A woman holding her hand up to say stop to domestic violence and abuse

Domestic Violence – Breaking the Chains and Empowering Recovery

The Abuse Cycle – Understanding the Cycle of Domestic Violence

Have you ever found yourself constantly on edge around your partner, as if treading on eggshells? Or clung to the hope of your partner changing their ways after a major argument, when they shower you with apologies and assurances? If so, it’s possible that you may be caught in the cycle of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a serious problem that affects millions of people every year. While physical violence is often what comes to mind when we think of domestic violence, it can take many other forms as well, including emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and financial abuse.

Regardless of the form it takes, domestic violence almost always follows a pattern known as the abuse cycle. Understanding this cycle is essential for breaking free from an abusive relationship and moving towards healing and recovery.

The abuse cycle is a pattern of behaviour that is often repeated in abusive relationships. It typically involves 3 phases: the tension-building phase, the explosion phase, and the honeymoon phase.

Here’s what you need to know about each phase and how they can manifest in relationships.

Phase 1 – The Tension-Building Phase

The tension-building phase is the first stage of the abuse cycle. During this phase, tension between the abuser and the victim begins to mount.

This tension can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, financial problems, or simply a disagreement over something relatively minor.

As the tension builds, the abuser may become increasingly critical, irritable, and demanding. The victim may try to avoid conflict, appease the abuser, or withdraw from the situation altogether.

Examples of the tension-building phase include:

  • The abuser becomes increasingly critical of the victim, picking on minor flaws or making unreasonable demands
  • The abuser begins to sulk or withdraw from the relationship, giving the victim the silent treatment or refusing to engage in conversation
  • The victim tries to placate the abuser, bending over backwards to avoid conflict or do things the way the abuser wants them done
  • The victim may feel on edge, anxious, or stressed, anticipating the next outburst from the abuser

Phase 2 – The Explosion Phase

The explosion phase is the second stage of the abuse cycle. During this phase, the tension between the abuser and victim reaches a breaking point, and the abuser explodes in an outburst of violence or abuse.

This can take many different forms, including physical violence, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. Regardless of the form it takes, the explosion phase is characterised by a loss of control on the part of the abuser.

Examples of the explosion phase include:

  • The abuser physically assaults the victim, hitting, pushing, or slapping them
  • The abuser verbally assaults the victim, calling them names, yelling, or screaming
  • The abuser emotionally assaults the victim, using gaslighting or stonewalling to manipulate or control them
  • The victim may feel shocked, numb, or helpless in the face of the abuser’s explosion

Phase 3 – The Honeymoon Phase

The honeymoon phase is the third and final stage of the abuse cycle. During this phase, the abuser may try to make up for their abusive behaviour by being extra kind, loving, or attentive to the victim.

This can create a sense of relief and hope in the victim, who may believe that the abuser has truly changed or that the relationship can be salvaged. However, the honeymoon phase is often short-lived, and the cycle of abuse will eventually begin anew.

Examples of the honeymoon phase include:

  • The abuser apologises profusely, promising that it will never happen again
  • The abuser showers the victim with affection, gifts, or acts of kindness (see love bombing)
  • The victim may feel a sense of hope or relief that the relationship can be salvaged
  • The victim may feel pressure to forgive or forget the abuse and move on

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

Abuse can take many forms, and it can be challenging to identify and address. Whether you are dealing with physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, it’s essential to recognise the signs and take steps to break the cycle.

If you are in an abusive relationship or have experienced abuse in the past, you are not alone. There are resources and strategies available to help you heal and move forward.

Recognising the Signs of Abuse

The first step in breaking the cycle of abuse is to recognise the signs. Abuse can take many forms, including physical violence, emotional manipulation, and controlling behaviour. Some of the common signs of abuse include:

  • Physical Violence – hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, or any other form of physical harm
  • Emotional ManipulationGaslighting, love bombing, stonewalling, malicious envy, and jealousy Induction are all tactics used to manipulate and control a partner’s emotions
  • Control and Isolation – A partner may try to control your behaviour, limit your contact with others, and prevent you from making your own choices
  • Verbal Abuse – insulting, name-calling, and belittling are all forms of verbal abuse that can wear down a person’s self-esteem

A Real Life Story of Domestic Violence

“Sarah had been in a relationship with Mark for about 2 years. They met through mutual friends and hit it off immediately. Mark was charismatic, charming, and seemed genuinely interested in her. However, over time, the relationship took a dark turn.

