Family Violence — Also Known As Domestic Violence
Family Violence (FV) is the term now being used for what used to be called Domestic Violence (DV). The new term recognises violence is not always confined to the home and the people living there. Family violence is not usually a once off incident. It tends to be the usual way a family deals with things.
Family violence can occur between couples whether they are the same sex or opposite sexes with either, or both, partners being violent but family violence is not confined to partners. Children can become violent towards parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters. Other relatives may enter the home to assault members of the family on a regular basis too and it all falls under the heading of family violence.
In this article I will use my own terms for perpetrators and victims because I don’t like either of those terms. I prefer to call those who perform family violence “performers” and those who are the target of family violence as “targets”. These terms are appropriate regardless of gender or relationship.
A diagram of the cycle is pictured below. Click on it for a larger version.
The Family Violence Cycle
Regular Family violence has a number of phases, or stages, and tends to be cyclical in nature. A cycle usually includes all the phases but, in some very abusive cases, some steps are skipped.
Sometimes a target of this type of abuse is so beaten down and accepting of the abuse that the performer does not bother to show remorse, pursue the target, or even have a honeymoon stage. They are either so sure there is no risk of losing the target, or they don’t care, that they move from explosion straight to the build up phase.
Whether all the steps are included, or only some, the one thing you can be sure of is that the cycle will repeat over and over again until the target stops it by either leaving or, in the worst cases, dying!
A performer of abuse can stop the cycle if they genuinely want to but not without help. Family violence is usually learned behaviour and it needs to be unlearned. To unlearn it they need to learn other ways to cope that don’t involve abusive behaviour and they also need to practice using those other methods until they become new habits.
You can’t stop this cycle with will power alone. If a performer doesn’t learn other coping methods they will always fall back on habit and what they are used to when stress overwhelms them.
A target has no power at all to stop the cycle of family violence apart from ending the relationship. The cycle is not caused by how they are behaving or what they are doing wrong. It is caused by how the performer deals with life and stress!
Every relationship starts with a pursuit. Person A sees person B and wants to get to know them better so they take steps to try and make that happen.
Maybe they flirt, maybe they try a direct approach, maybe they use a line or send in a “wing man/woman” to be a go-between. Sometimes the first move is made by the performer of abuse and sometimes a target is the one to start the relationship.
Most people do their best to hide their less attractive qualities and features at the beginning of a relationship. Men and women both try to be whatever they think the prospective partner might want them to be in an effort to win the other person’s heart. This is a normal part of the mating game that we all know and accept.
Abusive people are, however, on another level. They are expert pretenders. They can figure out what you crave most in a partner and be that fantasy love but it’s only temporary.
They don’t usually do this consciously although the worst offenders, love con-artists, do. For the average abuser it’s more a subconscious thing. They instinctively know they have to be able to offer you more than a normal relationship to keep you coming back when their real self has abused you and you are about to leave.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard targets of abuse say they just want the person they fell in love with back – that’s all. The only time they ever see that person, once a family violence cycle begins, is in the pursuit phase of the cycle. The reason this is the only time they ever see the person they fell in love with is because the person they fell in love with DOES NOT EXIST! It was an act they performed, a role they played, a tool they used to win the targets heart.
If your prospective partner makes no attempt at all to avoid hurting your feelings, is rude, abusive, insulting, or treats you badly in any way at the start of the relationship you need to RUN!!!
If you ignore abusive behaviour right from the start of a relationship you run the risk of the abuser thinking you like abuse and would not respect or love them if they treated you nice. Worse, abusive behaviour ALWAYS gets worse over time, so you can expect the abuse to get worse as time goes by not better. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they will learn to treat you better – they won’t – the more you put up with their abuse the less respect they will have for you. The less they respect you the worse they’ll treat you.
If a relationship starts off bad it has nowhere to go but down. Don’t believe the excuses! It wasn’t the drink, the bad day at work, their lousy childhood, the button you unknowingly pushed, or anything else – you have picked a bad apple – throw it away now before it marries you or has a child with you and considers you their property!
