The Cycle of Abuse

The term “cycle of abuse” has been used for many years to describe the known impact of abuse experienced in childhood, when the abused child grows into an adult, they themselves become the perpetrator. When a child see’s their role models argue and fight and hit and swear or treat people badly, it is normalised for them. This means they see it as a normal behaviour and believe it is how they should behave. Children learn to behave from their parents, and it is a sad fact that children who witness domestic violence have the potential to become perpetrators themselves.

However, there is another “cycle of abuse” that is just as powerful and deadly, and is the main reason why women struggle to leave their situation. Know that first and foremost – it is never the fault of the person who is experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by people when explaining my abusive relationships is, “why did you stay with him?”

This question is hurtful and demonstrates ignorance on behalf of the person asking the question. It could be considered with, “I would never let a man treat me like that!” Which is another equally hurtful and ignorant statement.

The cycle of abuse within a relationship is actually the key to both these comments. How would this work? It’s Friday night. You have met up with some friends in town at a busy bar. As you get you and your friends a drink at the bar, a handsome face catches your eye. Your eyes meet briefly before you look away with excitement. A little while later he walks to your table with confidence where your friends and you are talking. He spends the rest of the evening entertaining you all with interesting high-brow stories that make you all laugh and feel at ease. You are intrigued by this handsome, funny and interesting person. The end of the night sadly looms and he offers to walk you and your friends to the nearest taxi stand. Wow – he is considerate and caring too!

Your friends can’t stop telling you how lucky you are! Your romance blossoms and your parents think he is amazing. Your dad spends hours talking to him about everything from DIY to football. Your mother invites him to all the family gatherings and celebrations.

The first time you experience domestic abuse can be so subtle, that it is often ignored. Sometimes, it can be violent and sometimes it could be making you do things that you are not comfortable with. As soon as you experience it you start to think about the incident – what happened? But instantly, “Oh I am so sorry baby, I will never do that again, I love you, you are amazing….”  or you are hugged, or being brought flowers. The incident is minimised and forgotten. Weeks, months and sometimes even years can pass before the next incident.

The kind and considerate man you fell in love with has become your abuser. Yet, it only happens once or twice a year – hardly worth stressing too much over. Every couple has arguments, don’t they? Most of the time you are bought gifts or treated like a princess.

What has happened? Without even realising it, you have entered the world of domestic abuse and the cycle of abuse. So how does it work?

Let’s be honest. No woman would choose to start a relationship with a man who was abusive. Unfortunately, the perpetrators do not come with warning signs and bells. If they did – there would be no need for our services or other organisations.

How does the cycle work then?

cycle of abuse Take a look at at this image. It is the cycle of abuse. Despite it looking like there is no beginning, there is. Most abusive relationships start with fun and happiness. However, the abuser cannot maintain this. Often they set their *partner up deliberately to fail. This can be through normal, mundane tasks such as shopping, housework or picking the children up from school.
For example; You have an evening in with your partner planned, however halfway through a close friend calls very upset. As she sounds very distressed you spend time listening to her and helping her. However, whilst you are doing this, your partner has given you a time limit that you are required to stay on the phone to your friend. But obviously, as you are not telepathic, you are unaware of this and as she is a good friend who needs help, you spend as long as you need on the phone. This is the tension building phase.
Once you are off the phone, feeling happier that you have helped your friend, you return to your partner who you think has been waiting patiently for your return (because that’s what you would do, right?). But, your partner is not waiting patiently, they are tense and accusatory. You may or may not notice the sudden change in their behaviour, however, you are now is danger of either physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse. This is the abuse phase. The abuse can be sudden and quick, or prolonged and last for many hours.
The abuse ends and your partner apologises for their actions, makes promises they would never do it again – or denies hurting you “it’s all in your head”. Sometimes you might be treated to a bunch of flowers, or new clothes. Your led into feeling sorry for them, or believe that you can change them, that they are truly sorry. In fact, the only thing they are sorry for is themselves. This is the remorse and forgiveness phase.
Recognising this cycle and breaking it are important and can be lifesaving. HOPE can help you do this.
*By using the term partner it is perceived the woman is an equal to her abuser, when in fact she is not. The word partner has been used simply to illustrate the woman is in a relationship with her abuser, regardless of whether they are a man or a woman.