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Cycle of Abuse: An Overview and its Effects on Victims

What is the cycle of abuse wheel? How to break cycle of abuse?

Relationships could always go haywire, and as problems and tensions mounted, things could always go tricky between partners. In any case, though, relationships should not end, or end up being abusive. But why do relationships end up nastily, or why do people end up being at the end of an abusive relationship?

Abusive behavior is not an isolated instance or event. But rather a persistent occurrence. Most people never realize that the abuse is a cycle that could persist and go on for years. What is fatal is that even those in a relationship never recognize that they are experiencing the recurrent cycle of abuse. Examples of abuses such as reactive abuse and narcissist abuse.

It takes a while before society finally recognizes that that is such the case. That abuse, far from isolated instances in a relationship, is indeed part of a cycle that occurs now and then. There is a prevalent pattern and ever occurring in relationships deemed as abusive.

What is the cycle of abuse, and what it means for the victims?

Defining cycle of abuse

The cycle of abuse pertains to the regular acts, a cycle of violence, patterns of abusive behavior, and incidences of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that occur throughout the relationship. The cycle of abuse can occur in almost any kind of relationship, though the literature in recent years focuses on marital and romantic relationships.

The term cycle of abuse gained currency in the late 70s as a social theory concept to describe the instances and patterns of abuse in certain relationships. Throughout the years, the concept has been heavily criticized.

However, the concept still retains its power as a terminological shorthand and an explanatory concept explaining abusive behaviour and how it occurs in relationships. Before we explain the cycle and the process, we must understand what it means for the victims who have undergone the cycle.

It will make us understand why the term has not lost its relevance despite its seeming inadequacy to explain an abusive relationship’s nuances. The explanatory failure should not blind us to the fact that it gives vital insights into abusive relationships prevalent in society.

The cycle of abuse: what it means for the victims?

It means the victim is constantly under threat to be abused, whether physical, verbal, or emotional. It is a pervasive threat that may manifest in the relationship sooner or later, given the right circumstances. Long periods of tranquility in relationships are not enough to give the victim peace of mind.

It means that it is recurring. The abuses occur with regularity throughout the relationship. But those are not instantaneous or capricious. Instead, the acts of abuse and the abusive behavior fall into an overall pattern, one in which those acts are just one of the vital components.

It makes it hard for the victim to appreciate the true nature of the acts: that they are abusive and condemnable. The abuser usually gets away with it because the pattern gives him the cover for his abusive acts. A rationale is always given, and after the abusive deed, the abuser is allowed to make amends, followed by periods of tranquility.

This template mitigates the actual effects of abusive behavior, and at the same time, ensures that it will occur again in the relationship.

As a cycle, though, the victim, throughout their relationship, could break it through the deployment of various techniques and strategies. Ultimately, the victim is not powerless and has recourse to stop the cycle of abuse. The key move here is to recognize that there is a pattern.

How the cycle continues, and what it’s like to be a victim?

The cycle of abuse goes through several stages that repeat themselves repeatedly throughout the relationship. Experts pinpoint those four stages, present in whatever relationship, that characterizes the cycle of abuse. The cycle contains pretty much the causes and effects of domestic violence and abusive behavior. The four stages are the following:

Creating and building tension

There is some trigger that will start the whole cycle of abuse. This trigger could be some problems, a kind of crisis in the relationship or personal life of the abuser, a career setback, simple misunderstandings, or anything that will make the abuser down or angry. The abuser feels resentment all over.

Usually, the partner or the loved ones should be the ones who will mitigate those kinds of feelings, helping the person see through the rough waters of life. In this case, though, the abuser feels even resentful of the partner or loved ones. The abuser feels resentful even of those closest or in the position to help him.

It is something, of course, that the potential victim does not understand. Then the tension starts building. Blame is thrown on the victim, contributing to the escalation of the tension. Sooner or later, things will spin out of control, and as they totter over the edge, the potential and likelihood of abuse in all its forms increases.

Committing the abuse

As the tension between them increases, incidences of violence, physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and the like may occur. It could be isolated incidences of those things or spread across specific periods, days, or even weeks. Things could take a turn for the worse, and incidences of violence and abuse may increase and intensify.

