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What is Domestic Violence Cycle


Any incident of threatening behavior, violence or abuse, of any form, between individuals who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, or share a relationship, is known as domestic violence. The victims are usually women, children, the elderly, physically or mentally challenged individuals and gay or lesbian relationship partners (Steiner, 1996). Domestic violence is a far-reaching and social problem which has raised many serious debates. While many sociologists argue that domestic violence is mainly a male-perpetrated issue, may others believe that women are as violent as men in intimate relationships. The issue of domestic violence against women in particular is not new and the movement for domestic violence is at least 3 decades old. The movement has gotten a lot of public awareness and enacted a lot of protective laws. Many extensive networks of services have been started to help the victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence can be either physical – where there is danger of harm to any part of the victim’s body;  psychological and emotional – where the offender abuses the victim verbally or criticizes her in front of others or causes embarrassment, despair, sadness or terror; sexual- where in the victim suffers rape or any other derogatory treatment; economical- the offender tortures the victim by causing financial tensions, not allowing her to spend or asking her penny-to-penny accounts of what is being spent; or social- where the victim is not provided the right to visit friends and family members or to attend social gatherings. Other methods of harassment include blackmailing, following, unwanted mails and phone calls, etc. Children, the elderly and the disabled may also suffer as a result of sheer negligence, such as not properly providing food, shelter and clothing or failing to provide medical assistance in time. Kids may also suffer by just seeing their mother beaten up (Davies, Smith and deBenedictis, 2008).

Nearly 31 per cent of American women report being abused by their partners at some point in their lives, according to the 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey (Common Wealth Fund, 1999). According to the ‘National Violence Against Women’ survey (1995-96), about 25% of women reported sexual domestic violence at some time in their lives. In the year 2001, 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence were women (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). There was no difference in rates as far as social, racial, geographical or ethnic differences are concerned. Also, 50% of men who assaulted their wives also assaulted their children.

Intimate Partner Violence

Women are mainly targeted in what many sociologists call as “intimate terrorism” where in men control “their women” by means of various coercive control tactics which include physical, mental and sexual violence. These victims may even suffer from economic abuse (CDC, 2006).

There are actually 3 forms of intimate partner violence;

  1. Situational couple violence – This is infact the most common form of intimate partner violence. In this type of violence, a disagreement turns into an angry argument landing up in violence. This type of violence can be mild or severe and isolated or recurring (Johnson, 43-52).
  2. Intimate terrorism – This is the worst form of intimate partner violence. Here the batterer terrorizes and takes complete control of his partner by using physical and sexual abuse along with other forms of abuse. It is very rare that women are batterers in this case (Johnson, 43-52).
  3. Violent resistance – This occurs when the victim of intimate terrorism fights back (Johnson, 43-52).

Underlying Causes of Domestic Violence

There are various theories for causes of domestic violence:

  1. Biological theory: According to this theory, violent behavior is organic and biological with predisposing factors being genetics, biochemistry and head trauma (Steiner, 1996).
  2. Individual Psychopathology theory: This perspective suggests that drastic childhood experiences like being abused or watching domestic violence lead to dysfunctional personality structures.
  3. Couple and Family Interactions Theory: According to this view, family dynamics and relations play important role in violence.
  4. Social Learning and Development theory: This theory suggests that domestic violence is a learned behavior that is modeled, rewarded and supported by the family during early developmental stages.
  5. Societal Structure theory: According to this theory, the perpetual male domination in the society over women and children, in many aspects like physical, economic and political causes superiority attitude in men.
  6. Genetic theory: Abnormal levels of serotonin, dopamine and nor-epinephrine in the brain, as a result of mutation in the gene that codes for an enzyme, monoamine oxidase A have been implicated in aggression and criminal behavior (Brunner, 1993).
  7. Brain damage theory: Repeated stress during childhood, on trauma to the brain can cause aggressive behavior in adulthood.

