Cycle Of Abuse

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What is a cycle of abuse?

A cycle of abuse has been proven time and time again. When something is characterized as being cyclical it means that it occurs in a repeating pattern. Abuse is identifiable as being cyclical in two ways; it is both generational and episodic. Generational cycles of abuse are passed down, by example and exposure, from parents to children. Episodic abuse occurs in a repeating pattern within the context of at least two individuals within a family system. It may involve spousal abuse, child abuse, or even elder abuse.

A son, who is repeatedly either verbally or physically abused by his father, will predictably treat his own children in the same way. When a daughter hears her mother frequently tear down, belittle, and criticize her father, she will adapt a learned behavior which involves control through verbal abuse. Similarly, a child who witnesses his parents engaging in abusive behaviors toward one another, will very likely subject his or her spouse to the same abusive patterns. These are examples of generational abuse.

The episodic cycle of abuse is characterized by distinct periods of behavior that eventually result in an extreme episode of verbal and/or physical abuse. Typically, victims of abuse live in denial of this reoccurring pattern.

  1. The cycle of episodic abuse begins with a major abusive behavior such as loud verbal abuse, screaming and/or verbal harassment and even a threat of physical assault.
  2. A period of remorse follows. The abusive individual will go to great lengths to seek forgiveness and offer assurances that the abusive behavior will never occur again. An abusive spouse may bring flowers or expensive gifts. “Oh honey, you know that I would never hurt you. I am so sorry. You know how much I need you." An abusive husband may seek reassurance from his wife that she will never leave him.
  3. The third portion of the cycle is characterized by a period of "normalcy." During this time frame the abusive spouse may appear to be truly living out his or her repentance. Great effort will be expended to please and lull the victim of abuse into believing that the worst is now over.
  4. Over time, tension will begin to replace the easy atmosphere in the home. Irritability will increase, followed by veiled accusations by the abuser, blaming the other spouse for his or her frustration and unhappiness. Eventually, this escalating behavior will give way to another episode of full-blown verbal and/or physical abuse.
A cycle of abuse is rarely broken without outside help. Victims need to learn how to set boundaries that protect them and help them to break free of the cycle of victimization. Abusers must confront and take responsibility for the verbal and physical abusive patterns of behavior. Both victim and abuser need to consider professional counseling as a means to stop the cycle of abuse. Individuals who are living in environments characterized by a cyclical form of abuse should make personal safety a matter of urgent priority. Verbal abuse can quickly escalate into a related, but more deadly form of abuse, physical violence.

No one understands the dynamics of cyclical abuse more than God. He has much to say about the nature of true repentance. Saying, "I'm sorry” is never enough, unless it is accompanied by taking responsibility for wrong behavior and a genuine desire to change. In 2 Corinthians 7:8-10, the Apostle Paul makes mention of a Godly kind of sorrow; the kind that leads to turning away from the wrong behavior. Genuine sorrow for abusive behavior which results in true repentance is God's answer to the cycle of abuse.



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