Why can’t women who are abused walk away from their abusers? Here’s what happens in the abuse dynamic or cycle of abuse.
“Knowing the [abuse dynamic] cycle helps women begin to understand the real reasons for her entering into the relationship and staying as long as she does,” writes Jill Cory in When Love Hurts. “Most women living with the cycle are just trying to survive day-to-day; thinking about leaving seems impossible.”
If you’re a woman who is experiencing abuse, please read books like Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
Learn as much as you can about the abuse dynamic and the cycle of an abusive relationship. Get as much information, power, and understanding as you can.
The Cycle or Dynamics of Abuse
“The honeymoon behaviour draws the woman in and keeps her invested in the relationship,” writes Cory in When Love Hurts. “The tension-building and explosion create fear, confusion and uncertainty that make any move to step away from the relationship dangerous and costly. The overall effect of living with the cycle is that it is exhausting and overwhelming.”
There are three phases of abuse in the cycle: Honeymoon (Entrapment), Tension Building (Fear) and Explosion (Escalation of abusive tactics).
The Honeymoon Stage or entrapment is when a man draws a woman into the relationship. He is attentive, loving, kind, and romantic. He gives gifts, makes promises, and sweeps her away in an intense rush of love and affection. Abuse is the last thing that occurs to people who see him, her, and their first blush of “love.”
“Women aren’t attracted to abusive men,” says Cory. “Rather, abusive men target women and present themselves in ways that look attractive. She doesn’t fall for the abuse…she falls for a considerate, kind, loving man.”
Tension Building or fear can start with something as “harmless” as not him showing up when he said he would, or making fun of her in public. He may appear disinterested or distant, and blame her or the children for creating his problems.
“The tension building stage is an abrupt interruption of the honeymoon,” says Cory. “Sometimes women feel they are walking on eggshells, stepping through land mines, and living in fear.”
This stage can involve withdrawal, sullenness, unpredictability, moodiness, hostility, and criticism. It’s a compete departure from her normal experience with him.
The explosion or escalation stage can involve yelling, swearing, slamming doors, banging pots, throwing things, and subjecting her to different types of physical, emotional, and sexual violence. “Some men also demonstrate the ‘silent treatment’ during explosions,” says Cory. “Typically, the explosions will become more brutal and more frequent over time.”
Afterward, he’s loving and apologetic. He stops the negative, threatening behaviour and behaves in a positive or neutral way. Back to the honeymoon stage they go.
She thinks she did something wrong, and puts more effort into the relationship. She starts thinking she needs to change because she’s the problem. She starts second-guessing herself.
“This is the dynamic that traps women in abusive relationships,” says Cory. “And it creates conditions in which those around her think she’s the problem. Indeed, she herself thinks she’s the problem…and she keeps trying to change.”
If you’re a woman who is abused, you are not the problem. He is the problem.
Read How Do You Leave an Abusive Relationship? for help.
Whose Fault Is It? Who Causes the Dynamic or Cycle of Abuse?
“Abusers are 100% responsible for the cycle or dynamic of abuse, which means that the abuser drives the cycle,” writes Cory in When Love Hurts. “He decides where they are in the cycle and for how long.” No matter what women who are abused do or how hard they try, they can’t change or improve the situation.
The cycle often continues once the abusive relationship has ended. This is important for women to see that even when she is not there, he continues to engage in the same behaviors and patterns.
If you’re a woman who is abused, you are not the reason he is abusing you. You are not responsible for his mood swings, anger, problems, or life!
To stop the abuse, you need to find a way to walk away from the relationship. Get strength, power, wisdom, and support from women’s distress lines, shelters, and people who understand the dynamics of abuse.
If you’re a woman who can’t walk away from an abusive relationship, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you know in your heart it's time to move on, read How to Let Go of Someone You Love.
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