In the beginning, Mark’s behaviour started changing subtly. He’d become irritable over small issues, such as Sarah arriving home late from work or forgetting to buy groceries. The atmosphere at home became tense and unpredictable. Mark would criticise Sarah relentlessly, make sarcastic remarks, and give her the silent treatment. Sarah felt increasingly anxious and on edge, trying to anticipate Mark’s moods and doing everything she could to avoid conflict.

One day, after a particularly stressful day at work, Mark exploded in anger when dinner wasn’t ready on time. He began screaming, hurling insults, and throwing things around the kitchen. This was the first incident of physical violence, but it marked a terrifying escalation in Mark’s behaviour. After that, the verbal and physical abuse became more frequent and intense. Each time, Sarah felt shocked, helpless, and increasingly fearful for her safety.

After each violent episode, Mark would become the charming man Sarah had first fallen in love with. He would apologise profusely, shower her with affection, bring her flowers, and promise that he would never hurt her again. He’d swear to change, to get therapy, to do whatever it took. Overwhelmed and emotionally drained, Sarah often found herself believing him, hoping against hope that this time he would actually change.

However, the cycle of violence would inevitably begin anew. Despite Mark’s promises, the tension would slowly start to build again, leading to another explosion, followed by the seemingly sincere apology and promises to change.

Eventually, with the help of a close friend, Sarah was able to recognise that she was trapped in an abusive relationship, and this was the cycle of domestic violence. She sought help from a local domestic violence agency, who assisted her in creating a safety plan, providing resources and support as she left Mark. It was a challenging journey, but she was finally able to break free from the cycle of abuse and begin the process of healing and recovery.”

Who Commits Domestic Violence?

Narcissists and individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) have a higher likelihood of engaging in domestic violence.

Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and lack empathy for others. They often use manipulation and coercion to control their partners, which can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. Narcissistic abuse can take many forms, including gaslighting, stonewalling, and love bombing.

Individuals with antisocial personality disorder have a disregard for the law and social norms and can engage in impulsive and aggressive behaviour. They may lack empathy and feel little remorse for their actions, including harming their partners. They may also engage in coercive and manipulative tactics to control their partner’s behaviour.

It’s important to note that not all individuals with narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder traits are abusers, and not all abusers have these personality disorders. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status. It’s crucial to recognise the signs of abuse and seek help if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship.

If you are in an abusive relationship, remember that you are not alone and there is help available.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

Once you have recognised the signs of abuse, it’s time to take steps to break the cycle. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Seek Help – You don’t have to go through this alone. Seek support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional. They can provide emotional support and help you navigate the next steps
  2. Create a Safety Plan – If you are in an abusive relationship, it’s important to create a safety plan. This may involve having a place to go if you need to leave quickly or having a code word to signal for help
  3. Build a Support System – Surround yourself with people who care about you and support your well-being. Join a support group or seek out a therapist who can help you work through your experiences
  4. Practice Self-Care – Self-care is essential for healing from abuse. Take time to do things you enjoy, such as hobbies or spending time with friends
  5. Set Boundaries – It’s essential to set boundaries with your abuser and others in your life. This may mean limiting contact with the abuser or cutting off contact altogether
  6. Stay Safe – If you are in immediate danger, call 000 or your local emergency services. Your safety should always be your top priority


Breaking the cycle of abuse is not easy, but it is possible. Remember that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Seek support, build a strong support system, and practice self-care. With time and effort, you can heal and move forward towards a healthy, fulfilling life free from abuse.

If this article raises issues for you or someone you know, please visit my support services page for a list of organisations that can help you