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Cycle of Violence

Suzanne Hamilton, special to The Weekly Citizen

What do Elton John, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and The Byrds have in common? They recognize that there is a rhythm to our existence. Elton John sings about it in “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us for everything there is a season. Pete Seeger wrote the lyrics to “Turn, Turn Turn”, sung by The Byrds in the 1970s. Most things, from the seasons on the earth to plastic waste, go through cycles and recycling. This has been found to be true for incidents of domestic violence as well. Four stages have been identified.

The Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. (mpdc.dc.gov/page/cycle-violence) describes the stages this way:

Phase 1: Tension-Building

The abuser is argumentative, angry, uses yelling, criticism, swearing, and angry gestures. Sometimes the abuser will use coercion, threats or minor fights may occur. The tension between the couple gets worse and worse, and the person being abused often feels like something bad is going to happen. Victims of abuse during this phase sometimes say they feel like they are walking on eggshells.

Phase 2: Use of Violence – The “Explosion”

As the tension builds, violence is highly likely - the explosion phase. This is when a major act of violence occurs, including physical and/or sexual attack and threats to harm, as well as verbal abuse. It is in this phase that injury is most likely to occur or that the police might come.

Phase 3: “Honeymoon” Period

After the explosion, the abuser feels sorry for the explosion, and acts apologetic and loving. The abuser might say things like:

I’ll never do it again

I’m sorry, and I never meant to hurt you

I promise I will change

I promise I’ll get help

I only did it because I was drunk/high/lost my temper, etc.

They may shower gifts on the other person or act like the person you first fell in love with, and things get better... for a little while. But the honeymoon doesn’t last – the tension starts all over again, and the cycle continues.

Phase 4: Calm Phase

During this phase (which is often considered an element of the honeymoon/reconciliation phase), the relationship is relatively calm and peaceable. However, interpersonal difficulties will inevitably arise, leading again to the tension building phase.

Victims of abuse often cite the honeymoon phase as the reason they stay. They say this is the true person, the person they married. This is the person I stay for because it is so good when things are good. I want to stress this as strongly as I can. THAT IS NOT THE REAL PERSON. THE REAL PERSON IS THE ONE WHO EXPLODES. This is not your partner reverting back to the great person they were. It is your partner in the Honeymoon Stage. Your partner will move again through all the stages and batter again. Batterers usually do not change unless there is some intervention. With very few exceptions, they escalate.

If your partner has ever put their hands around your neck, put you in a sleeper hold, or used anything else to strangle you such as a necklace, scarf, belt, rope, etc. then know this:

Strangulation is a significant predictor for future lethal violence.

If your partner has strangled you in the past, your risk of being killed by them is 10 times higher.

Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence: unconsciousness may occur within seconds, and death within minutes.

The length of time between the stages may vary based on the abuser’s individual experiences, the relationship dynamics between the couple, and stressors in the environment. There are no hard-and-fast rules. But one thing is common. The abuse gets more severe and the time between violent episodes gets shorter as time goes on.

Most of us have had the experience of running a tub of bath water which unknown to us was too hot. When we dip our toe in we jerk it right back out. But if we are sitting in the tub and the hot water pours in gradually, we adjust as the water gets hotter and hotter. The same dynamic can happen with abuse. If you go on a blind date and on your first date he beats you so much that you are hospitalized for two weeks, you will press charges and never see him again. But if you commit yourself for life to the love of your life, and then get verbally abused, then shoved, then beaten, and there is a long time between each incident, you tolerate it.

For instance: One woman told me that when she was first married her husband beat her and left the house. She said when he returned she beat him in return with the vacuum cleaner hose. It never happened again for either one of them. In contrast, another woman told me that her husband was verbally abusive for years. Then one day he shoved her into the wall. She could literally see him inhale and hold a big breath waiting to see what she would do. When she did and said nothing, he exhaled and walked away. The next time, he hit her so hard in the face it knocked her down and she saw stars. (She reported that she never knew beforehand that the old saying was true.)

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the free Louisiana hotline at 888/411-1333. This service is available 24 hours per day and is free and confidential. The Ascension Parish hotline is the Iris Domestic Violence Hotline at 800/541-9706. If you or your company wants to take a stand against domestic violence in Ascension Parish, please join us at the Caring Communities Resource Team. We are a collaboration of agencies such as the Ascension Parish School Board, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, Child and Advocacy Services, Families in Need of Services, Iris Domestic Violence Center, Our Lady of the Lake-Ascension Hospital, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and more. To become involved, contact Suzanne at 225/253-9635 or dvchange@outlook.com.