Abusers can be either male or a female. This article is therefore inclusive as the cycle of abuse is the same whether the abuser is a male or a female. These stages of the cycle of abuse are important to know about if you are going to manage your safety.
Step 1: Kaboom!
The cycle begins with a loud verbal explosion, yelling, screaming, accusations, verbal harassment, needling, or threats of abandonment. “You’re lucky I put up with you. No one else would tolerate what I do. If you don’t shape up, I’m going to dump your sorry ass, you loser!” Meanwhile, he/she the one behaving like a lunatic. He/She is not going to leave you. It’s an empty threat. You should be so lucky. However, one of the effects of emotional abuse is that you believe his/her nonsense and actually fear being abandoned.
Step 2: Let’s be Friends
Next, a period of remorse, rationalizations and/or excuses follows. He/She will either:
- Apologize and vow it will never happen again.
- Pretend like it never happened, which is also highly abusive.
- Blame you for their outburst. If you didn’t do x, y, and z, he/she wouldn’t have to be that way. Abusive personality types never take responsibility for their own actions. It’s always someone else’s fault.
- Deny the incident occurred.
- Minimizes their behavior and insists it wasn’t that bad. Usually, you’re so relieved that the screaming and insults have stopped, no matter how he/she spins events, that you go along with it. You hope the recent attack was the last, but it never is.
Step 3: The Calm Before the Next Storm
Things go back to “normal” for a time. This is referred to as the “honeymoon phase.” No overt abuse is taking place. You’re getting along, while simultaneously waiting for the other shoe to drop and hoping that it won’t. He/She appears sincere in her efforts to be kind and loving, but what he/she is actually doing is lulling you into a false sense of security that the worst is over. It’s not.
Step 4: Tick, tick, tick
Tension begins to build again, replacing the all too fleeting honeymoon period. Irritability surfaces. Communication deteriorates. He/She makes veiled accusations, blaming you for his/her unhappiness, frustration and anything else he/she can think of. He/She emotionally withdraws and gives you the cold shoulder. Eventually, this escalates into another full blown rage episode, verbal attack, humiliation party or completely shuts you out.
The Repetitive Cycle of Abuse
This repetitive cycle of abuse will leave you feeling insecure, fearful, worthless, broken, and dependent upon the abuser. Eventually, your entire life revolves around trying to second guess his/her moods and needs in an effort to stave off the next attack. You become a non-person in that your needs don’t matter because your entire focus shifts to keeping her happy, which is an impossible task. You won’t be able to make him/her happy, no matter how hard you try. Nor will you be able to change his/her behavior; only he/she can do that.
The only way to end the cycle of abuse is to end the relationship. You can try some kind of formalized therapy, but the abuser usually denies the fact that there’s a problem. Alternately, if he/she does agree to attend therapy, he/she typically sabotages treatment by either labeling the therapist as a fraud, especially if he/she gets called on his/her bad behavior, or finds a therapist who colludes with him/her and piles more blame and abuse onto you.
If you are concerned about being the victim of emotional or physical abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.