More threads by Lana


Here are two articles on cycle of abuse. What makes them different is that it's about the same thing but from different perspectives: abuser and victim.

Cycle of Abuse: Blain's Article

The Cycle of Abuse

Sometimes we refer to the cycle of abuse. One of the characteristics of abuse is its insidious tendency to produce behaviors and responses that sustain and escalate the abuse. This piece attempts to describe in very general terms this cyclic nature by describing three main phases: the Honeymoon Phase, the Tension Building Phase, and the Acting Out Phase, and how they work together to keep the relationship and the abuse going.

Honeymoon Phase

Most intimate relationships begin with the Honeymoon Phase. Eyes are starry, and everything seems wonderful. We abusers are on our very best behavior during this time: we are charming, considerate, warm, and caring. We give lots of attention. We are fun to be around. We bring romantic gifts. We wrap ourselves up in our partners' lives and are very interested in the details of their lives. We are strong and protective. We are confident. We are jealous and possessive, which we minimize and explain that we just want to take care of our partners, and don't want to see them hurt. We tend to pick partners who we are comfortable with, who, consequently, are more likely to accept our possessiveness and controlling tactics as signs of "caring."

Tension Building Phase
After a while, perhaps when we are a little secure in the relationship, something will happen. We will disagree with our partners about something, perhaps, or maybe we will have a bad day and be grouchy. We will not be as warm and fuzzy as we usually are. We stop bringing gifts quite so often because you can't do those things forever. This can be disturbing to our partners, who have come to believe that we will always be warm and fuzzy. They want us to become warm and fuzzy again, so they will try to do something nice to help us feel better. It probably works, for a while, but the tension continues to mount over time.

Acting Out Phase

After the tension builds comes the acting out, which can take many forms. It may begin small and escalate either slowly or quickly. Sometimes we'll yell, say nasty things, hit, throw things, get drunk/stoned, get in a fight with someone else, have an affair, buy something we can't afford, gamble, withdraw a little more, force sex, cut up our partners' credit cards, quit a job, embarrass our partners in public, tell stories about our partners behind their backs (or in front of them), move out, call a lawyer, restrict our partners physically, have our partners committed to mental facilities, break things, threaten violence, break a promise, drive carelessly, deprive our partners of sleep, push emotional buttons, etc. The upper limit of escalation here would include things like use of weapons, murder and suicide, and we can skip straight to that level with no warning. Whatever is done is done with the purpose of gaining and maintaining power and control over our partners; To create fear, subservience and obedience rather than respect and equality.

Honeymoon Phase
After we have committed our abuse, we feel sorry for what we've done, and will respond with The Honeymoon Phase. During this phase, we will sound repentant, cry, promise to change, be kind and loving, etc., and admit that what is going on is wrong. We become warm and fuzzy again. This is the time that we will stop and this time it will work.

This can be quite convincing, because we really mean everything we say, at least as far as the words go. The problem is that following through on the promise to change requires us to confront the whole denial thing and to admit to ourselves that our favorite argument that has helped us maintain our abuse is nothing more than a great big lie. Without outside help from those who know what to do, it is virtually impossible for us to do this step if we try. This is the test as to whether our repentance is real, or is just Honeymoon Phase crap: Do we seek out and use help from those who know how to help us, and do we stay in the program?

Tension Building Phase

After we've assuaged our guilt we forget our zeal and begin again to be irritable. Tension mounts as we leave the relatively pleasant Honeymoon behaviors behind, because we "don't have time" to do that stuff all the time. Our partners begin to "walk on pins and needles" to keep us from getting angry until finally we lose control and become abusive. Sometimes our partners will actually provoke us just to end the tension building and perhaps get the anger released before we become more dangerous.

Acting Out Phase
And so it goes, and so it goes. Over, and over, and over again until someone leaves, someone goes to jail, or someone dies.

These phases are generalities. Some phases may be skipped from time to time, and some relationships may skip a phase consistently. However, the cyclic nature is characteristic of an abusive relationship and the danger of these types of relationships results from the escalation that comes as we continue going through the cycle over and over. Abuse is not only a cyclical dysfunction -- it's also progressive, which means, perhaps counterintuitively, that things go from bad to worse, and will continue on to still worse yet until it that cycle is broken.


Cycle of Abuse: Micki's Article

The Cycle of Abuse in Domestic Violence

On the one-year anniversary date of the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, I am moved to put into words what I have seen of the cycle of domestic violence over the years. It is not a learned treatise but a down-to-earth look at the dynamics between two people. It is a cyclical phenomenon and goes something like this:

When some verbal or emotional discord emerges in the relationship, the abused spouse starts looking to herself* for what she did wrong. She tries to read her partner's mind and "fix" whatever problem she might have created. She analyzes her own behavior and tries to excuse his with some kind of rationalization. She did . . . or said . . . something wrong! (Or maybe she failed to do or say the right thing!)

As she attempts to communicate that she is sorry for her misdeeds, he becomes increasingly annoyed and perceives her as cloying, dependent, and just plain exasperating. So he begins to distance himself. She panics! "He's pulling away from me!" she thinks, and becomes even more clinging. "Don't take your love from me!" (This is the escalation phase) He doesn't feel loving. He is distanced and is getting very angry.

As she tries harder and harder to explain that she's sorry and understands what he's going through, he reaches the end of his intrapsychic rope and lashes out either physically or verbally or both! And he lashes out hard! So hard that she is hurt hurt hurt and terribly confused. She was only trying to show how much she loves him, but now she is in excruciating pain. She may become angry or try to retaliate in some way, but the power imbalance was established long ago during their courting phase -- and all of the power is with him! She has learned that well. She is powerless. She is now into the "learned helplessness" Lenore Walker has described.

When his rage has run its course, he looks at her and sees how he has hurt her. He feels remorse and disgust for the pain he has inflicted and intiates what is known as the "honeymoon" phase. He apologizes. He begs for forgiveness. He may even cry. Now she feels like she has the power. After all, he is apologizing to her! So she accepts his apology . . . . and the honeymoon begins in earnest: he does and says things she has been waiting to do and hear for a long time. She is ecstatic. She has power and she has her man back and he's buying her things, taking her places, and making her feel loved again. He may even relax some of the restrictions he placed on her that made her feel isolated. They are both on cloud nine! This "good time" is incredible for both of them, and it lasts for an indefinite period of time. Each couple has their own "time cycle."

And then, at some point, she attempts to exercise her newly regained power: she wants something from him, and that request makes him feel like he's losing his power over her. This request initiates discord, and the cycle begins again . . . and this happens over and over. With each escalation, the woman truly becomes more and more dependent on her spouse because she knows she has less and less power.

Each episode robs her of what little power she has left. She reaches the point where she doesn't feel like she can even exist without her partner. She is a hostage to her own dependence. Whatever power she had in the beginning now belongs to him! Usually, it takes outside intervention to break the cycle. Family or friends. Or the abuse of a child. But many many women stay in the relationship for years and years, and some of them attempt to regain their power by killing their abuser. The sad truth is that many more women are killed by an abusive partner, very often when they try to leave.

Micki Terrell, MA, MFCC
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