Cycle of Abuse - Walker

Cycle of Violence

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Theories About Abuse


Dr. Lenore Walker

Phase 1: The Tension Building Phase

  • woman can sense man becoming edgy and more prone to react negatively to frustration. 
  • in response, woman may become more nurturing, compliant, or may stay out of his way. 
  • she does not permit herself to become angry with him reasoning that she may deserve the abuse. 
  • with each minor battering a residual tension accumulates. 
  • he becomes more fearful she may leave him (reinforced by her withdrawal) and so becomes more possessive, brutal and threatening in order to keep her. 
  • the more she moves away from him, the more he moves oppressively toward her. 
Phase 2: The Acute Battering Incident
  • sometimes the woman may provoke it just to get it over with, to release the tension, and to maintain some sense of control and get to the third phase of loving and calm. 
  • man fully accepts that his rage is out of control. 
  • he starts with a justification but ends not understanding what has happened. 
  • some women will fight back only during this phase because they've been damming up their anger during phase one and only feel safe letting it out now (with nothing to lose). 
Phase 3: Loving Kind And Contrite Behavior
  • he fears she will leave, so he does everything and promises everything to prevent it. 
  • his reasons may persuade her that he really can change. 
  • this phase is the "coming true" of all the good things that romantic love is supposed to provide. 
  • helping agents enter at this point, when it is most difficult for the woman to see objectively. 
  • the glider of realization that she is selling herself for a temporary dream state adds to her self-hatred. 
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The Cycle of Violence

A battering relationship usually follows a definite pattern. This pattern has come to be termed "the cycle of violence". Understanding this cycle is very important in learning to help those in abusive relationships.

There are three phases in the cycle of violence- (1) the tension building phase, (2) acute battering incident and (a) honeymoon phase.

In phase one, the abuser attacks his partner verbally with insults, putdowns and accusations. Minor battering incidents may occur. She does everything she can to keep him calm, walking on eggshells, trying to anticipate his every whim and move. As the tension builds, she becomes more passive and he, more oppressive. She blames herself for the situation, and her lack of ability to control what is happening, makes her feel quite helpless. The tension reaches a point of being unbearable.

In phase two, the tensions that have built up in phase one finally erupts into violence. The incident is usually the result of an outside event or the emotional state of the man, rather than something the woman has done. This is a highly dangerous point as it is here the woman is most likely to be seriously injured or killed.

Following this battering incident, the couple moves into the third and final phase of the cycle. He becomes extremely apologetic and loving. He begs for forgiveness and promises it will never happen again. She wants very much to believe him. As time goes on and the relationship continues to deteriorate, this loving behavior on his part becomes very important to her. She sees a glimpse of' the man she fell in love with. She feels guilty and responsible for his welfare. If she leaves, she will feel responsible for breaking up the home and the family. This loving behavior soon starts to disappear and gives way to, tension, and small battering incidents. The circle has become complete, and the cycle begins again.

Over a period of time, there are changes in the cycle. The honeymoon phases become shorter, tension and violence increases, and become more frequent. Francis Woods, in her book "Living Without Violence", identifies five stages a woman goes through as she lives within the cycle of violence. In stage one there is denial. Her response to the early battering incidents is to deny there is a problem. She may downplay the seriousness of what happened, "he only pushed me". She is ashamed and does not want anyone to know.

In stage two she blames herself. She is beginning to recognize the fact that she is battered but her low self-esteem, and the fact that her partner blames her, makes her increasingly powerless. Her thoughts are, "I must provoke him to hit me. I'll try harder".

Stage three, she seeks help. Sometimes this can be a negative experience. If she goes to family or friends, they may not believe her; or, they may say things to her such as "you made your bed, now lie in it".

For some women, going through the legal system may be frustrating and frightening due to their lack of knowledge of the system. Services for battered women may seem unattainable to her if she lives in a rural area, however, this is not the case. She feels she is in a no-win situation. If she leaves, she didn't try, if she stays, she must like it. This is how people view the situation.

In stage four, she starts going in and out of the relationship. A large percentage of those who leave, return to the relationship more than once. She is trying to decide whether to stay or leave for good. She might have tried counseling or living on her own for a short time. She left because her life was in danger, she goes back because she still loves her spouse. She feels guilty and also has fears about making it on her own. Her going back is a test to see if the relationship can be changed. She may leave and return a few or many times. She may come to a definite decision gradually or suddenly. This stage could last for years.

The fifth and final stage would be living without violence. At this point, she most likely will need ongoing support. Fear and low self-esteem may be a part of her life for a long time to come. Some professionals say it takes up to five years to recover from a violent relationship. Some say it takes forever.

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