But the incidences of abusive behaviour may also decrease with time and with the release of outbursts. Once this happens, the partners are ready for the reconciliation. Unfortunately, this is just part of the cycle, the one that usually lulls the abused victim into complacency, thinking that the worst has passed and it will not happen again.

Reconciling with each other

The third part consists of rapprochement between partners. They kiss, make up, and establish the usual cordial relations before the start tension. They try to establish again what is there before, with the abused victim hoping that the instances of abusive behavior will be the last, not to be repeated.

The guilty one reconciles with the abused victim by apologizing, expressing guilt, or being remorseful about the acts. It will not be beyond for the abuser to beg for forgiveness and do everything to win back the abused one. The abusers will usually charm their way towards the victim’s good graces.

And here, the victims will usually let their guard down, forgiving those who abused them and still looking optimistic about the future behavior of the abuser. That is misplaced optimism for those who are into the cycle of abuse.

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Period of tranquility and calm

After reconciliation, things will again return to normal, even for the better sometimes. It seems that the instances of abuse and misdemeanors are already a thing of the past. For a while, the abuser may mend his ways and do things to improve the situation and his behavior. It is a sign that things are indeed working out for the abused victim.

Unless another problem, issue, setback, occurs, leading to the building up of the tension, and leading again to another cycle of abuse. Problems are a fixture of our lives, and the predisposition of individuals to violence as pressure or problem mounts means that a relationship will be caught up in the cycle of abuse.

What it’s like to be a victim?

It surely means being entrapped in an endless cycle of abuse and violence for the victims, and it means gravitating towards agitation, fear, reconciliation, and hope. As the cycle ends, the victim holds on to hope that it will never be repeated, with hope springing eternal in the human breast, as a poet once said.

But here lies the problem precisely. Victims always hope that the abusers, being intimates, and dear, loved ones, would ultimately change for the better. Perpetuating the cycle of abuse lies very much on the idea that the victims cling to such hope. Eventually, the whole thing is normalized, and the cycle becomes a part of the victim’s life.

 The cycle could only stop if the root cause of it, the predisposition of the abuser towards physical abuse, emotional abuse, could be addressed. Here the odds are stacked against the victims, for they did not know that the ultimate problem does not lie with them and that they are already caught in the endless cycle of abuse and domestic violence.

The key for the victim is to break the cycle eventually, but how?

How to recognize the cycle of abuse in relationships and take action

The first thing is to recognize abusive relationship patterns, which are implicated eventually in the domestic violence cycle, the most usual cycle of abuse in relationships. It lets the victim know if she is into one or if events are leaning towards having one. Here are some tips for recognizing the cycle.

Understanding the cycle

Bear in mind all those phases in the cycle, study them, and look whether you might be in one of those phases. Specifically, look for triggers followed by abusive relationship patterns and then a period of reconciliation and calm. Look closely if you ever have those phases,  if they occur as a cycle, and with certain regularity.

Look for signals

Every phase has to start somewhere and with something. A personal problem could easily lead to tension: isolated arguments may become instances of physical abuse and domestic violence. The throwing of blame may be a preliminary to such abusive relationship patterns. You must be aware of those signals and take cognizance of those warning signs.

Breaking the cycle of abuse in your relationship

Once you recognize the cycle, you must learn how to break it in the first instance. You need it to stop the perpetuation of the cycle, stop the abuse, and save your relationship if possible. In breaking the cycle, you must do some of these things.

Nipping it in the bud

Once you recognize that a cycle is taking place and have those signals and warning signs, do not let another cycle start. If ever you realize that something might cause tension, remind yourself and your partner that it might lead to domestic violence and another round of abuse.

It could be effective if your partner has undergone some counseling or has undergone therapy. Reminding him of their tendencies and that some things may go out of hand may give them a pause.

 For sure, one who wants to save a relationship will listen to the voice of reason. If the partner does not,  you must think of the possibility of the endless cycle, and you must get out of it.

Calling a spade a spade, not a shovel

Instances of violence, like physical abuse, emotional abuse, and others, are tell-tale signs, one vital component of abusive relationship patterns. One should not justify those instances, no matter the situation or context. They are totally uncalled for, and one must have the courage to say that an act is what it is and that it is deplorable and unpardonable.

