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The Cycle of Abuse
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The Cycle of Abuse

Sometimes we refer to the cycle of abuse. One of the characteristics of abuse is its insidious tendency to produce behaviors and responses that sustain and escalate the abuse. This piece attempts to describe in very general terms this cyclic nature by describing three main phases: the Honeymoon Phase, the Tension Building Phase, and the Acting Out Phase, and how they work together to keep the relationship and the abuse going.

Honeymoon Phase

Most intimate relationships begin with the Honeymoon Phase. Eyes are starry, and everything seems wonderful. We abusers are on our very best behavior during this time: we are charming, considerate, warm, and caring. We give lots of attention. We are fun to be around. We bring romantic gifts. We wrap ourselves up in our partners' lives and are very interested in the details of their lives. We are strong and protective. We are confident. We are jealous and possessive, which we minimize and explain that we just want to take care of our partners, and don't want to see them hurt. We tend to pick partners who we are comfortable with, who, consequently, are more likely to accept our possessiveness and controlling tactics as signs of "caring."

Tension Building Phase

After a while, perhaps when we are a little secure in the relationship, something will happen. We will disagree with our partners about something, perhaps, or maybe we will have a bad day and be grouchy. We will not be as warm and fuzzy as we usually are. We stop bringing gifts quite so often because you can't do those things forever. This can be disturbing to our partners, who have come to believe that we will always be warm and fuzzy. They want us to become warm and fuzzy again, so they will try to do something nice to help us feel better. It probably works, for a while, but the tension continues to mount over time.

Acting Out Phase

After the tension builds comes the acting out, which can take many forms. It may begin small and escalate either slowly or quickly. Sometimes we'll yell, say nasty things, hit, throw things, get drunk/stoned, get in a fight with someone else, have an affair, buy something we can't afford, gamble, withdraw a little more, force sex, cut up our partners' credit cards, quit a job, embarrass our partners in public, tell stories about our partners behind their backs (or in front of them), move out, call a lawyer, restrict our partners physically, have our partners committed to mental facilities, break things, threaten violence, break a promise, drive carelessly, deprive our partners of sleep, push emotional buttons, etc. The upper limit of escalation here would include things like use of weapons, murder and suicide, and we can skip straight to that level with no warning. Whatever is done is done with the purpose of gaining and maintaining power and control over our partners; To create fear, subservience and obedience rather than respect and equality.

Honeymoon Phase

After we have committed our abuse, we feel sorry for what we've done, and will respond with The Honeymoon Phase. During this phase, we will sound repentant, cry, promise to change, be kind and loving, etc., and admit that what is going on is wrong. We become warm and fuzzy again. This is the time that we will stop and this time it will work.

This can be quite convincing, because we really mean everything we say, at least as far as the words go. The problem is that following through on the promise to change requires us to confront the whole denial thing and to admit to ourselves that our favorite argument that has helped us maintain our abuse is nothing more than a great big lie. Without outside help from those who know what to do, it is virtually impossible for us to do this step if we try. This is the test as to whether our repentance is real, or is just Honeymoon Phase crap: Do we seek out and use help from those who know how to help us, and do we stay in the program?

Tension Building Phase

After we've assuaged our guilt we forget our zeal and begin again to be irritable. Tension mounts as we leave the relatively pleasant Honeymoon behaviors behind, because we "don't have time" to do that stuff all the time. Our partners begin to "walk on pins and needles" to keep us from getting angry until finally we lose control and become abusive. Sometimes our partners will actually provoke us just to end the tension building and perhaps get the anger released before we become more dangerous.

Acting Out Phase

And so it goes, and so it goes. Over, and over, and over again until someone leaves, someone goes to jail, or someone dies.

These phases are generalities. Some phases may be skipped from time to time, and some relationships may skip a phase consistently. However, the cyclic nature is characteristic of an abusive relationship and the danger of these types of relationships results from the escalation that comes as we continue going through the cycle over and over. Abuse is not only a cyclical dysfunction -- it's also progressive, which means, perhaps counterintuitively, that things go from bad to worse, and will continue on to still worse yet until it that cycle is broken.

Blain



Cycle of Abuse
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