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The Cycle of Abuse
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The Cycle of Abuse in Domestic Violence

On the one-year anniversary date of the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, I am moved to put into words what I have seen of the cycle of domestic violence over the years. It is not a learned treatise but a down-to-earth look at the dynamics between two people. It is a cyclical phenomenon and goes something like this:

When some verbal or emotional discord emerges in the relationship, the abused spouse starts looking to herself* for what she did wrong. She tries to read her partner's mind and "fix" whatever problem she might have created. She analyzes her own behavior and tries to excuse his with some kind of rationalization. She did . . . or said . . . something wrong! (Or maybe she failed to do or say the right thing!)

As she attempts to communicate that she is sorry for her misdeeds, he becomes increasingly annoyed and perceives her as cloying, dependent, and just plain exasperating. So he begins to distance himself. She panics! "He's pulling away from me!" she thinks, and becomes even more clinging. "Don't take your love from me!" (This is the escalation phase) He doesn't feel loving. He is distanced and is getting very angry.

As she tries harder and harder to explain that she's sorry and understands what he's going through, he reaches the end of his intrapsychic rope and lashes out either physically or verbally or both! And he lashes out hard! So hard that she is hurt hurt hurt and terribly confused. She was only trying to show how much she loves him, but now she is in excruciating pain. She may become angry or try to retaliate in some way, but the power imbalance was established long ago during their courting phase -- and all of the power is with him! She has learned that well. She is powerless. She is now into the "learned helplessness" Lenore Walker has described.

When his rage has run its course, he looks at her and sees how he has hurt her. He feels remorse and disgust for the pain he has inflicted and intiates what is known as the "honeymoon" phase. He apologizes. He begs for forgiveness. He may even cry. Now she feels like she has the power. After all, he is apologizing to her! So she accepts his apology . . . . and the honeymoon begins in earnest: he does and says things she has been waiting to do and hear for a long time. She is ecstatic. She has power and she has her man back and he's buying her things, taking her places, and making her feel loved again. He may even relax some of the restrictions he placed on her that made her feel isolated. They are both on cloud nine! This "good time" is incredible for both of them, and it lasts for an indefinite period of time. Each couple has their own "time cycle."

And then, at some point, she attempts to exercise her newly regained power: she wants something from him, and that request makes him feel like he's losing his power over her. This request initiates discord, and the cycle begins again . . . and this happens over and over. With each escalation, the woman truly becomes more and more dependent on her spouse because she knows she has less and less power.

Each episode robs her of what little power she has left. She reaches the point where she doesn't feel like she can even exist without her partner. She is a hostage to her own dependence. Whatever power she had in the beginning now belongs to him! Usually, it takes outside intervention to break the cycle. Family or friends. Or the abuse of a child. But many many women stay in the relationship for years and years, and some of them attempt to regain their power by killing their abuser. The sad truth is that many more women are killed by an abusive partner, very often when they try to leave.

Micki Terrell, MA, MFCC

*The feminine is used here, although either sex may be the abused party.

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