What is domestic violence? A series on Dr. Bradley's sourcebook (part 9) The Cycle of Violence
The Cycle of Violence
The question that most people ask themselves when working with domestic violence is "why"? Our society no longer views one as the property of the other within a marriage, and society as a whole has never been more progressive. We teach our kids to keep their hands to themselves, and to treat others the way you want to be treated. So why is domestic violence seemingly happening more frequently? Dr. Walker, who is the Director of the Domestic Violence Institute in Denver, and one of the most well respected minds in regard to studying domestic violence, has outlined a cycle which she found happens in most abusive relationships (Bradley 35). In fact, Dr. Walker found that in two-thirds of abusive relationships, the same 3 step cycle was taking place.
The first step is building tension. In this step, the abuser can often be viewed as "edgy, critical, irritable" towards the victim (Bradley 35). Even the slightest thing seems to set them off, so in an attempt to make sure that doesn't happen, the victim will find themselves taking every precaution possible or similarly "walking on eggshells" (Bradley 35). The victim tries to avoid anything that could potentially set the abuser off. While this anxiety driven servitude continues, the abuser gradually becomes more abusive in relatively minor ways, like yelling, isolating, or even slapping the victim. As the victim realizes the gradual increase in abusive tactics, they allow for the minor assaults to happen hoping that it prevents things from getting nay worse. As Dr. Bradley notes, this creates the adverse effect because the abuser now see's their own behavior as legitimate and uncontested (Bradley 36). The abuser begins to believe that they are in the right to perform the abuse since there was not a surplus of contention towards the gradual increase of abusive behavior. This first step does not have a time period associated with it, as it can last for a few days to upwards of many years depending on the case. During this time both parties of the abusive relationship can sense the progression coming on, but the victim still believes that their docile behavior will result in changed behavior from the abuser.
The next step, as noted by Dr. Walker, is the violent outburst. This is when the abuser is set off, usually from an arbitrary catalyst, and takes out all of their rage on the victim and their surroundings. This can be interpreted as any type of physical and verbal assault which the abuser inflicts upon the victim and/or anyone attempting to come to the aid of the victim. This step is usually shorter than the previous and the abuser can be seen as extremely irrational (Bradley 36). The fact that any little or insignificant act can bring on this rage induced tirade is of importance.
The third and final step is the apologetic loving contrition (Bradley 36). In this last step, the abuser will regret their actions and beg for forgiveness. They swear to change their behavior or swear that it won't happen again, all the while showering you with gifts and tokens of their "love". This step can also vary in length, but most violent relationships always circle back to this time of abusive peace. The main point that Dr. Walker found when studying this phenomena, is that the promised behavior never did change. Instead, these three steps repeated in cyclical fashion, with each revolution resulting in worse abuse. This cycle is continually repeated until the victim's entire sense of self is stripped away, and they find themselves legitimately unable to leave their abusive relationship. Finally, the abuser also learns the exact words or gestures which give off the impression of genuine change, but without outside assistance, these types of relationships rarely change on their own.
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Berry, Dawn Bradley. The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Contemporary, 2001