Cycle Of Abuse

I was chatting with a friend the other day about the cycle of abuse. There has been a shift in her thinking about a few people in her life recently and as the world changes, she is seeing things a lot more objectively. She’s seeing abuse were previously she saw herself as the cause of the actions of the abuser.

The theory isn’t entirely comprehensive but it does an effective job at describing a lot of abuse situations. There are 4 stages that those caught in abusive or conflict prone relationships will cycle through at various speeds:

  1. Tension building phase – communication is starting to breakdown, the victim begins to modify their behavior in an effort to avoid triggering their partner to act abusively.
  2. Acting-out phase – the abuser does or says something that hurts the victim physically or emotionally. It could be a punch in the face, the threat of violence or a manipulative technique. The goal of the abuser is to control the thoughts, emotions or actions of the victim.
  3. Reconciliation or honeymoon phase – this marks the end of the abusive behavior and the start of the apologies. It is paradoxical in that the abuser is trying to control how the victim feels in order to restore the relationship back to *normal*. The abuser will often be extremely nice, apologetic and kind during this phase, or they can use psychological manipulation to win back or coerce the victim back into the relationship.
  4. Calm phase – this is the phase between the acceptance of the reconciliation and the start of the tension building phase.

This isn’t entirely earth shattering, but it is a fairly good model for what happens in a number of abusive relationships.

The conversation moved towards the calm phase and how it never seemed to last very long. In fact, my friend had noticed two disturbing things about the temporal nature of the cycle.

The first is that over a period of a few years, she noticed that SHE never really entered into the calm phase or the honeymoon period either as she could never get past what had been said to her by someone who apparently loved her and she couldn’t understand how the abuser had put it behind them so quickly e.g. “how can he not still feel horrible about saying or doing that to me?”

The second was that the calm phase was getting shorter and shorter as she related her awareness of the cycle to her partner. He didn’t respond well to being made aware that the behavior was automatic, as he claimed to have no awareness that is was happening and objected to her suggestion that he was in control of his anger as it was clearly a response to something she was doing. The thing was, after the acting out phase, he always apologized and admitted that his behavior was out-of-line. She was able to circumvent the honeymoon portion and the calm phase and go directly to the tension building phase simply by letting him know which state they were in.

I’ve yet to meet someone who was caught in the cycle of abuse who was able to stop it; this isn’t to say that it can’t be stopped, just that I haven’t met an abuser who as objective enough to see the cycle for what it was and be willing to see and take on their role in putting an end to the pattern. Which does, sadly, make a lot of sense given that objectivity is needed and in partnerships of abuse, it is sadly lacking. I have met a lot of ex-abusers who are filled with remorse for throwing away relationships, children, friendship and a lot of good times because they didn’t see the cycle until it was too late.

In the end it works out though. They learn their lesson and take care of their next partner while their previous partner moves on to deal with the residue from being treated like a psychological punchbag for years.