The Abusive Cycle

This is the name for the ongoing rotation between destructive and constructive behavior which is typical of many dysfunctional relationships and families. 

The Abuse Cycle is a repeating pattern where both the perpetrator and the victim of abuse contribute to the conditions which perpetuate the cycle. There are four distinct phases:

Flashpoint Phase

This is the point where the one person perpetrates an act of verbal, physical or emotional abuse on another. The perpetrator has maximum power in this phase and the victim has minimal power. The emotional energy level in the relationship shoots upward as adrenaline kicks in and both parties adopt the classic “fight or flight” responses.

Retribution Phase

This phase immediately follows the flashpoint. The perpetrator stops the offensive behavior and may begin to regret the consequences of their actions, as the victim typically pulls away emotionally or physically. The perpetrator often attempts to reach out or ‘hoover’ their victim with offers of affection, favors, gifts or promises to change. The victim is at maximum power in this phase and the perpetrator at minimum power.

Most victims will be emboldened by the moment and many will roll out demands and conditions which the perpetrator must meet in order to be allowed back in from the cold. The perpetrator is often willing to comply with these and may be reassured to know that demands of change indicate that the relationship is not over. The emotional energy level in the relationship stays high as the victim stays on high alert and the perpetrator works to clear the debt.

The victim’s morale may reach a high at this stage as they receive a lot of positive signs from the perpetrator, including constructive words, actions and some of the items on their “list” being addressed.

Distraction & Resignation Phase

This is the phase when things begin to quiet down, and the emotional energy of both parties begins to drop. The victim becomes less vigilant and the perpetrator less worried about losing the relationship. Both parties tend to drift back towards their initial or default state. They become less analytical about the relationship and turn their attention to other things. Promises of change and demands of change tend to erode away as the perpetrator spends less attention to the relationship and the victim is less vigilant in policing their boundaries. Both parties become increasingly resigned to their default roles in the relationship. 

And the cycle is set to repeat again...