The Cycle of Abuse

Posted by on Jun 15, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Picture-Educational-Piece-CycleDomestic abuse or violence is often thought of as either a one time event or a constant state of battery, when in fact it is neither.  In most abusive households or situations there is a recognized pattern or build up of abuse known as the cycle of abuse.  The cycle of abuse occurs in three phases: tension build-up, explosion, and remorse or honeymoon. While this general pattern exists in many abusive relationships – the specifics of this pattern differ from couple to couple.

The Build-Up Phase is characterized by the slow build-up of tension and stress. At Domestic Abuse Project we talk about the “same old stress,” contributing to the tension – trouble at work, parenting, finances, etc. As tensions continue to rise, victims anticipate what is coming and try to stop it.  This means they are doing whatever they can to please the abuser and anticipate his or her every need.  Unfortunately, pleasing the partner is rarely able to head off the partner’s abusive behavior.

The Explosion Phase is when the abusive or violent behavior happens. The abuser uses abuse to release tension. This includes all abuse, whether physical, emotional or psychological. This phase is normally much shorter than the others, typically lasting only 2 to 48 hours.  However, it is the most dangerous part of the cycle where violence has increased and the victim is most at risk. An explosion can be triggered by anything, though it is normally an outside stress to the partner, such as the “same old stress” that contributed to the tension build up before.  No matter the cause, the result can be a brutal physical or sexual assault, or a severe verbal attack.

The Remorse or Honeymoon Phase brings along a sense of calm following the attack.  The partner who uses abuse may apologize, act loving, beg forgiveness, or even swear that it will never happen again.  Often victims want the abuse to end not the relationship – so this phase gives the victim hope that her partner’s behavior will change.  Furthermore, the victim may blame herself and feel responsible for her partner’s behavior and future welfare.

The cycle of abuse does not get better with time.  As the pattern continues it is common to see the honeymoon periods get shorter and the acts of abuse more severe.  Furthermore, the victim may feel isolated or cut off from the rest of the world.  The partner may forbid them from reaching out to any friends or family members, or the shame of their situation may keep victims quiet.  Unless there is an intervention, such as therapy, that gives space for the partner to identify his abusive patterns and make changes, the cycle will repeat itself.

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