Understanding the Cycle of Abuse

Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:


The abuser lashes out with aggressive or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show the victim "who is boss."


After the abusive episode, the abuser feels guilt, but not over what he's done to the victim. The guilt is over the possibility of being caught and facing consequences.

Rationalization or excuses

The abuser rationalizes what he's done. He may come up with a string of excuses or blame the victim for his own abusive behavior—anything to shift responsibility from himself.

"Normal" behavior

The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.

Fantasy and planning

The abuser begins to fantasize about abusing his victim again, spending a lot of time thinking about what she's done wrong and how he'll make her pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.


The abuser sets up the victim and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing her.

The Full Cycle of Domestic Violence

A person abuses his or her partner. After he/she hits her/him, he experiences self-directed guilt. He/she says, "I'm sorry for hurting you." What they do not say is, "Because I might get caught." He/she then rationalizes his behavior by saying that his/her partner is having an affair with someone. He/she tells the partner "If you weren't such a worthless person I wouldn't have to hit you." He/ she then acts contrite, reassuring the partner that he /she will not hurt them again and then fantasizes and reflects on past abuse and how to hurt her again. He plans on telling her to go to the store to get some groceries. What he withholds from her is that she has a certain amount of time to do the shopping. When she is held up in traffic and is a few minutes late, he feels completely justified in assaulting her because "you're having an affair with the store clerk." He has just set her up.

Source: Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service

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