What Is The "Cycle Of Abuse"? How To Recognize Subtle Signs Of Domestic Violence
The cycle of abuse is a pretty personal phrase for me.
Growing up as a shy, quiet and introverted child, loud noise felt like abuse to me. I would freeze up anytime I heard any. Early on, I learned that people laughing loudly could turn into yelling in an instant.
I did not understand the difference between hateful arguments and healthy debate. To the child in me, conflict always was, and has been, a precursor of something violent, whether it was verbal, physical or emotional.
What is the cycle of abuse?
By definition, "The cycle of abuse is a social cycle theory developed in 1979 by Lenore E. Walker to explain patterns of behavior in an abusive relationship."
When all a child experiences growing up is negative interactions, that is what they learn to crave as an adult — negative attention. Almost everything in life turns into a dare. Teenagers learn to hurt themselves crying out for attention. Hurting themselves makes them believe they matter. This is how they feel alive.
When they get older and enter romantic relationships, they subconsciously deduce that to get noticed, they need to do something negative.
This is how abuse is born.
Emotion is energy in motion, a frequency vibrating between two poles. The one you want wants you. The one you fear fears you. The one you love loves you.
These emotions such as want, fear, hate and love are subconscious in nature. That aren't what you think in your head, but rather what you feel in the recesses of your brain's limbic system, aka, your feeling mind.
Each of these emotions arises unconsciously out of forgotten memory, or even via something as visceral as smell.
It can be difficult to recognize how or when abuse begins in your own relationships.
All you can work with is you, but if you know how to recognize typical patterns of abusive relationships, you can protect yourself and find a way out.
The cycle of abuse in domestic violence is pattern consisting of the following four phases.
Important note: The following is a generalized pattern and not all phases may apply to every instance of abuse or domestic violence.
1. Tension building phase
For a while, when things go amiss, self-blame begins. Soon, you blame the other and realize that you are living in a war zone.
I was walking on eggshells in my own abusive relationship, always apologizing and worrying that something might happen. Fear of the unknown set in.
There are a few things you can control someone else with — food, sex, money, children. In my case, it was food.
When I cooked, the response was, "I have eaten today." And if I didn’t cook because there were leftovers, the first question, "What did you cook today?" So, the next day, I cooked fresh and the generic response was "I ate before I came" or "I had a huge lunch."
It took me time to realize that this was his way of controling me. A game is a duel between two. Deciding to quit the game ensured the game was not played.
Cooking is a creative process for me. Making myself a priority, I started to cook every day even when there were leftovers. My silence was the response when asked, "What did you cook today?" In a short while, the question stopped getting asked.
Playing someone else's game of cat and mouse lost its appeal. There was always a feeling of something is about to happen and whatever is about to happen can not be pleasant.
Though in the same physical house, we were in separate emotional and mental houses.
When we had guests, I was first reminded that our guests were my secret lovers."You should come more often because it's only when you come that I get to eat" was the response when guests praised the meal. Belittling is common.
2. Crisis/acute violence phase
This is when the game is out in the open. In this phase, partners have no qualms of abusing the other in the open. There is no shame. You fight in front of friends, family, and even in public places.
"I'm going to leave" or "Why don't you leave?" are often a part of the conversation. There are open affairs. Best friends could turn into lovers. Lies abound in every instant. Sleeping arrangements shift.
Either timing is different or the place where you sleep is no longer the same. Everything feels like an act.
Sometimes, you're afraid of physical abuse and hurting the children. Medications, drugs, and/or alcohol are constant every day. Addictions are abundant (my addiction was work).
There might be open verbal and physical abuse too. Threats are a part of everyday existence. Things break in and around the house. Car accidents occur.
Everyone in and around your home and house knows that things are not working out for you. Your loved ones who live far away from you get a whiff of your crises in your conversations and silence.
You often have sleepovers at your friend's place. Staying away from home is common and gets more frequent overtime for both you and/or your partner. You love to visit friends and work on their projects because helping others bring you joy.
When the relationship reaches its end, fear strikes. You ask yourself "What will happen when this relationship that I want to end does end?"
It's fear of loss combined with fear of the success smeared with fear of the unknown. A friend of mine was in an unhappy marriage and when her daughter was born, she said to me, "I am not ready to give up something that I invested thirty years of my life into."
Thirty years of joyless living and she was willing to stretch it because she did not know who would she be without a joyless life.
3. Rebuilding/honeymoon phase
This stage was interesting in my case. I filed for my divorce in 2006. My ex contested it within thirty days. When asked to show up in court, he left town, state, and country. When he had said that divorce is better than staying married, I went ahead and filed for it. Yet when he had to face it, he did everything he could to save it including visit my parents and asking them to counsel me.
The divorce went through in 2007 as a one-sided case. A few weeks later, it was our youngest son’s birthday who was wondering why his dad wasn’t there with us. I called my ex up and he returned to our town.
He did all he could to return home. After much coaxing and emotional manipulation, I caved. I wanted our baby to build a relationship with his dad. My ex wanted to re-establish his relation with me. I let him into the house and moved into our unfinished garage.
I wanted a home for the children, he wanted his marriage.
I have heard of couples who divorce and remarry. I have heard of couples who reconciled their differences on a cruise. Various reasons could make you reconsider rebuilding your relation.
4. Calm phase
Everything returns to appearing calm and chill. You act like an adult and assume your partner is an adult, too.
If something happens, you are quick to say sweet nothings. Both of you often say "I love you" or "I'm sorry" and forgive the other even without any active seeking.
When something is amiss, you admit your mistake right away. (I say things like, "I don't know what's wrong with me.")
You may go seeking help on the internet or seek out a confidante. The subject is broached in formal and informal settings in your church or among friends.
In this cycle of abuse, things may get so bad that you won't be able to hide the truth from yourself anymore.
Whether it's through self-effort or outer intervention, you may try to make it work. You or your partner may move out because taking time out makes sense to at least one of you.
Looking at everything objectively and giving your relationship another go seems a rational choice. Things calm down for a while. You seek counsel. After a few visits to an expert, you begin to feel like an expert yourself.
If you have not worked through everything consciously, the subconscious programming surfaces.
Soon, tension arises again and you find the crises once again staring you in the face.
These cycles can continue five, seven or even ten times (or more) before the pattern interrupts.
The only way to break the cycle of abuse and violence is by recognizing it for what it is.
There are many types of abuse, including emotional, verbal, and physical. No matter how it shows up, abuse and violence are one and the same.
In society, physical violence gets more attention than emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and mental abuse. Name-calling is outright violence (I would add sarcasm to that category too). In many cultures, people insult you and then say they were kidding.
As a matter of fact, if your joke isn’t funny to me, then it is not a joke — it is an insult.
The only joke that is funny to me is when you make fun of yourself and laugh along with your audience.
Here are 11 additional signs of an abusive relationship that may less obvious than other forms of physical and psychological violence:
- Poor or excessive sleep
- Lacking appetite or overeating
- Staying longer at work than necessary in order to avoid going home
- Constantly seeking entertainment and/or distractions, whether through shopping, social media, television, etc.
- Inability to engage in conversation without raising your voice or feeling you must lie or withhold information
- Texting or talking to a best friend or sibling every day or more than once a day about troubles in your relationship
- Dressing differently than you normally would
- Spending more time in the bathroom
- Hating it when guests leave
- Digestive tract challenges
- Conversations get choppy — for example, you begin saying something and end it with, "Never mind"
Now that you're aware of what abusive behavior looks like and what it can do to you, it's time to take the necessary steps to break free and recover.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, there are resources available in your state, as well as the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).