The cycle of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse often follows a predictable pattern, where the exertion of power and control becomes intensified over time. Typically the cycle begins with a honeymoon phase characterized by loving, attentive, harmonious times together. The man who is abusive often dotes on his partner by buying gifts, providing excessive compliments and making repeated statements about how important she is to him. This phase is generally followed by a period of building tension in which the man who is abusive begins to criticize, make accusations, and display excessive jealousy. Eventually the controlling behavior of this phase becomes more intense and severe, often resulting in degradation and humiliation. This leaves the woman who is abused feeling worthless and responsible. She may attempt to calm her partner, anticipate his next actions and doubt her perception that abuse is occurring. It is common for the woman who is abused to deny the significance of what is happening, and to feel ambivalent about whether she should end the relationship. People in her life may encourage her to stay with her partner, leading to more confusion.

Following the abusive episode, the man who is abusive often exhibits remorsefulness and apologizes excessively for his abuse. He behaves in caring ways and promises to cease the abuse and/or to receive counselling. This creates a false sense of hope that the abuse will not recur. Again, the woman who is abused often believes that she is responsible for helping to make the relationship work, so continues to modify her behavior with the hope of de-escalating or preventing his abuse. She is most vulnerable at this time in the cycle. His attentiveness and promises are comforting and make it difficult for her to realize the full impact of his abuse. Over time, tension builds, promises are replaced by threats and the abuse escalates again.

Understanding abuse is the first step toward leaving an abusive partner, getting help for your own abusive behavior, or helping someone who is being abused.