After a relationship has begun and the performer of abuse believes it is safe to be themselves that’s when the abuse will begin. It will start small usually and build up over time depending on how the target responds. First it’s a bit of name calling, then it’s a slammed door, then a broken possession, then a shove, then a slap, then worse. If the target tolerates the abuse no apology will be needed or given and the abuse will continue to get worse.
When the target refuses to tolerate the abuse the performer will usually apologise. If the apology is accepted no pursuit will be necessary. If the target has heard these apologies before and no longer believes them the performer has to try harder to get forgiveness so the pursuit begins.
The performer may try to buy the target’s forgiveness with gifts, promises, or both. If this doesn’t work the performer may resort to threats. They may threaten to hurt or harm people or possessions the target cares about. They may even threaten to commit suicide if the target leaves them.
Targets may believe the performer is truly sorry, will never do it again, cannot live without them or they may simply not have the strength to resist the pursuit. Often they lack the resources to get away.
Sometimes a performer will develop a close relationship with members of the target’s family or friends and they may repeatedly give the performer information on where the target has gone. This can make it impossible for the target to get away from the relentlessness of the performers pursuit.
If the target does agree to stay with the performer the relationship may move into the honeymoon phase.
At the beginning of a relationship a performer plays the role of the perfect partner to the hilt. The target can feel like they are in a dream and they can get quite addicted to the perfection of the love being offered to them during this time.
Performers of family violence build bomb proof relationship foundations for their relationships. They give their targets a love no normal person can offer them. There is an intensity and connection that will withstand all the coming abuse for a long time to come.
Once the family violence cycle begins, however, this love is only offered when the target of abuse is about to walk away. Like a drug addict the target can’t resist coming back for the kind of love they can’t get anywhere else.
After coming so close to separation and the destruction of their relationship that an explosion has caused the target and performer may cling to each other for comfort.
This is often a time of intense intimacy where the earlier difficulties are denied. The target may feel more loved, wanted, even adored or desperately needed in the honeymoon phase than any non-violent relationship could ever make them feel.
During the ‘pursuit’ and ‘honeymoon’ phases the target may even seek the withdrawal of applications for orders and become angry with people who don’t believe things “will be all right now”.
This cycle is not about the target or their relationship with the performer though. This cycle is about the performer and how they cope with inner tension. Once they have put things back to “normal” the problems and issues that caused tension to rise in the first place will come back into the picture and cause the same tension to rise again. If the performer has not learned new ways to deal with the tension it will, once again, explode and the cycle will continue.
In this stage of the cycle tension builds up in the performer for any number of reasons – family pressures, work stress or even the person’s own thought patterns.
Other people have a range of ways to deal with tension that do not include being violent but, in the abusive relationship, this tension builds until the performer starts to act out and they move into the stand-over phase.
At the start of a relationship the stand over phase might be mild. Criticisms, fault finding, name calling but, as the cycle goes into repeat, it gets worse.
The abuse might be emotional, financial, psychological or physical. Telling you you’re a pathetic excuse for a human being can break your spirit and make you feel like you deserve being treated badly or you have caused it. Threats to take your children away from you can force you to put up with bad behaviour. Yelling starts to include breaking things, pushing turns into slapping and slaps turn into punches
Because the performer has gained power over them through past threats, emotional manipulations, and violence the target of family violence may feel they are under the other person’s control and they have no way out.
The performer may threaten to hurt the target, kill themselves, hurt or take away a child, kill or give away a beloved pet or destroy prized possessions for example.
Verbal attacks like name calling erode the self-esteem and self-confidence of the target making them feel they deserve what is being done to them. Often the target will not seek help because they are hoping everything will be all right if they can just stop “provoking” the performer or if they can just “help the performer understand”.
Sometimes the target may believe trying to leave will only make things worse. They may even believe it will be their fault if the performer hurts them, their child, their pet, a friend or family member or anyone they ask for help from because the performer has “warned” them that is what will happen if they leave.
During the build up and stand over phases it is common for targets to feel like they have to “walk on eggshells” in an attempt to prevent the explosion but targets cannot prevent the explosions.
