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What Is the Cycle of Abuse?

People who feel trapped in a cycle of abuse may escalate things in an attempt to escape.
Couples with a history of abuse can have difficulty communicating with one another.
Children who are abused at home tend to become abusers with peers.
As time passes, emotional and verbal abuse may escalate to physical abuse.
Adults who were abused when they were younger often pass the abuse on to their children.
Article Details
  • Written By: Rhonda Rivera
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The cycle of abuse is a pattern of behavior displayed in some abusive relationships. It is a social cycle theory, which are theories made by scientists and doctors when studying human behavior. The cycle of abuse has three or more phases, usually starting with the tension building phase, progressing to the reconciliation phase, and ending with the calm phase — and it repeats until the relationship ends. Many people believe this theory is flawed because it does not cover all abusive relationships, but it is still widely used to educate people on violence. This social cycle theory was developed in the 1970s, but it has since been adapted to cover more relationships.

In the tension building phase, the parties are rarely able to hold a conversation without fighting. This is the phase where the verbal, physical, or emotional abuse begins. Abusers may scream at, punch and kick, or toy with the victim’s emotions. The victim in the relationship begins to feel fearful and often does whatever he or she can to keep the abuser calm. There is usually a lot of tension between the two parties, hence the name of the phase.

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The next phase is called the honeymoon, make up, or reconciliation phase. In this phase, the abuser apologizes for what he or she has done, though this can be done in multiple ways. Sometimes the abuser profusely apologizes, occasionally crying and accepting all blame. Other times the abuser apologizes but places all blame of the abuse onto the victim. The abuser may even deny that the abuse even happened or convince the victim that the abuse was not as bad as he or she seems to think.

After the honeymoon phase, the relationship usually goes back to normal, which is called the calm phase. Minimal to no emotional, physical, or verbal abuse happens during this phase of the cycle of abuse. If the abuser made promises in the make up phase, he or she might deliver on them. The victim usually hopes the abuse is over or believes that it is over because of how nice the abuser is being. In the calm phase, both parties may appear or be happy until the cycle of abuse starts over again as tension begins to build.

These stages are sometimes given different labels. They have been adapted to suit many circumstances and both genders, since the original theory assumed the male was the abuser. In reality, both men and women are capable of abusing other people. Even considering the adaptions, some experts dismiss the cycle of abuse because it does not fit every relationship. While it can be a useful tool to help abusers and victims recognize obvious abuse, it can mislead people in unique but still abusive situations.

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Buster29
Post 2

When I was in an abusive relationship, we didn't fight or manipulate each other all the time. I don't think people understand that cycles of abuse aren't always predictable. We'd have long periods of time when we'd act like any other young romantic couple. Then I'd tease her about something and she'd take it much more seriously than intended. She say something even more cutting, and the fight would be on.

I realize now our relationship had way too much psychological abuse, but we were too much alike to see it at the time. We both had to be right, and we both had to have the last word when it came to our relationship. The situation was toxic, and I'm sure everyone around us noticed the cycle of abuse.

Cageybird
Post 1

I am always amazed to learn how much abuse some people are willing to accept as part of a relationship. The types of abuse some of my friends and co-workers have endured over the years is just heartbreaking to me. The verbal abuse in relationships alone is enough to make me thank God I have a stable and strife-free marriage. My wife and I have had our share of heated arguments over the years, but nothing like the ongoing psychological abuse other people have told me about.

I had one female co-worker who showed up to work with visible bruises just about every two weeks or so. Things would be okay at the beginning of the month, then her husband would get a little angrier about her spending habits or whatever, then they'd have a big fight over the weekend. A week later, he'd send flowers to the office or take her out to dinner and apologize. We didn't realize it was a domestic violence cycle of abuse at the time.

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