6 Ways To End The Cycle Of Abuse

Updated July 08, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt

One of the most devastating things that can occur in any family or relationship is abuse. There are several types of abuse, but one thing is common about each type is that it takes real effort to end the cycle of abuse.

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Recognizing What Constitutes Domestic Violence

Domestic violence, often referred to as domestic abuse, is defined as any pattern of controlling, coercive behavior in any relationship, particularly those relationships involving spouses, intimate partners, and/or children, that is used to gain or maintain power or control over the individual(s). Domestic violence may come in the form of physical, sexual, economic, psychological, or emotional abuse. Stalking, cyberstalking, and threats of harm are considered forms of domestic violence. Additionally, domestic violence has no boundaries concerning age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, financial or social status.

Understanding Different Types Of Domestic Violence

Although there are different types of domestic abuse, it is not uncommon for victims to be subjected to more than one kind of abuse either simultaneously or at different times. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of domestic abuse.

  • Physical Abuse is the type of abuse that most people think of when they hear the word “abuse.” It involves any kind of assault. This can range from pinching, pushing, hitting, choking, shooting, or stabbing. It can include anything that could cause potential physical harm to a victim, such as invading someone’s personal space in a threatening manner, driving recklessly with the intent to harm or cause fear of harm.
  • Sexual Abuse can include physical and non-physical components. Sexual abuse may involve rape or other forced sexual acts, withholding sex, or using sex as a weapon. Abusers may also use sex as a way to devalue or judge their victims.
  • Economic Or Financial Abuse is one way that an abuser will try to assert power and control over a victim. This type of abuse may involve withholding money from the victim, budgeting the household finances, and not allowing the victim to have access to their own bank accounts or spending money. Abusers may open credit cards or other lines of credit, creating debt in the victim’s name. This is one example of how an abuser keeps control over a victim as a bad credit rating can affect the victim’s ability to get an apartment, car, or any other necessities that would make leaving the abusive relationship possible.
  • Emotional Abuse is often more difficult to identify because the wounds are to the mind and are not physically apparent. This type of abuse may involve being talked to in a demeaning way, such as the victim being told they are stupid, worthless, ugly, or undesirable. The scars caused by emotional abuse often take years to heal.
  • Psychological/Mental occurs when the abuser will use actions or words that affect the victim’s mental health and well-being. This type of abuse can leave victims questioning their own sanity. To many abusers, psychological taunts are much like a game. For example, they may deliberately move something so that the victim cannot find it or turn lights off and on to frighten the victim then deny that the event occurred. Survivors of psychological abuse often report that they were told they were crazy so many times that they began to believe it.

Risk Factors Associated With Domestic Violence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some risk factors are linked to a greater likelihood of domestic violence or intimate partner violence. While these risk factors may be contributing factors, they are not direct causes. The CDC further advises that “not everyone who is identified as ‘at risk’ becomes involved in violence.” Risk factors for domestic violence may be classified as Individual Risk Factors (such as low self-esteem or prior history of abuse), Relationship Factors (such as financial hardship), Community and/or Societal Factors (such as cultural norms that support aggressive behavior toward others, or poor health, economic, and social policies).

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What Is The “Cycle Of Abuse”?

In simple terms, the cycle of domestic violence is what appears to be a repetitive, never-ending roller coaster of events that involve threats of violence, violence, apologies, and promises of change.

Tensions build à Abusive incident occurs à Abuser apologizes, denies the abuse, or gives excuses à Calm/Honeymoon phase à (Repeat)

Repetition in the cycle of violence initially occurs because victims think the first violence occurrence is a “one-time thing.” Victims may feel hurt and shocked, but usually accept their abuser’s excuse or apology. This sets the pace for the cycle of abuse to continue and gain momentum. A violent or aggressive event is followed by the abuser’s guilt. The guilt is usually not related to feeling sorry for causing harm, but rather an attempt to not be caught and punished for their actions.

After a violent incident, abusers will try to get things “back to normal” as quickly as possible. During this time, they may buy extravagant gifts for the victim, pay extra attention to details, and try to make the victim believe they have changed. A victim may slowly begin to be less defensive and may be open to communication and affection from the abuser.

Unfortunately, as the victim is beginning to let her or his guard down, abusers are often to a point in the cycle of abuse where they are thinking of hurting the victim again. They may even have a plan to cause harm.

The final step in the cycle of abuse occurs when the victim is set up by the abuser to create a scenario in which the abuser feels justified in abusing. For example, abusers may ask the victim to do a household chore that they know she won’t be able to complete without help. Then, when she is unable to follow through, they feel justified in “punishing” her for her incompetence.

Understanding Ways To End The Cycle Of Abuse

The most difficult part of an abusive relationship is breaking the cycle of abuse. Victims need to understand that the longer they stay in an abusive relationship, the more violent it can become. To end the cycle of abuse, it means being aware of what the warning signs of abuse are and then safely addressing them. Below are some ways friends and family can help facilitate ending the cycle of abuse.