Performers like to tell targets they have the power to prevent explosions but it is not true. As the years roll by and a target tries to prevent explosions with zero success they eventually are forced to conclude there is nothing they can do to stop explosions because they are actually not causing them.
At some point the tension in the performer becomes unmanageable as their range of coping skills fail them and they resort to acting out their anger with an assault of some kind.
In the beginning of the relationship an explosion might be quite mild. The performer might yell at the target or slam doors but, over time, explosions get worse and more serious.
Nobody whose partner has hospitalized, or killed them, ever saw that side of their partner in the first few weeks of the relationship. Neither one of them knew how bad it could get until it was too late. If they had known the cycle always, ALWAYS, gets worse over time they might have been able to prevent the worst from happening.
After the assault is over the performer may enter the remorse phase.
One or both of the participants may feel guilty for what has happened. They may try to rationalize what has happened to minimize its effects. The performer may tell the target, or the target may believe, alcohol, drugs or stress were to blame for what happened.
One or both parties may believe the target caused the violence. In some cases there may even be an element of truth in this belief. Targets often get tired of living with the tension of the build up or stand over phase.
They may sense the approach of an explosion and grow tired of living in fear of when, where, and how it will happen. They may try to take some control over their lives by making the explosion happen at a time when they feel ready to cope with it. This can make it easier for everyone to rationalise, or even excuse, the violent behaviour.
In many cases the performer knows the target well enough to be able to select words or actions that will provoke the target into doing or saying something to give them the excuse they seek to explode.
Performers can spend a lot of time sabotaging their target’s support networks. They may have taken the target to live in another city, state or even country so the target will not have access to the friends and family who could support and help them.
The less ability a target has to escape the abusive relationship the less likely the performer is to cycle into the remorse, pursuit, or honeymoon phases of the family violence cycle with the target.
If a target has options for escaping the performer may make an apology of some kind. Sometimes saying sorry will not be enough to win the target’s forgiveness. This happens after the cycle has become well known – you always say sorry, you always promise you won’t do it again – I don’t believe you this time.
when sorry is not enough the performer may move into the next phase of the cycle. They will pursue the target seeking forgiveness and a return to “normal”.
At this point the cycle returns to stage one – PURSUIT PHASE
And The Cycle Begins Again
Research indicates the phases outlined in this cycle are a common pattern in family violence. It is, however, important to realise that not all stages of the cycle occur in all family violence relationships. If the performer and target both believe the target is completely to blame for what is happening there may be no pursuit or honeymoon phase at all for instance.
Sometimes the performer may find another way to release tension so the explosion does not happen that particular time.
The time it takes to complete a cycle of violence can vary hugely. The cycle may take years for enough tension to build up in some performers and days for others. Periods of time in which cycles are completed may also vary for different circumstances. If the cause of some of the tension goes away or increases things may improve a little or get worse.
One thing does not change. The cycle will not stop for good if the performer does not learn new and better ways to manage their inner tension. All that will happen is they will, in time, stop trying to avoid exploding. The more convinced they are that the target will not leave them, or cannot leave them, the less incentive they have to stop the cycle.
The only way a target of family violence can stop the cycle is to leave the relationship for good. The only way a performer of family violence can end the cycle is through taking full responsibility for their behaviour and seeking counselling that focuses on learning the life skills that can help them manage their life, and relationship, without resorting to abuse.
It is worth mentioning that, unfortunately, research also shows the cycle of violence does not improve if the performer does not learn new skills or does not apply them.
Quite the contrary. If left untreated the performer of family violence tends to settle into a cycle of violent behaviour that becomes more frequent and increasingly more violent, even fatal, over time.
If you are performing family violence don’t make the mistake of thinking you can stop using will power alone or by giving up alcohol, getting a better job, reducing your stress. You have learned this behaviour and you will need to un-learn it as well as learn other ways to cope with life when things go wrong.
If you are the target of family violence don’t make the mistake of thinking the performer will stop. They cannot stop until they un-learn the behaviour and learn other ways to cope. All you can do to help is leave. If you leave the performer might get the help they need. If you don’t leave the cycle will continue until you do leave or, perhaps, the performer kills you or you kill yourself to escape the pain of being a target of abuse.