Effects of Domestic Violence

  1. Physical- bruising, fractures, burns, disability, loss of hair or tooth, choking and death.
  2. Psychological effects- depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, eating disorders, post trauma stress disorder, suicidal tendencies, self harm, shame, insecure ness ,fear, terror, confusion, guilt, lost sense of self, isolation, despair, sadness, social phobia, etc.
  3. Drug/alcohol misuse- the victim may resort to substance abuse as a means of solace (Davies, Smith and deBenedictis, 2008).

Role of Power and Control in Domestic Violence

The following tactics are used by the abusers to exert control on the victims (Davies, Smith and deBenedictis, 2008):

  1. Dominance: Abusers feel in charge of the relationship. They make decisions for the victim and also other members of the family. They treat the victims like servants and expect them to obey rules.
  2. Humiliation: Abusers humiliate the victims and make them feel defective, worthless or incapable. The victims are frequently humiliated even in public, thus eroding self- esteem.
  3. Isolation: The abuser isolates the victim to increase dependence on him. The abuser may prevent the victim from meeting friends and relatives and from going to work or school.

Domestic Violence Cycles

There is a common pattern of cycle of violence in all domestic abuse cases. The stages of the cycle are (Davies, Smith and deBenedictis, 2008):

  1. Abuse: The abuser exhibits power play with aggressive or violent behavior to show the victim that he is the boss. The abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, social, sexual or even economic.
  2. Guilt feeling: After a violent episode of abuse, the abuser expresses guilt. However, this is not a “true” guilt. The expression of guilt is because of the fear of being caught and the consequences that follow. Abusers experience self-directed guilt.
  3. Rationalization: The abusers make excuses for his behavior. He may even blame the victim for the abuse.
  4. Stage of normal behavior: After an episode of abuse, the abuser behaves as if nothing has happened and behaves with the victim in a good way. He gives the victim hope that he has really changed.
  5. Fantasy and planning: In this stage, the abuser, though behaves normally with the victim, spends a lot of time thinking about the wrongs done by the victim and how to punish her for all that. He plans his next abuse and spends time fantasizing the abusive act.
  6. Set-up: The abuser creates a set-up and creates a situation to justify abuse and then puts his fantasy into action.
  7. Threatening: Abuser threatens the victims from leaving him or from dropping charges against him. The threat may be about hurting, killing, affecting other family member or even about his suicide.
  8. Intimidation: The abuser may use many tactics to make the victim submissive. These tactics include threatening looks or gestures, destruction of property, displaying weapons, smashing or throwing things or even hurting pets or kids. The message delivered through such tactics is ‘non-obedience can result in severe violence.’
  9. Denial and blame: When confronted, abusers make excuses for their behavior. They may blame their bad childhood for their behavior. They may not accept that they have behaved in such a way. Or even they may in turn blame the victim for their behavior.

Phases of Domestic Violence Cycle

There are 3 main phases of cycle in domestic violence (Mayo clinic, 2006):

Phase-1: This is the stage of tension build-up. The relationship between the abuser and the victim is in tension with lot of blaming, arguing and anger. This phase may last a week, months or years and becomes more and more frequent as the cycle becomes repeated. The victim may be frightened to submission in this phase.

Phase-2: In this stage, the actual act of severe abuse occurs. Hence this is known as the stage of acute explosion. The victim is abused severely and is hurt and scared. The abuser loses self-control. It is mostly after this stage that partners usually seek help.

Phase-3: This is the ‘Honeymoon’ stage. The batterer tries to compromise with the victim and apologize and do all sort of gimmicks to restore the relation. He may give a picture that he has changed for good and will never behave in that way again. As the number of cycles increase, this phase becomes shorter.

