Defining the Cycle of Violence

Gender-Based Violence
February 16, 2020

Chances are, you know someone who is or was a victim of intimate partner violence.

The statistics prove it.

“1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.”

But, not many of us understand why or how intimate violence occurs. We’ve already covered the top red flags in a relationship. Today, we want to talk about the cycle of violence (or the cycle of abuse) and how it plays a big part in intimate partner violence.

By understanding the cycle of violence, you can become a better ally for those in need — which might even be yourself.

What is the Cycle of Violence?

The cycle of violence or abuse is a social cycle theory developed by Lenore E. Walker in 1979 to explain the model of behavior in an abusive relationship.

There are four phases in the cycle of violence: pressure building, violent incident, reconciliation(otherwise known the honeymoon phase), and the calm phase. While these might seem self-explanatory, we’re going to talk about the nuances of each in the coming paragraphs.

Phase 1 of the Cycle of Violence —
Pressure Building

When was the last time you got into a disagreement with your partner?

After the argument, what happened?

If you’re in a healthy relationship, it likely ended in a compromise that both people were actively willing to accept. Then, the relationship moved beyond the argument.

In an unhealthy or abusive relationship, two things can happen. Either the victim unwillingly agrees to whatever the abuser says to try and diffuse the situation or… there is no resolution.

Both of these situations are dangerous because they lead to tensions building. The victim feels voiceless and powerless, and the abuser is agitated by the argument, whether they got their way or not. They’ll likely feel the argument shouldn’t have happened in the first place and continue to reference the incident well after it happened.

It doesn’t always take an argument for pressure to build. Daily life occurrences that are stressful such as illness, marriage, children, family conflicts, finances, employment, or even catastrophic events can start the pressure building phase.

To prevent violence from occurring, the victim may try to reduce the tensions building by becoming subservient, compliant, and even nurturing. On the other hand, they may even provoke the situation in order to get the abuse over with, hopefully with less repercussions and severity of injuries.

Because abusers tend to follow a set of patterns, or a cycle, they will, eventually, move into phase 2 — regardless of the victim’s behavior. The violence is never the victim’s fault.

Phase 2 of the Cycle of Violence —
Violent Incident

Once the abuser is set off, they will lash out.

A violent incident doesn’t necessarily mean physical violence. The synonym for Cycle of Violence is the Cycle of Abuse; both abuse and violence can come in many forms.

Some examples of a violence include:

  • Physically harming the victim through pushing, punching, slapping, or spitting
  • Verbally abusing the victim by calling them names, threatening them, or demeaning them
  • Sexually abusing them through rape or molestation

All of these acts are designed for the abuser to dominate the victim and take control.

Often times, at the end of this cycle, the abuser will say the victim “had it coming”, as in the abuse was deserved. Abuse is never deserved.

Phase 3 of the Cycle of Violence —
Reconciliation

After a violent incident occurs, the abuser will want to ensure they remain in control; they just use different tactics.

Instead of violence, they use manipulation to prevent the victim from reacting in ways like calling the police or leaving them. During this phase, the abuser often expresses remorse for what they did; although it is often short lived.

The reconciliation phase is also known as the honeymoon phase. It’s the love notes after the name calling. It’s the piece of jewelry after the slap in the face. In short, it’s the good times after the bad.

Maybe tThe victim is feeling responsible for the incident, guilty, shameful, fearful, and humiliated. Sometimes they might feel their partner lose interest in them so they panic and try to regain control with affection. This affection is designed to make them look thoughtful and caring, as though they are incapable of the abuse that just occured. The abuser manipulates them into feeling like everything is going to be okay.

Because of gaslighting, trauma bonding, and, likely, financial abuse, the victim remains in the relationship, only for the pattern to soon repeat itself.

Phase 4 of the Cycle of Violence —
Calm Before the Storm

Peace. Calm. Serenity.

That’s what the abuser wants the victim to feel.

During this period in the cycle of abuse, the abuser will offer to engage in counseling, ask for forgiveness, and do anything in their power to create a normal atmosphere.

These are the “good times” in an abusive relationship. Often, this phase of the relationship is indistinguishable from an actual healthy relationship, except for the history. The abuser seems like a totally different person.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Have you ever heard an abuse victim say “It was just a one time thing” or “He didn’t mean to” or “He just drank too much that night”?

That’s rationalization by the victim to prevent someone else from overreacting. If there is a cycle of abuse, there is a reactionary cycle of the abuser to justify the situation.

On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship 7 times. Yes, you read that right, 7 times. There are dozens of reasons why a victim attempts to leave and then stays — many include fear of retaliation in some form or another.

Instead of victim-blaming and shaming, we must understand the cycle of violence so we can break it.

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