The Cycle of Abuse



Note: I have used ‘he’ as the perpetrator here however females are also perpetrators of domestic violence.

Many victims of domestic violence become trapped in a relentless cycle of abuse.  It may be hard for friends and family to understand why victims remain in an abusive relationship, and watch the victim leave only to return again.  It’s important to realise that walking away from an abusive relationship is not as simple as it sounds, however, many, many people have left such relationships and recovered their sense of selves to lead a healthy life.   There are many reasons why a victim sometimes remains in an abusive situation. Understanding the different stages within the cycle of domestic abuse is helpful for both sufferers and loved ones to see the patterns that may be reflected back into their own lives:


  1. Tension Building – The victim feels that she is walking on egg shells.  The abuser becomes increasingly angry and irritable.  The victim is careful to comply with his wishes
  2. Acting Out The abuser will release the tension by taking it out on his victim.  Abuse will take place (This can take the form of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and more)
  3. HoneyMoon – The abuser will shower the victim with declarations of love, promises that this will never happen again, apologies etc.  He may also tell the victim that she overreacted, that she is too sensitive, or that she provoked him.
  4.  Peace There will be a period of relative calmness, giving the sufferer false hope that things will change.


Every experience of abuse is different and not all accounts of abuse will fit clearly into the above cycle.  The length of time spent in each stage of the cycle will vary – for one relationship it could be weeks, or for another it could be years.


An Emotional Connection


The abuser uses the last two stages in the cycle of abuse to create an emotional and psychological connection with the victim that makes it harder for her to get help.  He will use the ‘good times’ , gifts, and declarations of love to hook the victim back in to the cycle of abuse and make her feel that there is hope for a good life together.  She will have false hope that things will change, and the memories created during this time create closer psychological ties.  It is important to realise that these ‘good’ times are part of the cycle of abuse; in this way the abuser ensures that the victim remains with him.


Difficulties Leaving


As the abuse continues over a period of time, the abuser often leaves out the last stages so that the relationship is merely filled with tension and domestic abuse incidents.  By this point the victim usually feels powerless because the abuser usually has control of the finances, and may have prevented her from being able to support herself by prohibiting her/ hindering her from working or studying.  The victim may therefore have no confidence that if she leaves she can support herself and her children.  The abuser may also threaten that if she does leave, no one will help her/ he will take custody of the children/ he will harm her if she reports anything to the police.  Due to isolation, the victim may not be aware of people or organisations who can help her and her children.


If you are the friend or family of someone who is the victim of domestic violence, be patient, listen and be there for them.  Encourage them to seek out help.


If you feel trapped in the cycle of violence, know that there is hope.  It is not your fault, and you deserve a life free from abuse.  If you are in immediate danger call 999.


Find more information at Call Womens Aid 24-hour helpline free on 0808 802 1414.
In N.I, visit the Cithrah Foundation at or call on 02893 351 199

The Cycle of Abuse