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Cycle of Violence

The cycle of violence was first presented by Lenore Walker in her landmark book, The Battered Woman, to describe some women’s experience of physical abuse in their relationships. Since then, the cycle has been widely used by domestic violence advocates and proved useful to many victims of domestic violence to explain their experience of abuse.

Please keep in mind that the above wheel doesn’t necessarily cover all violent relationships.  There are some things to keep in mind:

  1. the cycle may be at the early stages of a relationship and may not be ongoing/chronic
  2. note that the cycle doesn’t only involve physical abuse, there is also mental, emotional, financial, sexual and verbal
  3. what constitutes abuse is different to different people – someone who had an abusive childhood may not be able to be screamed at during an argument because it causes them to shut down, if their partner knows this about their history and uses it against them that too can be considered abusive

Professionals need to remember that they have no idea how many times the victim went through the cycle before leaving.

Victims need to know that they longer they stay the more lethal and frequent the cycle will become.

Tension Phase – this is a phase where minor incidents happen such as arguments, verbal abuse, mild physical abuse (pushing, shoving), harsh words, etc. The victim is “walking on eggshells” and tries to avoid the abuser or may attempt to calm them whenever possible.  The victim believes staying out of the way will keep it from happening, that the abuser will get back to “normal” soon and nothing will happen.  As this phase escalates the victim’s coping mechanisms lessen as do the ability to stay out of the way, keep quiet, deal with the situation in general.

Explosion – the tension reaches the breaking point and the violence occurs. There is so much anger within the abuser that they lash out with no holding back whether it’s verbal or physical. They may even try to rationalize that the victim had it coming and list their grievances from the tension phase. Often the attack is followed by shock and denial on the part of both the victim and the abuser, both may attempt to rationalize it and the victim will attempt to minimize the marks left from physical abuse.

Happy (Honeymoon) Times – are when the abuser is extremely loving, kind, hearts, candy and flowers sweet, full of apology. They ask for forgiveness and swear it’ll never happen again. They may even promise to stop doing a certain behavior (drinking, drugs, gambling, working too much etc.). that led to the tension phase. The bad part about this phase is it brings about false hope, the victim sees a piece of the partner they had (or thought they had) and still want. The victim wants so much to believe the apology and the promises that they wither because they feel that the abuser is being honest and they see desperation and fear of loneliness and alienation which they don’t want to be responsible for.

Those who get to the happy phase will often stop seeing counselors and support groups, cease divorce proceedings and drop charges. They believe the situation has been repaired.

Then the tension builds and the cycle repeats.

Are you in a healthy relationship? Healthy Relationship Quiz