Friday, August 1, 2008

The Cycle of Abuse

This cycle has been a notable factor in some offline discussions that I've had with several people since this topic presented itself (from so many different sources). In any type of abuse or manipulative relationship (including spiritual abuse settings), we see this ever repeating pattern. I've seen this reproduced so many times, I don't even know who to credit as the original source. I offer my own version of it here. I think of the calm phase as the first step in the process, though people frequently do not indicate this as the first phase in the process in their diagrams.

Here is my own version of the "cycle of abuse."
[Click to enlarge the diagram.]

Honeymoon/Calm Phase
Things seem wonderful at what I always consider the beginning of the pattern, and everyone (particularly the victim) hopes beyond hope that things will be different from here. Everything has been resolved and the problems will not persist. There is open communication and things seem to be back on the desired, ideal track. You forgive and you forget. All the past is forgotten.

Tension Phase
Things start to become a bother, especially for the person who is abusive. Things start to become irritating and these offences begin to build. Communication that was very open just a short time before is now difficult and guarded. There is much avoidant behavior and "walking on eggshells." "I'd better not provoke." "I'm going to get into trouble for this, so I won't say anything." "I have a problem with this but I can't take the chance of talking about it."

Confrontation or Altercation Phase
The accumulated tension or irritation errupts into some type of confrontation and communication shifts from a passive avoidance to aggression on the part of just one or both of the parties involved. Here, we see verbal abuse and/or physical abuse, intimidation, threats, ect. The accumulated tension is unloaded in one acute event which is often not commensurate to what appears to have triggered the event.

Reconciliation Phase
Both parties basically become very shocked by the confrontation, and the frustration has been expressed by at least one party. The other party is left to deal with shock, injury, incredulity, ect. It is during this phase that apologies and excuses are offered to assuage the other partner's pain and emotion, whatever that may be. There may also be a great show of caring from the abusive party which engenders the sympathy of the injured. Both parties generally try to excuse the event by creating a myth about the altercation: "it wasn't that bad and was blown out of proportion." Denial is also a possibility, as the confrontation quickly and conveniently slips out of the remembrance of one or both parties. With Borderline Personality Disorder, the effect of that disease process actually prevent the memory from passing from short term into long term memory storage. It is literally forgotten.

Then back to square one...