Cycle of Violence

In families where violence is a way of living, there is sometimes a predictable cycle, or pattern to the violent behavior. The violence is progressive in frequency and intensity.

I. Phase 1 – The Tension Building Stage
During this stage, communication in the relationship breaks down, and stress and tension build. Minor battering incidents may occur. Typically, the woman tries to calm the man by becoming more nurturing, compliant, either anticipating his every whim or staying out of his way. She believes she can prevent his anger from escalating. She accepts some of the responsibility for his abusive behavior by not permitting herself to get angry with the batterer. She uses the psychological defense of denying her own anger at being unjustly hurt both psychologically or physically, and she minimizes the isolated violent incidents. As the tension builds, its more difficult to make the coping techniques work, so the victim may withdraw.

II. Phase 2 – The Acute Battering Stage
This stage is characterized by a controllable discharge of tensions. There is an incident of violence, which may be physical violence or emotional violence, based on the buildup of tension from stage 1. The batterer generally minimizes and justifies his behavior. He generally blames the victim for his behavior. He thinks he has a lack of predictability and a lack of control. If she resists, he will become more violent. This stage can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. The victim may minimize her injuries, and may feel helpless and trapped after the incident.

III. Phase 3 – Kindness and Contrite Stage – The Honeymoon Stage
During this stage, the abusive partner may display kind and loving behavior. He may be remorseful, seek forgiveness, and say it will never happen again. The victim is worn down, and wants to have hope that things will change. The abusive partner may be very charming and give gifts to the victim. This stage may last hours, days or weeks, until the tension starts to build again, and the cycle repeats itself.

Adapted from Lenore Walker, The Battered Woman