The Cycle of Abuse

Most abuse falls into a pattern, even if both the abusers and their victims aren’t consciously aware of it.cycleofDV

Abuse: the partner assaults you, lashing out with violence, threats, verbal abuse, and other belittling or aggressive behaviors aimed at making you feel helpless and afraid.  Your abuser does this to demonstrate that he/she has all the power.

Guilt:  Once the abuse is over, guilt sets in.  Your abuser is not ashamed of what he/she has done, but your abuser is afraid of getting caught and being punished by an authority figure, or of having you leave (and thus lose absolute power over you).

Excuses: Verbally or nonverbally, your abuser rationalizes what he/she has done to you.  Often, abusers will define their behavior as reasonable and just. Many abusers will blame an outside force (such as their job, the economy, or their childhood). They will say that they were justified in what they did because of something you did/didn’t do (whether real or imagined). Your abuser wants/needs you to believe that what they have done to you is the logical outcome for something you did “wrong” or some inane deficiency in your nature.

Damage Control: Your abuser acts “normally” in order to keep you from informing on them to an authority figure that could make them face the consequences of their actions. This grace period could last for months or just moments.  Some abusers act as though the abuse never happened. Others overcompensate with extra thoughtful behavior or with gifts.  This shift in behavior, combined with the rationalization the abuser offers for their conduct, often leaves victims hopeful that the abuse will never happen again, or that the abuser has changed his/her ways.

Fantasy: Abusers need to feel powerful and in control all the time.  After a period (long or short) of acting “normally,” the abuser starts fantasizing about abusing you again.  Hurting you in the past made him/her feel powerful. They often spend a great deal of time imagining how you have defied them or committed some other wrong and how they will make you pay for it.

Set-up: Your abuser stops fantasizing about hurting you and creates a plan to realize the fantasy.  Your abuser will then create a situation where he/she can justify abusing you again.

An Example

A woman attacks her husband. She verbally assaults him by calling him, “stupid,” “useless,” “worthless,” and “dishonest.” She hurts him by throwing heavy objects at his head. Afterwards, she feels guilty because she is afraid that he might tell her family, his friends, or that he might leave her.  She tells him that what happened was his fault because he never brings in enough money to pay all the bills.  She then acts sweetly to him. She does nice things for him; she cooks him his favorite meal and buys him a nice birthday gift.  After a while, she remembers how powerful she felt when she had him cowering and ducking, and she starts fantasizing about hurting him again. She makes a plan on how to set him up.  She pushes him to work overtime .  What she doesn’t tell him is that he needs to come straight to bed when he gets home.  When he falls asleep in front of the television, she accuses him being lazy, and justifies hitting him with a frying pan while he sleeps.