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The Domestic Violence Cycle

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Most cases of domestic violence follow a set pattern of behaviour. Here is the most common pattern of an abuser's behaviour.

It is a common misconception that domestic violence is prevalent only in the lower sections of society. The fact is that domestic violence is a malaise that can strike any household, irrespective of caste, religion, or financial status. When domestic violence is targeted only at the partner, it is referred to as spousal abuse.

Most victims of abuse often do not even realise that they are being abused. This is because perpetrators of domestic violence follow a particular cycle of behaviour. In this cycle, there will be periods of violence interspersed with times when the abuser will behave normally. Here are some of the most common stages involved in the domestic violence cycle.


This is the first stage in the domestic violence cycle. The abuser will display some form of violent or aggressive behaviour towards his victims. Abuse is not always physical. Some abusers derive greater pleasure from mentally torturing their victims rather than actual physical pain. This could involve insulting the victim or damaging her self-esteem. In all forms of domestic violence, the abuse is a type of power struggle. The abuser seeks to control his victim or demonstrate who is in charge of the relationship.


An abusive session is almost always followed by feelings of guilt. In the case of an abuser, this guilt is usually not because of the harm he has caused. It is more out of fear that authorities may apprehend him and he will have to face the consequences of his actions.

Even victims experience feelings of guilt. These feelings are largely related to thoughts like 'What wrong have I done?' or 'Why can't I do things correctly?'. This is classic behaviour displayed by a victim. She will usually try to put the blame for the abuse on herself rather than her abuser. This is especially true for situations where the victim is financially dependent on her abuser.


This is the third stage of the cycle. To assuage his feelings of guilt, the abuser will try to rationalise his behaviour. He will make all sorts of excuses to himself and to his victim. The most common excuse is to blame the victim for making him resort to abuse. The abuser does not want to believe that he is responsible for his own behaviour. He prefers to think that his actions are in response to a situation that left him no other alternative.


The next stage is to fall into a pattern of 'normal' behaviour. The abuser will pretend as if nothing has happened and will go about his daily routine. This behaviour is largely to allow the abuser to regain some control over his emotions. This is also to reassure the victim that an abusive incident will not happen again.

During this period, an abuser may sometimes go out of his way to be nice to the victim. He may turn on the charm by buying the victim a gift or taking her out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. This is why this stage is also called as the 'honeymoon stage'. By being extra nice, the victim gets lulled into a false sense of security. She may feel as if her abuser has really reformed. However, this stage can be compared to the calm experienced before a storm.


This stage occurs simultaneously with the 'pretence' stage. Even while the abuser is pretending to be a good person, he is busy planning his next attack. An abuser will often fantasise about the next attack on his victim. Though he is being nice and extra attentive to the victim, he is simultaneously making a list of all her mistakes and wrong doings.

When the abuser has his list ready, he will begin preparing a plan of attack. Planning can be simple or part of an elaborate set-up, depending on the abuser. In the abuser's mind, his actions are justified because he is merely making the victim pay for her mistakes.


Once a plan is ready, the abuser sets it into motion. Based on his plan, the abuser will seek to create a situation where his victim will make a mistake. Once this occurs, he can then pounce on her mistake and use it as a reason to attack her. A victim must remember that an act of violence is usually premeditated. No matter how hard she tries to avoid making a mistake, her abuser is not going to let her go.

The cycle of domestic violence repeats itself after every attack. The only difference is that the duration and intensity of the attacks may keep increasing. It is imperative that a victim seek help as soon as possible before she is permanently disabled, or worse, killed.

Do you believe that domestic violence is a serious problem? Should a victim seek official help or should she ask a trusted family member to intervene? Are there any other stages in the cycle of domestic violence? To share your views and experiences, click here.

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