Trigger Warning: Discussion of Cycles of Abuse, Domestic Abuse, Intimate Partner Violence

Cycles of abuse and intimate partner violence are both topics that, for many of us, may be foreign. While it is clear that abuse and violence affect individuals, these topics become somewhat taboo. Abuse cycles and intimate partner violence actively are working to disproportionately affect women, specifically women of colour. They are subjects that affect vulnerable minorities every day. As we work to create an environment and community in which discussions of abuse become more open, noticing the signs, as well as the effects of this abuse, is necessary. 

Cycles of Abuse

The Cycle of Abuse as a concept was developed by Lenore E. Walker in the late 70s. Since then, it has become integral when discussing abuse for intimate relationships as well as family and work relations. The cycle discusses 4 different segments within abuse patterns and how each piece leads to the next, creating an unhealthy setting for abuse to continue to grow. 

  1. The Build-Up

The Build-up is essentially the build-up of tension. In an intimate relationship, this can be due to a fight or an annoyance. Discussions regarding this fight may be bottled up to a point where tension grows until it’s unbearable. I think of this as the rising action in a story, with this build-up of tension leading up to one big climax. Typically, the victim will feel afraid of the abuser and their reactions to certain events. Almost like walking on “thin ice”.

2. The Act Out

Here, the tension reaches its breaking point to where abusers will act out. The act out can be violence categorized as physical, verbal, sexual, or a combination. In some cases, this climax will happen once in a relationship and then cease to exist again. However, more commonly, it repeats continuously. Here we see threats, intimidation, anger, etc.

3. Rationalize/Justification

This is the portion in the cycle where the abuser will justify their actions. There is a refusal to take accountability. This is where we find a lot of victim-blaming. The point here is to shift blame and change the narrative. The victim is placed into a position in which they start to question themselves and their own recollection of what actually happened. It also relieves the guilt of the abuser; here they can create a narrative in which they believe that they are morally correct. 

4. Pretend Normal

After the rationalization of the action, next is the “pretend normal”. Here, there is an attempt to make the relationship as normal as possible. Let it revert back to what it was before. Yet, because the abuse is not dealt with properly, the cycle returns to Step 1 when there is an initial problem. Additionally, situations get more serious and violent as time passes. Here is where we commonly find there to be the isolation of the victim from friends and family. Anyone who would help the victim in this situation slowly gets cut off. 

Cycles of Abuse can vary, you can have 3 steps rather than 4, or more. Most importantly, there is a repeating pattern. This sort of abuse is very much involved when looking at intimate partner violence. When looking at marginalized communities, intimate partner violence is seen more so than in other communities. Specifically, when we look to Black women. 

Intimate Partner Violence/Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse, otherwise known as intimate partner violence, is a direct product of abuse cycles. This is why we see so many individuals stuck in these relationships. On top of this, specific marginalized groups are directly affected by intimate partner violence.

When looking at the National Center on Violence against Black Women, statistics show that Black women are affected more in cases of domestic violence. This is in comparison to White, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander women. Black women are more likely to be killed by a firearm and more likely killed by an acquaintance. About 20% have dealt with stalking, with 16% having been stalked by an intimate partner. 

Other statistics show that Black women are more likely to face physical abuse from an intimate partner as well as face more psychological effects due to abuse. The psychological effects come from humiliation, threats, coercive control, etc. All of which are by-products of the cycle of abuse that many women have been subject to.

Much effort has been put into protecting Black women from intimate partner violence. There is still much work that needs to be put into protecting this group of women. When looking to the UK, petitions advocated by singer FKA Twigs called the Valerie Law petition, named after a woman murdered by her partner in 2014, push towards protecting Black women who are suffering from intimate partner violence. 

Within Canada, it’s no different. Intimate Partner violence is deemed an issue by the government of Canada and has specifically been said to affect minority women disproportionately. 

Now, these are all facts. But they mean nothing unless we give them meaning. For some of us, the idea of being caught in a cycle of abuse and intimate partner violence is a very foreign thought. It is a reality that some groups of women are faced with this as a narrative, every day. It’s a reality that the cycle of abuse is known and informed about yet, victims are so caught within it that leaving is nearly impossible. It’s easy to discuss and spit out statistics when the impacts of that use are not directly affecting you. 

Aiding not just women but individuals in general and creating environments in which they feel comfortable and safe are important for our community. Both in a global and communal context. 

Cycles of abuse are observed everywhere, however, when we look at domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, these are situations in which people are most vulnerable. They are in situations in which their partner is meant to provide safety, comfort and support. When abuse is in place of what’s supposed to be  “comfort” and “support”, this is all people come to know at the end of the day. 

Education reform should be done to teach what healthy relations are. When we look at who are abusers, statistically many of them are victims of domestic abuse or have been exposed to it in their youth. Cycles of abuse and manipulation are taught. To unlearn that, there needs to be third-party involvement to show what relationships should look like, both when it comes to intimate partners and family to work and peer relationships. 

Victim support is also lacking in today’s society. Shelters and homes are few and far between. On top of that, these relationships often have a sense of security that comes with them. Monetary and child support are very important benefactors in these situations. They keep victims in vulnerable positions. Many stay in these relations for reasons such as their children. Further, the fear of children being taken away and placed in foster care, a system that is known for not being as beneficial as it could be, is a large concern for victims.

Valerie Ford, Domestic Violence Victim, the namesake for Valerie’s Law

These issues are integral when it comes to the cycle of abuse and how marginalized individuals get caught in these patterns. Many aren’t commonly discussed and dealt with. Cycles of Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence affect a multitude of women every day. For many, it is a foreign concept and for others, it is a reality. Getting out is only the first step to breaking that cycle, however, remnants of the abuse will continue to linger for years. Through education and concrete systemic support, lowering the occurrence of intimate partner violence and cycles of abuse can improve the wellbeing of marginalized communities. 

Ways You Can Support

Nisa Homes: “Nisa Homes is a not-for-profit charity that provides a safe haven and support services for women, with or without children, who are fleeing domestic violence, poverty or seeking asylum.”

WINGS of Providence: “ WINGS saves women and children who are escaping domestic abuse by delivering secure long-term housing and wrap-around support services to help families 24/7.”

WIN House: “WIN House provides a safe place and emergency services for women and children fleeing gender-based abuse. “

About the Author

Hello!! I’m a first year Psychology major at UAlberta. I love putting my voice out there and being able to advocate or open up a dialogue about anything I’m passionate about. I’m so excited to create and work on new pieces that (I hope!!) you will all enjoy. Some of my hobbies are creating new Spotify albums and Pinterest boards while watching any docu series I can get my hands on.