WORKING WITH BATTERED WOMEN: A Handbook for Health Care Professionals


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Cycle of Violence

Cycle of Violence Graphic

Phase One: Tension Building State

He attacks her verbally with insults, put-downs, accusations. Minor battering incidents occur. She tries to calm him, trying to anticipate his every whim. As tension builds, she becomes more passive, he becomes more oppressive. She blames herself for not being able to control the situation. Nothing she tries works and a feeling of hopelessness begins to grow within her. The tension becomes unbearable.

Phase Two: Acute Battering Incident

Tensions that build up in Phase One erupt in violence. The incident is usually triggered by an external event or by the internal state of the man, rather then by the woman's behaviour. It is during this stage that the woman is most likely to be sexually assaulted, physically injured, or killed.

Phase Three: Honeymoon Stage

After the acute battering incident, the man becomes extremely loving, kind and contrite. He tells her that it happened because he had a bad day at work or had too much to drink. He begs forgiveness and promises it will never happen again. He tells her that he still loves her and needs her more than ever. For a time he becomes the perfect husband, father, lover, friend. As their relationship deteriorates, his loving behaviour is increasingly important to her. For a time he seems like the man she fell in love with. The "Honeymoon" stage also causes the woman to doubt the abuse ever took place, or if it did, to think that she caused it. The purpose is to invalidate the memory of the abuse.

Guilt also holds her. They both believe she is responsible for his future welfare, or, if she leaves, for breaking up the home. However, if she stays, it is not long before the loving behaviour gives way to small battering incidents, and a new cycle of violence begins.

Over time, the cycle of violence shifts. Honeymoon periods become shorter; denial, tension and violence increase. Eventually the couple only experiences affection and tenderness during a honeymoon stage, after a beating. The absence of other closeness in their lives makes them increasingly desperate and hopeful during the honeymoon phase, especially as the time period becomes shorter and the violence increases. The cycle becomes a trap—there is hope during the quiet periods that it will end, but it doesn't end.

Cycle of Violence over time Graphic

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