The Cycle of Abuse (aka Why Didn’t You Just Leave?)

The cycle of abuse has 3 distinct stages: the tension building stage, the explosive stage, and the honeymoon stage. Each stage is characterized by different actions and feelings. The length of each stage and cycle varies with couples and the circumstances.

The cycle of abuse may answer the question of  “Why do victims stay?”  Victims hear this question repeatedly from all that know their situation. The cycle of abuse provides an explanation to this question. A victim of abuse is not constantly being abused, nor is the abuse always inflicted at totally random times.

The cycle of abuse is outlined by the following stages:

Stage One:

Tension Building

(This stage can last days, weeks, months, and sometimes years)

  • May be minor violent incidents, including pushing, shoving, verbal abuse, and arguments.
  • Initial infatuation of the relationship fades.
  • The abuser starts exhibiting aggressive/abusive tendencies.
  • The victim attempts to stop these by pleasing, placating, or staying out of the way, thinking those actions can control the abusive behavior.
  • When this doesn’t control or stop the abuse, the victim withdrawals.
  • The abuser feels rejected and tries harder to control the victim’s activities.
  • At this point, an individual who has experienced violence/abuse before knows that an abusive incident will inevitably occur.

***Abuser traits***

  • jealousy
  • isolation of victim
  • rule changing
  • name calling
  • dominating
  • threats

***Victim traits***

  • calming techniques
  • minimizing
  • anger suppression
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • self-doubt
  • withdrawal
  • fear

Stage Two

The Explosion

(This stage can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days)

  • Some form of abusive incident occurs. This is often physical assault, but can be psychological, verbal, sexual, and/or emotional. This discharges the stress and tension for the abuser.
  • After the abusive incident, the abuser feels instant relief. The victim often experiences shock, denial, and/or disbelief that the assault occurred.
  • It is during this stage that the police are usually called. It is also during this stage that some victims seek safe shelter

***Abuser Traits***

  • anger
  • uncontrolled tension
  • assault on victim
  • exhaustion

***Victim Traits***

  • fear
  • anger
  • may call police
  • may flee

Stage Three

The Honeymoon

(This stage follows immediately after stage 2 and tends to be longer than stage 2 but shorter than stage 1)

  • The victims who have sought professional help ofter abandon their support groups/counseling, drop charges, and/or discontinue with divorce or separation proceedings.
  • The abuser becomes tender and apologetic and often sends or buys flowers, presents, jewelry, or writes love letters/poems. The abuser promises never to do it again, and truly believes the abuse will not happen again.
  • During this stage, the abuser will take action to demonstrate a sincere desire to change. The abuser will go to counseling, quit drinking and/or go into drug/alcohol rehab, go to church, get a job, etc. However, the prime motivations are to get the partner back, not to receive the help or stop the abusive behaviors.
  • It is the stage that keeps the victim in the relationship. The victim is finally getting the love and attention that is wanted from the abuser. People have said that the abuser returns to the person “I fell in love with” during this stage.

***Abuser Traits***

  • apologies
  • promises
  • insecurities
  • loving
  • dependency

***Victim Traits***

  • guilt
  • hope
  • loneliness
  • may return
  • low self-esteem
  • dependency
  • deceived
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