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The cycle of violence in relationships

The cycle of violence in relationships

March 24, 2023

Why the assaulted woman does not leave her aggressor? Why do not you report the attacks? Why after denouncing many times withdraw the complaint? How do victims feel assaulted in the different stages of aggression? How do they become victims?

We have all heard these kinds of questions among the public. We can give you an answer if we look closely at the Victimization process , which as the name already indicates is not a situation that occurs in a timely and isolated, but something that is developed over time. A relationship where there is abuse does not usually start happening overnight.

It is a process that often begins in a subtle way and causes the victim not always to be aware of the seriousness of the situation he or she is living.

The cycle of violence and the process of victimization

In 1979, the renowned American psychologist Leonore Walker shed light on how victimization processes work from their research designed to try to understand and answer the questions previously raised.

From the testimonies of battered women she realized that they are not attacked all the time or in the same way, but that there are phases for violence, which have a varied duration and different manifestations . This is what has been called the cycle of violence, one of the most widespread theories on internal dynamics of violent relationships in the world.

This theory contemplates the existence of four phases in all dynamics of relational violence. The phases in which the cycle of violence is divided are happening to each other, a fact that precisely makes it difficult for the cycle to be broken. In the same relationship, the cycle can be repeated infinitely and the duration of its phases can be variable .

The 4 phases of abuse

Next I will describe the different phases that a battered person goes through.

1. Calm phase

In a first phase, the situation is calm . No disagreements are detected and everything is lived in an idyllic way. But, when the cycle has been repeated several times, the victim may begin to feel that calm is maintained because everything is correct according to the aggressor's point of view, which is ultimately the motor of the cycle.

2. Tension Accumulation Phase

Small disagreements begin, then the aggressor feels increasingly questioned by his victim . It may be that the victim, in his attempt to keep things as the aggressor wants, makes some mistake because the increase in tension affects his ability to concentrate. In this phase, in fact, Psychological abuse begins based on the idea of ​​control and that is a warning signal of what is to come.

Many aggressors excuse themselves precisely by saying that they were warning their victim but that the latter ignored them and continued to provoke them. The woman tries to calm, please or, at least, not do what could disturb the couple, in the unrealistic belief that she can control the aggression.

Tensions are constructed and manifested in a specific way as certain behaviors of verbal or physical aggression of a mild and isolated nature, from small incidents: subtle contempt, insinuations, contained anger, sarcasm, long silences, irrational demands , etc. The victim adopts a series of measures to manage this environment, and progressively acquires mechanisms of psychological self-defense in anticipation or avoidance of aggression.

The aggressor's actions are directed towards an objective: destabilize the victim . In this phase, the victim tends to minimize or deny the problem ("we have our more and less, like everyone else"), justification of the violent behavior of the aggressor ("as it is very passionate, it is carried away by anger ..." ), and make allusions to positive aspects of your partner ("he is my only support in life").

3. Explosion Phase

The aggressor takes action. It is characterized by a strong discharge of the tensions provoked in the previous phase by the aggressor . The most important physical, psychological and / or sexual aggressions take place.

In comparison with the other phases, this is the shortest but also the one that is lived with greater intensity. The most important consequences for the victim occur at this moment, both in the physical and in the psychic plane, where continue to install a series of psychological changes due to the situation experienced .

In this phase the victim can maintain high expectations of change in his partner ("with time will change, you have to give him time ..."), and feelings of guilt appear ("I have it deserved", "the fault is mine for having chosen him to the").

4. Phase of Honeymoon

At the beginning, it is usually the phase responsible for keeping the victim in the cycle because in it the aggressor initiates a series of compensatory behaviors to demonstrate to the victim that he / she feels it and that it will not happen again . This makes the victim see also the positive part of the aggressor and gets caught up in reflections about how to get this part to appear more frequently.

This phase is characterized by extreme kindness and "affectionate" behavior on the part of the aggressor (attention, gifts, promises ...). The aggressor tries to influence family and friends to convince the victim to forgive him . It is often common to try to make the victim see that the aggressor needs professional help and support from her, and that she can not leave in this situation; reason why some victims return with the aggressor (if they had ceased coexistence with him) and / or withdraw the complaint they had previously filed.

But, after time, this phase usually disappears and the cycle is reduced to only three phases: calm, tension accumulation and explosion. This disappearance of the honeymoon phase is consistent with a verbalization that many victims make when they say that "I, as long as I do not scream and do not mistreat me, it is enough", obviating that a relationship is sustained in things that go beyond the absence of mistreatment.

By shortening the honeymoon phase aggressions are becoming stronger and more frequent , which diminishes the psychological resources of women to get out of the spiral of violence.

Connecting with the Theory of Learned Helplessness

Leonore Walker postulated that Seligman's Theory of Learned Helplessness was one of the theories that could explain the psychological and behavioral reactions of women who suffered abuse.

Following this theory, Continuous abuse would provoke the cognitive perception that one is unable to manage or resolve the situation that one is going through. , which would be generalized to future situations. This feeling of helplessness would lead to an increase in depression, anxiety, and would produce a debilitating effect on problem solving skills.

Battered women would reach a point where they would recognize that their responses have no impact on their situation of abuse because they have put into practice different alternatives to change their own behavior or that of the aggressor and in spite of them have continued to suffer mistreatment.

Final thoughts

Some authors have criticized the theory of learned helplessness applied to battered women, since can be misinterpreted and used to support the stereotyped concepts of passive women or defenseless victims . Walker states that the term "helplessness" should be used very carefully, as it gives a picture of battered women as poor and capable people. That is why we must emphasize that one of the pillars for working with victims is to promote their autonomy / self-care, their self-esteem and their own responsibility.

Battered women are not guilty of what has happened to them, but they are responsible, after therapeutic work and to be aware of the nature of the cycle of violence, of prevent a new situation of violence from occurring in a future relationship of couple. At that point they will be trained to identify signs that indicate a relationship is not "healthy".

Bibliographic references:

  • Echeburúa, E. & Corral, P. (1998). Manual of family violence. Madrid, Twenty-first Century.
  • Echeburúa, E., Amor, P. & Corral, P. (2002). Battered women in prolonged coexistence with the aggressor. Relevant variables. Psychological Action, 2, 135-150.
  • Walker, L. E. (1984). The battered woman syndrome. New York, NY: Springer.

Cycle of Violence (March 2023).

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