Restorations Therapy Blog

The Cycle of Abuse Explained

by on Friday, October 15th, 2021

Being the victim of domestic abuse can feel isolating, scary, and helpless. Because each relationship differs, it can be challenging to identify. 

It is important to note that domestic abuse occurs in a cycle, and recognizing this cycle can help victims understand what is happening and work to stop it.

Abuse Comes in Stages

There are four stages in the cycle of abuse: tension building, the incident, rationalizing/justifying, and the “calm,” or honeymoon stage. Each stage brings about stress for the victim and can vary in length. 

#1. Tension Building

Tension building usually is triggered by an outside stressor, like work, money, or children. In this stage, the abuser may:

  • Pick fights
  • Yell at the victim and use put-downs
  • Accuse the victim of cheating
  • Isolate the victim
  • Threaten the victim with violence

The victim will typically react to the abuser by trying to calm them down in any way. They might:

  • Try to reason with the abuser
  • Choose words carefully
  • Withdraw from loved ones
  • Nurture the abuser
  • Try to please
  • Experience humiliation, anger, depression

#2. The Incident

The incident following the build-up of tension will vary, as with every stage in the cycle of abuse. 

The incident is categorized by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It is triggered by the abuser’s emotional state and can result in many different actions. The abuser might:

  • Verbally humiliate
  • Prevent the victim from leaving or getting help
  • Push, kick, shove, punch, or beat the victim

The victim, in this stage, tries to protect themselves in any way they can. This may be by:

  • Hiding
  • Fighting back
  • Calling for help
  • Trying to reason and calm the abuser

The incident may happen once or over and over for some time. 

#3. Rationalize and Justify

After the incident has occurred, the abuser may try to rationalize their behavior or justify the situation. This stage usually confuses the victim. The abuser may:

  • Blame the victim, outside stressors, drugs or alcohol, or others
  • Say the abuse was not as serious as the victim is making it seem

The victim becomes confused about the abuser’s intentions and may even question their own version of the event.

#4. Pretend Normal or Honeymoon

At this stage, the abuser begins to apologize for their actions and reassure the victim they will improve. They may show this by:

  • Crying
  • Buying gifts
  • Being affectionate
  • Declaring love

The victim, desiring safety, may feel refreshed by hearing expressions of love they hadn’t heard in a while. They may:

  • Forgive the abuser
  • Set up counseling
  • Think the abuser will improve permanently

This honeymoon stage could be a time where the abuse can be identified. If the victim is unaware that abuse comes in a cycle, though, they may genuinely believe that things will turn around for the better without outside help. 

It is essential to be aware of the cycle of abuse and that it will not cease naturally. The cycle will differ amongst relationships. The abuse will get worse as the cycle continues, and seeking outside help and treatment is the only route to break it. If you need healing from an abusive relationship or are seeking couples counseling, we are here to help at Restorations Therapy. Our customizable treatment plans and dedicated staff will help you live a healthy life. Call us today at (720) 446-6585.

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