Abuse - the cycle of behaviour

The Cycle of Abuse – When You Are On the Outside Looking In

by Annette Young

Do you know someone who is stuck in the middle of an abusive relationship? Are you worried about their safety or fear hearing the news that they have tried to commit suicide? It can be the most difficult and frustrating of situations if you are worried about someone close to you and yet, feel powerless to act. You may feel undecided how to make things better for your loved one, should you report it to the police? Should you confront the abuser? Will your interference make it better or worse? It can be incredibly difficult to reach out and offer assistance to someone caught up in the middle of an abusive relationship, however close your relationship has been. Understanding the cycle of abuse though may help to prepare you for action, whether it’s giving emotional support or, making the decision to step in and make a stand. It will certainly give you an insight into the make-up of an abusive person.

Understanding the pattern that seems to go hand in hand with abusive relationships can give you some idea of how volatile the relationship can be. The cycle of abuse is a repetitive one. If the relationship remains, the abusive behaviour repeats over and over, until something or someone buckles under the strain.

First, there’s the actual abuse. This may be physically violent behaviour, threats or aggressive and manipulative word play that’s designed to make the victim fearful, isolated and to feel less than worthy. This abusive behaviour may last for days at a time. Guilt then seems to make an appearance, but usually, it’s not guilt through the cruel words spoken, or the damaging actions, it’s the fear of being caught.

Abusers will always blame someone else for their actions and usually their partner. Something was said or done and this was unacceptable, in fact, it triggered their behaviour. It’s never the fault of the abuser.

The control of the abuser is quite considerable. Make no mistake; the abuser will do everything in his (or her) power to keep full control over the victim. Once the abuse and then guilt cycle has completed, life returns to some normality. The relationship may even improve, life is less like walking on eggshells, and it lulls the victim into thinking that things will change for the better, just when things seem settled and positive, the mood changes again.

The next cycle of abuse is the deadly planning stage. This is where the abuser contemplates ways in which to make the victim pay. Because the normality stage may last for a period of time, there are plenty of opportunities to plan and to construe reasons for future abuse. The fantasy develops and then erupts. It spills over into everyday life and the physical act of abuse starts all over again. Once the abuser can justify the act of belittling and hurting the victim, there is little that can stop it until the scenario has played out and the next stage of the cycle of abuse starts.

Knowing what to look out for may give you a way to step in and to pre-empt volatile situations, but trying to communicate with your loved one and to provide emotional support may be all that you can do until they reach out and ask for help.


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