What is Domestic Violence Cycle

Figure. 1: The Domestic Violence Cycle (Davies, Smith and deBenedictis, 2008)

Breaking the Cycle

Understanding of the various phases and stages of domestic violence cycles helps the victim to seek help in the right time. Also, many victims think that it is their behavior that has caused the partner to be abusive. Knowledge of domestic violence cycle prevents the victim from feeling guilty. This is important because, feelings of guilt will prevent the victim from seeking help. As discussed before, domestic violence is a continuing cycle and breaking it is difficult. Those who are in an abusive situation can recognize this pattern by the following (Mayo clinic, 2006):

  1. Striking by the abuser by using actions or words
  2. Begging for forgiveness by the abuser in the form of words, gifts and promise to change.
  3. Anger, depression or tension in the abuser
  4. Repetition of abusive behavior by the abuser.

What is typical of the domestic violence cycle is that, each time the violence occurs, the cycle shortens and violence worsens. As the violence gets worse, there may be no time to even acknowledge it! Hence it is pivotal to take action as soon as possible. Without help, the violence will only continue. The best way to break the cycle is to leave the relationship (Mayo clinic, 2006). There are a number of private and government organizations which reach out to the victims of domestic violence. The organizations provide help in the form of shelters, medical help, legal services and 24 hour hot telephone line.

Intervention Strategies for Domestic Violence

  1. Listen to the victim and show that you are concerned and that the victim does not deserve this harassment and there is no need to put up with this.
  2. Respond to safety issues immediately- encourage the victim to make her own safety plans.
  3. Provide information about domestic violence and clarify about myths. Give information about the consequences that can occur and clearly mention that the responsibility of stopping the violence is that of the perpetrator.
  4. Give information about the local resources and make referrals to them.
  5. Record and document the information in the medical records in the victim’s own words and inform the victim about this. Document all the injuries by mapping and if possible by photographs. Also document about the resources offered (Steiner, 1996).
  6. Follow-up: Schedule a follow-up appointment and encourage the victim to come. Review medical records and enquire about what happened in between. Also refer to a primary care provider.


Domestic violence is a major social problem. Though most of the times women are targets of male abuse, many studies have also shown that men can also be victims of abuse. There are many theories which have been put forward to ascertain the cause of abusive nature in the abuser. Although, in many situations, the victim thinks that she is the cause for the violence. Domestic abuse occurs in cycles. As the number of cycles increase, the phases in the cycle become shorter. Understanding of the phases of domestic violence helps the victim to reach out for help in the right time. There are many organizations dedicated to the rescue and help of victims of domestic abuse and professionals dealing with the victims must encourage them to seek help from these organizations.

  • Brunner, H.G., Nelen, M.,  Breakefield, X. O., Ropers, H. H., &  Van Oost, B.A. (1993). Abnormal behavior associated with a point mutation in the structural gene for monoamine oxidase A. Science, 262, (5133), 578-580.
  • CDC. (2006). Understanding Intimate Partner Violence. Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/ipv_factsheet.pdf
  • Davies, P., Smith, M., deBenedictis, T., Jaffe, J., and Segal, J. (2008). Domestic Violence and Abuse. Helpguide.org. Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm
  • Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief. Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.endabuse.org/resources/facts/DomesticViolence
  • Johnson, M. P. “Apples and oranges in child custody disputes: Intimate terrorism vs.
  • Situational couple violence.” Journal of Child Custody, 2(4),2000:  43-52.
  • Mayoclinic. (2007). Domestic violence toward women: Recognize the patterns and seek help. Womens Health. Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/domestic-violence/WO00044
  • National Violence Against Women Survey. (1998). Violence against Women. Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.endabuse.org/resources/facts/DomesticViolence
  • Steiner, P.R., Vansickle K, Lippmann BS. (July 1996). “Domestic violence-
  • Do you know when and how to intervene?” Postgraduate Medicine, Vol. 100(1).  Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.postgradmed.com/issues/1996/07_96/steiner.htm.
  • The Commonwealth Fund. (1998). Health Concerns across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health. Retrieved on Feb 23, 2009 from https://www.endabuse.org/resources/facts/DomesticViolence

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1 comment

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