The Cycle of Violence
The cycle of violence is the term used to describe the pattern of chaos that is involved in domestic violence. It puts a name and words to what so many victims experience, but have no idea how to comprehend so often.
This cycle of violence is all about power and control in a relationship. Power and control in and of itself is neither good nor bad and so we must understand what power and control means to a person (we will spend more time on the depth of that aspect in the next part of the series). For the time being, understand that the utilization of power and control is a vehicle for an abuser to feel good about him or herself and is pivotal to his or her self-worth and identity formation.
With that basic concept in mind, the natural tension that occurs in any relationship begins to create an environment that can become hostile quickly. Whereas in a healthy relationship, each party feels free to assertively share his or her opinion without risk of abuse or harm, in the cycle of violence, if I don’t say or do things the way the abuser wants, I put myself at risk and might begin to walk on eggshells trying to keep the peace. I don’t want to rock the boat and upset the balance because if I do, things may escalate. And sure enough, things eventually do escalate.
When tension grows and a fight occurs, the abuse takes place. This can be seen as several types of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, spiritual, financial/economic, sexual etc. Someone putting their hands on you, someone calling you a name or belittling you, someone punching a hole in the wall or breaking things, someone manipulating you, someone withholding or forcing sexual acts, someone who isolates you, intimidates you or taking away money/resources is absolutely, without a doubt acting in an abusive manner. I emphasize this point because some people are unsure what is abuse thinking it has to be physical. It does not.
After the abuse takes place, the abuser soon after appears often remorseful or apologetic, making attempts to re-create peace. He may bring her flowers, apologize and say things like “I’ll never do it again-I’m so sorry I did that”. The victim can tend to buy into this gesture and remain in the cycle and pattern of the relationship, all the while feeling more and more confused and helpless about what is going on and what to do.
But like clockwork, the inevitable tension grows and the eggshells feeling comes back, abuse happens again and then the honeymoon. Research suggests that this pattern tends to only intensify the longer it goes on with shorter honeymoon periods (and eventually the extinction of a honeymoon period with just tension and abuse) and greater tension and more violent abusive episodes.
There are few worse things than being in this cycle of violence-becoming more and more isolated, afraid and helpless. So often victims wonder how they’ve gotten in so deep and how to get out or how they might have missed the warning signs and red flags along the way. The abuser seemed so loving and charming at first and had a great reputation in social settings and work. They pursued so well and with great romance and caring. How could this have happened?
Stay tuned to understand the mind of an abuser and how to begin to see the warning signs in the next part of the series-The Inner World of An Abuser.
Learn more about Phil Zaffos, MA, LPC & Heidi Zaffos, MA, LMFT, LPC and Foundation Counseling .