Cycle of Abuse

Cycle of Violence

Studies of battered women show that many violent relationships follow the same cycle.  This cycle seems to have three distinct phases.

PHASE ONE is the TENSION BUILDING stage during which verbal abuse and minor battering incidents occur, but are quickly covered up.  These little episodes of violence gradually increase in frequency and severity.

At this stage, the woman puts a lot of energy into trying to calm the batterer down.  She may try to please him to keep him from becoming more abusive or may just try to stay out of his way.  In some relationships this tension building stage can go on for years.  In others, it lasts only days.

During this part of the cycle the batterer becomes more and more threatening and she finds it more and more difficult to cope with his behaviour.

He is aware that his behaviour is wrong, and he fears that she may become so disgusted with him that she will leave.  So he becomes more oppressive, jealous, and possessive in order to keep her captive.  As the situation gets out of control, the woman gets frantic.  Her own anger builds and tension between the two of them becomes unbearable.

Sometimes, when she cannot bear the tension any longer, a battered woman will provoke her partner; not in order to get hurt, but to break the tension and get the incident over with.  She knows she is going to “get it” anyway, but she can name the time and place, and she can retain some control in the situation.

PHASE TWO, THE EXPLOSION, is the most violent part of the cycle.  It is also the shortest.  During phase two his rage is totally out of control and she is often severely beaten before he is able to regain his composure.  When the acute attack is over, it is usually followed by shock, denial and disbelief.  The batterer cannot believe what he’s done and the woman feels violated and hopeless.

The reactions that women go through following an acute battering incident are similar to those of disaster victims.  They suffer complete emotional collapse and tend to remain isolated at least for the first twenty-four hours and sometimes days after the attack.  Many who do seek help will hide the true cause of their injuries to protect the batterer.  Many feel that no one can protect them from their man’s violence.

As both batterer and the victim try to cover up the seriousness of the attack, the cycle moves into the third phase.

PHASE THREE, THE HONEYMOON: The batterer realizes he has gone too far.  In most cases, he is genuinely sorry for what he has done and believes that he will never do it again.  His worst fear is that she will leave him and he does everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Both of them sincerely want to make the relationship work.

During this phase, when he is being so charming and loving, she gets a glimpse of how wonderful their relationship could be.  She wants to believe that he loves her and she wants to believe that he will change; so she convinces herself that he can do it.  She chooses to believe that the behaviour she sees during phase three is what her man is really like.  She hopes the brutal side will disappear.

So she forgives him, and for a time, everything seems fine, until the calm and loving behaviour gives way to little battering incidents again and the cycle repeats itself.

Over time, the honeymoon phases get shorter and the violent episodes get larger.

Can you recognize this cycle in your relationship?