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Separating Victims From Abusers

Identifying Victims

While not all victims of domestic violence present with the same symptoms or signs, there are some common warning signs that everyone should be aware of. Physical abuse is the most easily detected because victims may have a history of injuries. The victim may have several emergency room visits with injuries that they try to downplay. Also, they may have injuries or wounds that are at different stages of healing, which indicates ongoing abuse.

Those who experience emotional abuse may have signs such as low self-esteem, appearing fearful, having unexplained changes in sleep patterns or weight, and always seeming apologetic. Behavioral changes are common in most types of abuse. The victim may appear distant or reserved, may cancel appointments or meetings without notice, is often late or absent from work or school, and may begin to withdraw from family and friends.

Recognize Possible Traits Of An Abuser

It’s important to note that not all people who display some of the following characteristics end up being an abuser. However, the presence of more than one of these characteristics, especially when there is an apparent victim, could indicate the presence of abusive tendencies. Many abusers possess narcissistic characteristics. This means that they like to dwell on their personal accomplishments despite being acknowledged by someone else. They often lie and manipulate. Many times, the lies that they tell are about trivial things. Additionally, abusers may come across as needy, hoping that others will feel bad for them.

Jealousy, controlling behavior, uncontrollable anger or rage, and a history of previous violence or abuse could indicate abusive tendencies, as well. Most abusers insist on having things done according to their own preferences and give no regard to the feelings of their victim. Abusers tend to sabotage friendships, insult the friends and loved ones of their victims and become overly defensive if someone challenges them.

Speak Up!

If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, don’t ignore the warning signs. You may be the only person who speaks on their behalf. It’s okay to ask questions such as, “Do you feel safe at home?” or to say, “If you are in danger, I’d like to help.”

Remember, you should not approach an abuser yourself. Instead, offer to get the victim to a safe place where the proper authorities can step in if needed. Approaching or addressing the abuser can cause you to be in danger.

If You Are A Victim Of Domestic Violence

There is never an excuse that is good enough to justify domestic violence. If you are in an abusive relationship, the cycle CAN be broken. The most important thing is to take action that will secure your safety and well-being. Creating a plan that is specific to your needs and implementing it will help break the cycle.

Remember, while friends and family can offer support, only you can decide what steps you are willing to take to escape the abusive relationship. To end the cycle of abuse, you need to take certain steps.

Leave When It Is Safe To Do So. If you want to leave your home, you need to plan to do so when your abuser is out of the house. Make sure you gather essential things, such as your birth certificate, driver’s license, social security card, and any other pertinent legal documents. Get your spare house and/or car key and put it with these documents. Pack these items along with a change of clothes and a contact list with important names and phone numbers. If you are in immediate danger, call the police and explain that you are a victim of domestic violence and that you need help leaving.

Avoid Trying To Dismiss The Abuse. It is not uncommon for an abuser to attempt to make a victim believe that he deserved the abusive treatment. However, remember, abuse is not acceptable under any circumstances.

Avoid Falling For The “Nice Guy/Girl Act” After An Abusive Episode. Many victims stay in abusive relationships because they hope that the abuse will stop or that the abuser will learn to love them. Abusers know this and often alter their behavior temporarily to make the victim’s focus be distracted from the abuse. Remember, this is an attempt to manipulate you and keep you in the relationship.

Give Yourself Some Credit! Many victims stay in abusive relationships because they are gripped with fear and feel powerless to act on their own behalf. Risk factors such as poverty or poor education can make these feelings worse. While you may not have the financial resources to move to a new town or if you don’t have family close by, you may be afraid to leave your home (regardless of how unsafe it is). Even if you don’t have a family member to go to or if you are struggling financially, there are several resources to help you get out of the cycle of abuse and start living a healthy life.

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Get Help. Most towns have a local resource center that offers assistance to victims of abuse. Law enforcement can help you get out of immediate danger and can give you contact information for shelters and other resources for victims of violence.

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). This hotline offers “access to trained advocates who are available 24 hours a day to talk confidentially with anyone who is experiencing domestic violence or who is questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship.”
  • The National Endowment for Financial Education is a foundation that is dedicated to helping Americans acquire information and skills that are necessary to take control of personal finances. If you are a victim of economic abuse, this could be a great resource for you.
  • Talking with a professional counselor or mental health specialist can be very helpful for victims of domestic abuse. There are local and state agencies available. Primary health care providers usually have relationships with mental health providers and can give a referral for counseling, if needed. Additionally, there are several sources of online counseling for those who want to talk to someone, but who are not yet ready to speak face-to-face. These online resources, such as that provided by BetterHelp, offer access to licensed counselors and therapists via their online platform. You may access BetterHelp from wherever you have an internet connection.

The Abuse Cycle Stops Here….

Stopping the cycle of abuse is not easy. It takes work and determination. However, it is possible to escape an abusive relationship and live a life free from any type of abuse. If you are a victim of domestic violence, or if you know someone who is, it’s okay to get out of that situation (or to help someone do so).


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