Updated: Mar 25
Therapists and other experts often talk about abuse as something that happens within a cycle, sometimes called “The cycle of violence.” But what is this cycle exactly?
The cycle of abuse illustrates common patterns of abusive behavior in relationships. The cycle helps provide clues toward understanding why people experiencing abuse often find it difficult to break free.
Four stages of the cycle
1. Building tension; tensions build, abusive partners often lash out in response to external stressors. Family issues, trouble at work, physical illness, and fatigue. Frustration and dissatisfaction intensify over time prompting feelings of powerlessness, injustice, anger, and paranoia. Sensing this tension one may look for ways to calm the abusive partner and prevent abuse from happening. You may feel anxious, on guard, and hyper-alert.
2. An incident of abuse; The abuser eventually releases this tension on others, attempting to regain power and control. They might accuse you of making them mad or blame you for the problems. Remember people choose to abuse others, any tensions they experience may help explain the abuse, but it NEVER excuses it.
3. Reconciliation; After the incident of abuse, tension begins to fade. In an attempt to move past the abuse, the abuser often uses kindness, gifts, and loving gestures to lure in a “honeymoon” stage. This devoted behavior triggers the release of dopamine and oxytocin, helping you feel even more closely bonded leading you to believe you have your “real” relationship back.
4. Calm; In an effort to maintain peace and harmony, both parties come up with an explanation or justification for the abuse. The abusive partner may apologize while blaming others, point to outside factors to justify their behavior. Minimize the abuse or deny it happened, accuse you of provoking them.
They might show plenty of remorse, assure you it won’t happen again, and seem more attuned to your needs than usual. You may begin to accept their excuses and doubt your memory of the abuse. You might feel certain whatever triggered the abuse has passed and they won’t do anything like that again.
This cycle repeats over time. It happens over and over within abusive relationships. The length of time between each repetition can vary but it often shortens over time as the abuse escalates. As time goes on the calm period becomes shorter or even disappears from the cycle.
Abuse often does happen in this cycle or pattern but it doesn’t always happen in the same way. Male violence towards female partners makes up a significant component of intimate partner violence, but not all fit this model. In all cases, the responsibility for abuse lies with the abuser. No matter what you did or didn’t do, abuse is NEVER your fault.
To want to have faith in someone you love when they promise to change is normal, even when you do not fully believe them. You may worry attempting to leave could provoke more serious abuse. You may doubt you have the resources or ability to support yourself, an idea abusers reinforce. Remaining in the relationship and attempting to keep them calm, then, often becomes a survival strategy in itself.
Please refer to my article “Abuse, red flags, and prevention;"
To learn how I escaped 8 years of abuse please read my story here;