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The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence may seem unpredictable, simply an outburst related just to the moment and to the circumstances in the lives of people involved.  In fact, however, domestic violence follows a typical pattern no matter when it occurs or who is involved.  The pattern, or cycle, repeats; each time the level of violence increases.  At every stage in the cycle, the abuser is fully in control of himself and is working to control and further weaken his victim.

Understanding the cycle of violence and the thinking of the abuser helps survivors recognize they truly are not to blame for the violence they have suffered and that the abuser is the one responsible. 

Six distinct stages make up the cycle of violence:  the setup, the abuse, the guilt stage, rationalization, non-abusive or good behavior stage, and then fantasies and plans for the next episode of abuse.

Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual and social (please refer to Patterns of Abuse).

A non-abusive person experiences guilt very differently than an abusive person.  An abuser does not feel guilty or sorry for hurting his victim.  He may apologize for his behavior, but his apology is designed so that he will not face the consequences or be held accountable.  The goal of the guilt stage is to reassure himself that he will not be caught.  The guilt the victim feels is more directed at “What did I do to cause this?”

The abuser makes excuses and blames the victim for his behavior.  Common excuses usually revolve around being intoxicated or abused as a child.  This makes sense to most people.  However, alcohol use and being abused as a child does not cause the abuser to be violent.  Common victim blaming statements usually focus on the victim’s behavior.  For example, “If you had the house cleaned, I wouldn’t have gotten so mad,” or “If you had cooked dinner on time, I wouldn’t have had to hit you.”  The goal of this stage is to not assume responsibility for his behavior.

This is a complicated stage.  After an abuser is violent, he may become the thoughtful, charming, loyal and kind person the victim fell in love with.  He may take her out to dinner, buy her flowers and convince her he will change.  If the victim has visible injuries, she will make up stories to explain how she got them.  This is designed to maintain the “normalcy” of the relationship.  The goal of this stage is to keep the victim in the relationship and present the relationship as normal.

Battering is planned.  In the initial stages, a batterer fantasizes or has a mental picture of the next time he abuses the victim.  During the fantasy and planning stage, the batterer is the actor, producer, director and the star.  He experiences his power from activating the fantasy.  The planning phase details more specifically what the batterer will need to have and to do in order to abuse his partner. 

This is when the batterer puts his plan into action.  He sets the victim up.


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