No one likes to think about falling victim of abuse of any kind, but it’s important to fully understand the cycle of abuse to ensure you don’t repeat it. While those who are abused themselves are often more likely to abuse someone they love, anyone can become an abuser in the right situation. Whether you need to learn how to break the cycle of abuse or you need to know whether you or a loved one is falling victim to an abuse cycle, learning more about how it works will give you the confidence to overcome the cycle and move forward with your lives.

What Is the Cycle of Abuse Wheel?

The abuse cycle typically follows a set circle of behaviors that will continue to repeat until the cycle stops. Identifying the behavior patterns is the best way to fight back and break the cycle for good.

  • The Honeymoon Stage — During this stage of the cycle, the abuser is typically apologetic, respectful and kind. He may bring her flowers or she may profess feelings of love and regret over the way she’s treated him. Communication may improve and there may be promises of change and more time spent together.
  • The Tension Stage — After a period of peace and tranquility in the relationship, tension begins to build. Fights may become more common and threats and accusations may run rampant. The abuser is likely to be sarcastic, jealous and insulting. He or she may be emotionally distant, experiencing extreme mood swings, and may even become more controlling.
  • The Explosion Stage — Once the tension reaches its peak, the explosion phase begins. This is the most dangerous phase and can result in injury or death for the abused. The abuser is likely to use intimidating body language, throwing things and slamming doors, threatening to leave or giving the silent treatment. Swearing and yelling are common, while some abusers will resort to physical violence at this stage. after the explosion, the cycle returns to the honeymoon stage with many apologies and promises to change.

The length of the cycle varies in each relationship and sometimes time to time. For instance, some cycles may take just a few hours to go full circle, while others may take days, weeks or even months. The problem is abusers rarely change on their own. This is why it’s so important to identify the red flags of abuse and learn how to break out of the cycle, whether you are an abuser or the abused.

[pullquote]The abuse cycle typically follows a set circle of behaviors that will continue to repeat until the cycle stops.[/pullquote]

Abuse Cycle

The most common abusive relationship cycle falls under the category of domestic abuse. This abuse is defined as behaviors used by one party to control the other person within the relationship. In some cases, this abuse may be physical, but many times there is a cycle of emotional abuse in the early stages. Many abusers, because they are victims of abuse in their past, don’t truly want to lash out physically, but unfortunately, it is all they know and without exercising the proper control, physical violence is inevitable over time. This is why it’s so important to break free from the emotional abuse cycle long before it comes to physical threats and actions.

Before issues become severe, it’s important to identify the red flags that come along with the cycles of abuse. While the exact recipe of an abuser will vary from situation to situation, it’s critical to go through a check list to determine the likelihood you may be in an abusive relationship. Some of the things to look for include:

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  • Saying you can’t do anything right
  • Showing jealousy of friends or time spent away
  • Keeping you away from family and friends
  • Shaming you or causing embarrassment
  • Controlling finances
  • Trying to scare you
  • Not allowing you to make your own decisions
  • Controlling who you see or where you go
  • Calling you a bad parent
  • Not allowing to work or go to school
  • Destroying property
  • Threatening to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidating you with weapons
  • Pressuring you to have sex
  • Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol

If you identify any of these signs, you need to seek help to break the cycle. However, this isn’t always the easiest step to take. Remember, you should never fear your partner and you should always feel comfortable. There’s never any harm in seeking help if you feel you are the victim of the cycle of abuse.

Cycle of Child Abuse

While domestic violence among adults is a serious problem, it’s also important to recognize the abuse cycle is also present in child abuse by an adult. Parents, teachers and other adults in a child’s life owe it to the young people in their lives to watch for the signs of abuse and get children help as quickly as possible. Children are easily intimidated by the adults who are supposed to love and care for them, which means they are far less likely to reach out for help on their own. Some of the common signs of child abuse include:

  • Withdrawal from their friends or activities they used to love
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Changes in behavior
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Reluctance to go home
  • Rebellious behavior
  • Suicide attempts
  • Attempts to run away

These signs can occur with any type of child abuse, but there are others to watch for regarding specific types of abuse. For instance, signs of physical abuse may include:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Untreated medical problems
  • Injuries that don’t match the explanation

Sexual abuse signs may be:

  • Inappropriate sexual behavior with other children
  • Blood in the underwear
  • Pregnancy or STDs
  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Abuse claims

Emotional abuse often causes:

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  • Low self-esteem
  • Delayed emotional development
  • Depression
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Withdrawal
  • Affection seeking
  • Avoiding certain situations

In some cases, the cycle of child abuse will show signs of neglect, such as malnutrition, poor growth, lack of appropriate clothing, poor attendance, indifference and others. It’s important for all adults to recognize these signs in children to ensure they get the help they need.

Myths of Abuse

Unfortunately, many people don’t seek help for abuse because they fall prey to the many myths surrounding the situation. The abused may think they deserve the treatment or it’s normal. They may feel “for better or worse” includes putting up with abuse; after all, things are okay a lot of the time. Some people even think abuse only happens to poor women or those who are members of certain races. Men often feel like they can’t be victims of abuse in a relationship. Getting beyond these and other myths can help people break the abuse cycle.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

Once you identify the cycle of abuse in a relationship or between an adult and a child, it’s time to put a stop to it. First, it’s important to work on a safety plan. This plan can include saving money, finding a place to go and seeking assistance from a women’s shelter or family and friends. It can even include calling the authorities for help if you feel your life is in danger or you are afraid to take the actual steps to leave. Calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline is one of the best steps you can take. They offer assistance online, as well as a phone number to call and talk to someone who can help. There, you can find stories from survivors and someone to talk to who can help you create and implement a safety plan to help you get out. They can even guide you through the process of requesting a restraining order if you feel your life is in danger.


Once you identify the cycle of abuse in a relationship or between an adult and a child, it’s time to put a stop to it.



If you suspect child abuse, the steps are slightly different. Calling your local department of Child Protective Services will put the situation in the right hands and get children the help they need. This department will handle each case as they deem appropriate, often reaching out to the child and those who care for him or her.

The cycle of abuse can be intimidating, but you can break the cycle. The first step is understanding what the cycle looks like and how it works, as well as the red flags that surround abuse. This information will help you reach out for help when necessary or lend support to someone you know who may be struggling with breaking the cycle on their own.

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