By calling it as it is, you prevent him from reversing the tables against you. That is, you cut his recourse to victim-blaming and reactive abuse, apparent features of abusive relationships, and part of the cycle of abuse.

 It is also a signal that you will not take things sitting down and that you do not allow the abuser to take the moral high ground, which is the usual move to disempower the victim.

How to understand if you are in an abusive relationship

Disturbing signs of an abusive relationship are present, and you must not mistake them for anything else or justify those signs. Among the signs you are into an abusive relationship are the following:

Always into victim-blaming

The abuser will always lash out against the victim, claiming that the victim is the cause of his problems. That the abuser never sees himself as the cause of problems, whether personal or in a relationship, should already tell you that something is wrong and that things could take a turn for the worse, one way or another.

Victim blaming is one of the key elements in most forms of abuse. Always be on the lookout for it.

Always crossing the boundaries

Even among lovers, relatives, and partners, some lines must never be crossed. One who is constantly crossing that line, trespassing in privacy, is a clear indication of abusive tendencies or could be treated as abusive itself. It shows that one is disrespectful towards the other and unmindful of the victim’s sensibilities.

Ultimately, lack of respect is the origin of all abusive behavior. One who continues to do so and a person who never mends ways is almost certain to commit instances of abuse, perpetuating the cycle of abuse itself.

Always committing abuses

Abuses are the most self-evident of all those signs. All forms of abuse must never be tolerated and must be condemned. The presence of abuse and domestic violence in all its aspects is a clear indication of an abusive relationship. It must be prevented and, if needed, be reported to authorities.

Abusive behavior is the central part of the cycle. It is where things come to a head. But sometimes, specific forms of abuse could be so subtle, and eventually, it is normalized the victim rarely notices it.

 Therefore, it is crucial to bear in mind all those we mentioned about recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship and the signals indicating the cycle of abuse.

What Society is Doing to Address the Cycle

Domestic violence statistics are of vital help, and only society can muster and put resources to study them, analyze, and put all the knowledge to good use. Only society can help put up social policies in support of domestic violence survivors and put up prevention programs against the cycle of abuse.

The problem needs exposure, and we must make everyone aware of it.

It is good that society has never been remiss in its duty. Though at times heavily criticized, the popularization of the concept cycle of abuse is itself a vital contribution to our understanding of how violence and abuse are maintained and perpetuated in the relationship. Educating the public about it is one way to address the cycle of abuse.

Another way is to promote all the support groups that advocate helping domestic violence victims. They can help educate the public and give advice and financial and legal assistance, as well as professional life coach counseling and therapy. They could also help in apprehending abusers and making them accountable to society, to the law.

Another way is to build a more inclusive and diverse sociality as we know it, diversity and inclusion bring a better world and help people to be more empathetic.

Providing institutional help, like assisting the victims, enacting laws for further protection of family members and domestic partners, and nurturing the citizens to the importance of family values, respect, care, and love, can also help address the problem. Society can do these with the help of state and social institutions.

Conclusion:  The Cycle Needs to Stop – Victims Need Safe Places to Go

Everyone needs to be protected from abuse and must be made safe from all forms of an abusive relationship. Educating the citizens, family members, and domestic partners will go a long way in preventing the cycle of abuse among relationships. Today we are in a world of diversity, it is more important to understand the effects of abuse cycles on different types of diversities.

 It will be a vital step in eliminating the scourge that plagued most families and partnerships and destroyed many of them.

All of us have a right to a safe environment, and we must provide it to others who are in danger of being abused and violated. We must protect each other from all those possibilities and ensure that no one is left behind as far as protection from violence is concerned.

And we must do everything and use what is available to ensure that this is the case.

Cycle of Abuse


What is the cycle of abuse?

What is the Cycle of Abuse?

The cycle of abuse pertains to the regular acts, a cycle of violence, patterns of abusive behavior, and incidences of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that occur throughout the relationship. The cycle of abuse can occur in almost any kind of relationship, though the literature in recent years focuses on marital and romantic relationships.

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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory