The Cycle of Violence

Tension Building – This is a period that is marked by minor violent incidents, including pushing, shoving, verbal abuse, and arguments. The victim usually attempts to manage the abuser in a variety of ways. The victim may attempt to calm the abuser by becoming nurturing or compliant. They may attempt to anticipate every whim or to merely stay out of the abusers way. The victim may acknowledge the abuse behavior, but believes that conciliatory behavior will prevent the anger and abuse from escalating. As tensions escalate, the victim’s coping mechanisms diminish along with the ability to deal with the abuse and keep quiet. The abuser increases the alternating pattern of brutality and smothering.

The Explosion – Tension that builds beyond the point of no return sets the stage for the acute battering incident. This is displayed through an uncontrollable release of tension through emotional and/or physical violence. The rage is so great at this point that the abuser appears to lose control over their behavior. The abuser may start wanting to teach a lesson, not intending to inflict bodily harm, and then stops when they feel the point has been made clear. Unfortunately, by this time, the victim has generally been severely physically and emotionally battered. During acute battering incidents, the abuser often justifies their behavior by reciting many petty annoyances that occurred during stage one.

The actual attack is usually followed by shock, disbelief, and denial on part of both the abuser and victim. Both attempt to rationalize the extreme seriousness and often, if there is physical injury, the victim will minimize it.

The Honeymoon – During this phase, the victimization becomes complete. Just as brutality marks the explosion, extremely loving, kind and remorseful behaviors characterize the honeymoon stage. The batterer behaves in a charming and loving manner and apologizes for the violence. They beg for forgiveness and promise that it will never happen again. Abusers typically reinforce apologies with candy, flowers, card, and other gifts along with vows to give up any and all behavior that contributes to the tension-building phase (drinking, affairs, working long hours and/or any other stressful factors that both would like to believe are the “cause” of the explosion).

The most disheartening part of the honeymoon phase is the false hope that it fosters. The victim gets a glimpse of what they thought, and still hope, they had in a partner. The kind behavior of the abuser reinforces the hope that the situation can truly be better, if only the stresses were removed. During this phase, the victim often senses that the batterer is desperate, lonely and alienated and feels responsible to be a bridge to their well-being.

During this phase, many victims who have sought professional help often abandon their support groups, counseling, drop charges, and/or discontinue with divorce or separation proceedings. They are under the false pretense that the situation has reversed itself. Ultimately the tension builds again and the cyclic action is repeated.

Cycle of Violence

Limitations of the Cycle of Violence – The cycle of violence was first presented by Lenore Walker in her landmark book, The Battered Woman, to describe some women’s experience of physical abuse in their relationships. Since then, the cycle has been widely used by domestic violence advocates and proved useful to many victims of domestic violence to explain their experience of abuse.

It is important to realize that there are some limitations to the cycle of violence, and this cycle does not describe all violent relationships or all survivors’ experience of abuse. The following are some points to consider when discussing the cycle of violence.

  • This cycle may be more descriptive of events early in the relationship and may not be descriptive of chronic, long-term abuse.
  • The cycle focuses more on the experience of acute physical violence that may not occur regularly in abusive relationships while neglecting the other coercive controlling aspects of abusive relationships.
  • It presents violent episodes as isolated events rather than presenting contact of ongoing abuse.
  • Some survivors are offended by the use of the phrase “honeymoon stage” as this implies that the abuse has ended when there is no physical violence and that this time in the relationship is loving.
  • Not all victims of abuse experience abuse in this way. Comparing a victim’s experience of abuse to this cycle may not accurately reflect their experience.
  • The cycle of violence theory does not take into account the other forms of abuse including sexual, emotional, financial, and mental.
  • Following this theory may lead helpers to focus their intervention with batterer’s on anger management, which is not appropriate intervention for abusive partners.
  • What professionals DO NOT know is “how many times does a victim need to experience the cycle of violence before they end the relationship?” Furthermore, what professionals DO know is that the cycle will only increase in lethality and frequency.