2 December 2022
As far back as the 1970s, psychologist Lenore Walker developed a social cycle theory known as the cycle of abuse, which was published in her book, “The Battered Woman.”
She based this on evidence she obtained in interviews with heterosexual women who had experienced abuse.
This was part of her research on why it is so difficult for victims to break free, out of an abusive relationship.
To date, her four phases are evident in the majority of violent relationships, and they repeat themselves over and over again, no matter how many times the abuser promises to “change” or “stop”.
The four phases are:
This is when stress and strain begin to build between a couple just before an abusive act occurs.
The abuser’s behaviour may become passive aggressive, and s/he may become poor (or poorer) at communicating.
The victim will know that there’s a strong possibility that ‘their behaviour’ could ‘trigger’ an abusive reaction at that stage, and so the victim may try to alter his or her behaviour as a prevention measure for their partner to not become violent.
This is when the act of violence takes place.
The abuser will commit acts of domestic abuse like hitting, kicking, shoving, biting and/or throwing objects at their partner, or other kinds of abuse like sexual, psychological or emotional abuse, stalking, neglecting, intimidating or practicing any other kind of extreme controlling behaviour.
This is also known as the honeymoon phase.
The abuser becomes contrite and apologises for their behaviour.
They may be overly attentive or affectionate; they may try to ignore what happened, or they may even try to blame the victim for their violence.
They often shower their victim with gifts and/or over-the-top kindness, and are likely to appear remorseful, repentant and sad. Some abusers may threaten to commit suicide to stop their victim from leaving. They are likely to swear the abusive behaviour will never happen again.
This phase is considered an extension of the reconciliation phase.
During this period, the abuser tries hard to show kindness to the victim and to resist the urge to fall back into abusive behaviours.
The relationship seems calm and peaceful, leading the victim to believe that the abuser really has ‘changed’, and that things will be different this time.
Sadly, though, new conflicts inevitably arise, and the abusive pattern starts again at the tension-building stage.
Universal signs of abuse that everyone should know
Not all abusers use the same tactics. They may never even threaten physical violence.
Abusive partners often try to maintain power in the following ways:
If you or someone you love is trapped in an abusive relationship, help is available.
Get in touch with POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) on 011 642 4345 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Stop Gender Violence Helpline, run by LifeLine South Africa, on 0800 150 150.
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