Cycle of Violence

Phase One: Tension Building

Tension in the relationship begins to build.  The abuser can be emotionally abusive and behavior becomes more frequent, hostile, and for longer durations of time. During this phase the abused individual usually tries to appease, apologize, and/or avoid perceived conflict to cope with emotional abuse; this is done in an attempt to reduce tension and reduce abuse.   As the tension increases, strategies to reduce tension are unsuccessful and verbal abuse may become more frequent.  During this phase abusers’ commonly yell, swear, threaten, criticize, and/or use angry gestures.  Communication continues to breaks down, stress builds in the relationship, and the abused individual senses danger.  The abused individual may hope that things will change and the abuser commonly blames external factors for their emotionally abusive behavior. In my own practice, I have worked with people who are being abused during this phase who will create conflict so that the “explosion” will occur and their anxiety will be reduced.  

Phase Two: Explosion

Tension reaches a climax, a major assault and/or several assaults happen over a shorter (more frequent) period of time.  The abused individual may attempt to protect themselves; some may not resist assaults in fear of experiencing a prolonged assault, and others escape and return home, once the crisis is over.  During this phase the anxiety for the abused individual is extremely high as the buildup is about to peak- the abuser is ready for a violent incident and acts on it.

Phase Three: Honeymoon

During this final stage, the abusive event has passed, and the abuser’s objective is to keep the abused individual in the relationship. The way they attempt to achieve this goal include: apologizing for behavior, being affectionate, kind gestures, and promising to change/receive help. Abuser may provide “reasons” for the abuse that minimize the abusive act, act remorseful, or seek forgiveness.  Other tactics may include questioning the well-being of children if the relationship ends or using other tactics to keep the partner in the relationship.  The abuse temporarily stops, the abused is relieved the crisis has passed.   Often times the one who is being abused is so exhausted, has reduced self-esteem, and poor support system that they are willing to accept the abuser’s promises and create rationales for staying in the relationship. 

The cycle of violence is known for having a downward spiral, meaning, as each cycle occurs the abusive behavior can become more violent and the phases become more extreme.  Early violence during the explosion phase often includes emotional abuse, verbal abuse, hitting/throwing objects, and making threats.  There are always variations in abuse, not all abusive relationships experience this pattern.  If you think that you are in an abusive relationship or believe that you are abusive to others (whether you are experiencing this pattern or not) call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) for help. 

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