son, is an excellent father, is getting married in May to a wonderful woman, and is doing very well at his job.
    His brother Larry Jr. spent several years laying on the couch at his Dad’s house (after our divorce) playing computer games. He was in his 20’s, no job, letting his education slide. He is currently 1 year away from a double Associates degree in Music Theory and Spanish, but is not in school. He’s working in a liquor store, and at least he has his own apartment and is supporting himself. He is extremely intelligent, has a near photographic memory, yet has a long history of low grades because he was too lazy to do homework when he knew he’d be able to ace the tests. I worry about him. He has a history of depression and suicidal ideation. His Dad was always the hardest on him.
    As for me, I was lying awake one night recently, and I realized that I have never felt like a confident, competent adult. I’m 55 years old. If not now, when? When I was young, I knew I was smart, I knew I was capable of doing pretty much anything I put my mind to….at least intellectually, socially I was very shy. My parents and teachers were always encouraging. I did well at my places of employment. I was always nervous when starting a new job, but deep down I knew I could handle it, that I just had to get over the hump of learning a new way to do things.
    Right now, I’m at a point where I’m terrified to get a job. I don’t feel competent to be a waitress or even to work at Walmart or Jewel. I don’t feel capable, and it slows me down, makes me second-guess myself, causes me to make mistakes.
    After 27 years of being called stupid, of hearing “you don’t know all the things I know, you’ll never know as much as I know”. After being referred to, along with your kids, as “you fucking people” and being treated, in so many ways, as if you didn’t matter, you begin to believe it. Once he dropped me off at the door of the hospital when I could barely stand up by myself and told me to get out, he was going to work. I managed to make it inside where a nurse found me on the floor and got a wheelchair. I was there for 11 days; he never visited. I realized that he was incapable of truly loving anybody but himself. He was self-centered to the max…the universe truly did revolve around him.
    Bones heal, bruises fade, but your subconscious holds onto its wounds indefinitely.
    Shame is the crop which is sown by abuse. The longer the abuse goes on, the deeper the shame takes root. It becomes as an anchor which weighs us down in heart and mind, body and soul. We come to believe that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with us. We will do anything to hide this secret from the world, and live in fear that someone will find out. We don’t even know ourselves what is wrong with us, we only know we are not “normal”. If we were, Daddy /Hubby would love us. The truth is, the shame is upon the abuser, not the abused,though neither sees it that way.
    I remarried 3 years after my divorce, to a man who is able to love completely and unselfishly. We’ve been going through a rough patch recently though, and we have both been a bit on edge. Normally we don’t disagree, and rarely argue, but we have been doing both. I notice that when we do, I almost immediately go into fight or flight mode. My head starts to pound, I get dizzy, I feel like I’m going to pass out. I start thinking about suicide. I cry. It takes me right back into those awful years with my ex, the sinking feeling in my stomach, the feeling like I’m being pounded into the ground, the tightness in my chest, the hopelessness.
    Then I’ll go lie down, hold onto my palm cross, and have a conversation with God about it. When I’m calm, I’ll go and talk to my husband, usually to find out that he really wasn’t that upset in the first place. Or, if he was, that he’s sorry he upset me.
    The revelation I had recently is that expressing anger or irritation at someone does not equal verbal abuse. Feeling anger or frustration is a normal human emotion; it is bound to crop up once in a while between any 2 people who are living in the same house, no matter how much they love each other. My husband has every right to be angry or irritated with me once in a while…I’m not perfect. I reserve the right to be angry or irritated with him every now and then as well. It is better that we express it than hold it back and let it simmer. Yes, there are better ways to express it than others, but anger is a fleeting event, while abuse is a way of life.
    Deep down, there is the fear that I will become a burden to my current husband, and he will want to divorce me. This is what happened with my ex. The kids and I had become burdens to him which he no longer wanted to shoulder. He had sacrificed so much already for us over the years. Well, what husband/father does not sacrifice for his wife and children? So I am afraid now when my husband gets angry that he is on his way to not wanting to put up with me any more.
    Now that I have become conscious and aware of all of this, however, I believe there is a good chance that I will be able to put it all behind me. It’s amazing how our subconscious minds keep us stuck in past behaviors and reflexes. Some of these might save our lives, while others might destroy them.
    Oh heavenly Father, I pray that You would send Your Holy Spirit to the hearts of my children, that they should know and accept Your Son as their Lord and Savior. I pray that the sins of their father not be visited any longer on his wife and children, that their hearts and minds shall be washed clean of shame.
    I pray this in Jesus’ sweet name,

  • Sarah Hackley author
    4 years ago


    I am sorry you experienced such abuse for so long. As you’ve said, emotional and verbal abuse can do a long-term number on us, and it can sometimes take even longer to rebuild the self-esteem sustained abuse tears down. From what you’ve described about how you feel during arguments with your current husband, you may be experiencing PTSD. Are you seeing a therapist? If not, I urge you to consider it. We all need some help sometimes, and a good therapist who specializes in domestic abuse and PTSD can be a godsend for someone in such a situation. If that isn’t what you want or you can’t do that right now, have you looked up cognitive behavioral therapy? It’s something you can do at home by yourself, and it can have real, lasting effects on your self-esteem and self-image. Regardless of what you choose to do, my thoughts are with you. With love, Sarah

  • Poll