Stopping The Abuse Cycle: Where Do I Start?

Updated July 10, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

Domestic violence takes on several forms, which is why not everyone recognizes certain situations as abuse. No one is immune to domestic abuse. While certain populations are more vulnerable to abusive relationships, it can happen to anyone, even people that are mentally and emotionally strong.

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Domestic violence begins with one act. An abusive relationship usually gets stronger and more frequent over time. Often, there are short or long periods of time where there is no evidence of domestic abuse. These stretches of good times may lead the abused person to believe that things are getting better. If you notice a pattern of abuse followed by an apology and promise not to do it again that repeats over and over again, this is indicative of an abuse cycle and you need help.

If you suspect that someone close to you is abusing you in some way, you shouldn’t feel bad or guilty if you don’t recognize it right away or if you don’t take action to stop the abuse right away.

What Can Statistics Tell Us About Domestic Violence?

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly 30% of women and 10% of men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner. Women between the ages of 18-24 and 25-34 experienced the highest rates of domestic violence by an intimate partner. Just under 20% of women and about 1.4% of men have been raped during their lifetimes. Almost 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner within their lifetimes.

About 22% of children have witnessed some type of domestic violence. About 30%-60% of perpetrators of domestic violence also abuse children in the household. A North American study showed that children that were exposed to domestic violence were 15 times more likely to be victims of physical or sexual abuse.

These are just a few of the statistics that demonstrate that abusive relationships have an abuse cycle and that victims of abuse may produce a new cycle of abuse through no fault of their own.

How to Recognize Domestic Violence

It’s normal for intimate partners to get into arguments on occasion. When the arguments turn into a regular cycle of abuse and the perpetrator always apologizes afterward, promising never to do it again, but you live in fear that it will, this is an abuse cycle. Victims of domestic abuse may wonder if it really happened or if they merely imagined it. The physical and emotional pain of domestic violence is real, and it doesn’t go away until the abuse cycle stops and you take steps to heal from it.

Domestic violence is also called intimate partner violence and it occurs between people that are in an intimate relationship. Domestic abuse may occur between people in heterosexual relationships or same-sex relationships. An abusive relationship may take on many forms. It may be emotional, physical, sexual, or may exhibit threats of abuse.

Domestic abuse always involves an imbalance of power and control. Often an abusive relationship shows signs of abuse right at the start of the relationship. Other times, the abuse starts gradually and increases over time. Abusers try to control their partners with words or behaviors that are intimidating or hurtful.

Understanding Sexual Abuse

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Sexual abuse is a form of domestic violence that happens with adults and children. Perpetrators of sexual abuse use force, threats, and situations to take sexual advantage of victims that aren’t able to give consent. In most cases, the victim knows their perpetrator. Victims of sexual abuse often react immediately to the assault with fear, shock, and disbelief.

Victims of sexual abuse often have symptoms for many years and possibly for a lifetime. It’s common for victims to experience anxiety or fear long after the abuse occurred. It can even manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder in some people. Individual and group therapy are often effective for victims of sexual abuse.

Child sexual abuse is any sexual interaction either between a child and an adult or between two or more children where the perpetrator uses the child for sexual stimulation or observes a child for sexual stimulation. Child sexual abuse involves physical touching, but sometimes it consists of voyeurism (looking at them naked), exhibitionism, or exposing children to pornography.

Child sexual abuse doesn’t discriminate. It happens to boys and girls of all races, ages, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds.

Whether it’s sexual, physical, or emotional, domestic abuse toward children is harmful. Domestic abuse is also harmful to children that witness it. When children grow up with domestic violence in their homes, they’re more likely to be abused and have behavioral problems than non-abused children. They’re also more likely to believe that an abusive relationship is normal.

Pregnant women may also be victims of domestic violence. Domestic abuse sometimes starts when a woman becomes pregnant. It can endanger the life or safety of the woman and child and it may continue after the baby is born.

Other vulnerable populations of domestic abuse include immigrants, older women, people in same-sex relationships, and the LGBT populations.

How To Break The Abuse Cycle

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People that suffer from an abusive relationship often put the blame on themselves. That’s something that may prevent them from reporting incidents of domestic abuse. People that are forced to live in an abusive relationship hesitate to seek help because they feel that they’re partly to blame. It’s common for victims of abuse to worry that telling someone domestic abuse will break up the family or make things worse. The reality is that seeking help is the best way to protect yourself and your family from domestic violence.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’ve reacted to an abusive relationship by verbally or physically acting out with yelling, hitting, or pushing during altercations. Your abuser may try to use such incidents to manipulate you by turning the tables and pointing to you as the perpetrator in an abusive relationship.  When the truth comes out, your actions will likely be perceived as self-defense or emotional distress.

If you’re still not certain that you’re involved in a domestic violence situation, try to see it objectively. Look at the larger patterns in the relationship and compare them to the signs of domestic violence.

The longer that you remain in the cycle of domestic violence, it will take a greater toll on your emotions. Victims of domestic violence may become worried, anxious, and depressed. The longer it goes on, they may feel paralyzed or hopeless, making it even more difficult to escape domestic violence.

Creating A Safety Plan

The best thing that a victim of domestic violence can do is to tell someone they trust—a friend, loved one, spiritual advisor, a health provider, or another close contact. You can also call the national domestic violence hotline at 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233) where they’ll provide you with resources including information on safe shelters. Call 911 if you need to. Medical providers will treat your injuries and refer you to safe housing and other resources.

Women’s shelters and crisis centers will usually provide 24-hour emergency shelter. Many of them also offer advice on legal matters and may also offer advocacy and support services. A shelter may be able to help you get a restraining order against your abuser so you can start a new life.

Leaving your abuser can be dangerous, so take as many precautions as you can. Pack an emergency bag with items you’ll need when you leave like extra clothes and keys and keep it in a safe place. Locate your important papers, money, and prescription papers and place them strategically so you can grab them at a moment’s notice. Save some money and put it aside for the move. There are shelters available so know the local shelter number. Make a plan for where to go and how to get there.

Be careful about leaving traces of your whereabouts on electronic devices. Your abuser may try to use a mobile phone, electronic tablet, or laptop to monitor where you are, who you’ve been in contact with, or to try to contact you directly.

Try to remove the abuser’s access to telephone records, billing records, and texting history. If possible, use someone else’s laptop to seek help. Use your work computer, the library computer, or one from a friend. Remove the GPS from your car to prevent the abuser from finding your location.

Change your email password often. Choose passwords that would be impossible for your abuser to guess. Clear your viewing history on all devices so your abuser doesn’t know what you’ve been looking at.

Once you’re able to escape your abuser, you’re bound to feel a sense of relief, but expect things to be difficult for a time. You will probably find it hard to talk about the abuse. You won’t have to deal with it alone. There are people that are available and are willing to help you. Try to remember that the best thing that you can do for yourself is to be willing to receive help and support. A good place to start is with online counseling because you can easily continue it no matter where you live. Getting out of the cycle of abuse is hard, but it’s the first step toward reclaiming your own life and looking forward to a healthier future.


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