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Revisiting Cycle of Emotional Abuse

Revisiting Cycle of Emotional Abuse

“If you can’t regulate your own emotional temperature, you’ll regulate everyone around you to keep yourself comfortable.” ― David Schnarch
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively). Unlike physical abuse, which presents itself in dramatic physical outbursts, emotional abuse can be more obscure. As matter of fact, quite frequently the victim of the abuse chooses not to see the mistreatment as abusive. In some cases victims excuse the abusers' behavior as normal marital discourse and blind themselves to the reality of abuse. They develop coping strategies such as denial and minimizing to deal with the stress. However, long-term negative effects of emotional abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
 What does the cycle of emotional abuse look like (adopted from Lenore Walker’s Cycle of abuse)
1. Tension building Oftentimes pressure of daily life such as conflict over children, marital issues, family conflict, financial problems, and unemployment begins to build up. During this period, the abuser feels stressed, ignored, threatened, annoyed or wronged. This feeling could last from minutes to weeks. The victim is often very aware of the abuser’s mood and may attempt to prevent an outburst by becoming more compliant and nurturing or may try to avoid interacting with the abuser.
2. Incident The angry, yelling, screaming outbursts are often characterized by name calling, humiliating, demanding, threatening, criticizing, blaming, withholding and etc. During this stage, the abuser attempts to dominate his/her partner with the use of force and power. Also by releasing the negative energy to others, the abuser reduces his internal tension. If children are present they are negatively affected by having witnessed the violence.
3. Reconciliation/honeymoon The abuser may begin to feel remorse, guilt, or fear that the partner may leave the relationship. He/she begins to apologize, show affection and may engage in over compensatory behaviors such as being sweet, kind, loving, or buying presents. The abuser may also engage in self-pity behaviors to elicit the victim’s sympathy. The abuser may acknowledge that there is a problem with the way he/she behave but often speak of being powerless over their own behaviors. The so-called “acknowledgment” of the bad behavior is often followed by blaming the victim for pushing their buttons and acting as a trigger. The victim feels pain, fear, humiliation, disrespect, confusion, and at times responsible. At this point, abuser continues to engage in behaviors to establish status quo and often times the victim who is emotionally exhausted also opts out for the status quo.
4. Calm The couple goes through a period of time where life feels more normal. However, the victim continues to worry about the next outburst and may modify her behavior (feeling they are walking on eggshells) to potentially prevent the next angry episode. However, the cycle begins to repeat itself as no change has been made.
What can you do? For those who’ve been minimizing, denying, and hiding the abuse, the first step is, to be honest with yourself and recognize abuse is happening. This can be a painful and frightening first step. You can regain power over your own life, stop the abuse, and begin to heal, but first comes acknowledgment. If there are children involved, you must acknowledge that the children are hurting too. Stand up to the abuser, and take a stand that the abusive behavior is not acceptable. Similar to the playground bully, emotional abusers don't like to be confronted and may back down if you challenge their abusive behavior. Do your best to remain rational and control your emotionality. Respond from your logical mind rather than an emotional mind. You may ask yourself, what suggestions would I have given someone else who was in my shoes at this junction? Address the abuser in a calm, strong voice and ask for a reasonable expectation such as, “Stop calling me names, treat me with respect,” or “We may be disagreeing, but you may not humiliate me.” Remember just because your partner is out of control you don’t have to be also, regain control of the situation by acting confident, find the place in you that is not operating from fear, but from what’s best for you and perhaps your children. Establish eye contact if you can when speaking to your partner. Be mindful that abusers are regular people who don’t abuse all the time and don’t abuse everyone. Thus, practice being more assertive in other situations, when emotions are not running high exercise taking a stand for your opinions. Work on being more confident, and speak your mind more regularly, so when an abusive incident happens you will be able to ground and assert yourself more easily.