Abuse 101

Recognizing the Cycle of Abuse
by Nora Penia

Most people in abusive relationships can identify a repetitive cycle in their relationship, once they know what to look for. This cycle works to keep them in the relationship, by offering them hope and a respite from the abuse. It also creates confusion, since the victim will almost always try to figure out how to maintain the peaceful times, thinking that there must be some formula to the craziness going on in the relationship.

This is what the cycle looks like:

A period of time when things are mostly ok. No big outbursts, things going along fairly smoothly. Then, tension begins to build. The victim can tell that things are not ok anymore, although the cause for the change may not be apparent. Family members begin to feel that they need to be careful, not to rock the boat, stay out of the abuser’s way, do things to keep the abuser happy.

Nothing works for long, though, and inevitably there is a blowup of some sort. Depending on the kind of abuse occurring in the relationship, there may be an angry argument, with hurtful things said, or it may escalate to something physical. Everyone is upset and hurt and confused and maybe fearful.

Usually this is followed by a make up attempt which may include apologies, promises to change or never act that way again, sometimes gifts of flowers or other gifts, generous gestures, making love, etc. Anything that will persuade the victim to stay in the relationship, or return to the relationship.

This cycle repeats over and over and over. The cycle may be short – weekly or daily- or long, with months or years between episodes. But, almost always, the cycle is there and it’s one of the things which keeps the victim hooked.

Often the victim thinks of the relationship as periods of peace interrupted by unexplainable times of crisis. A more realistic way to look at the relationship is as times of crisis interrupted by periods of calm.

© 1997 Nora Penia All Rights Reserved

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