We hear it every day. “Why doesn’t she just leave?” We hear this question from family members, from society and even from the victims themselves. This question is worth asking only if it leads to understanding the answers.
The answers are many. They are deep, they are convoluted and they are messy. One of the main reasons that she doesn’t ‘just leave’ is covered in the picture above. It is called the Cycle of Abuse and it explains the cycle that abusive relationships go through. When you look closely at it, you realize it is specifically intended to keep the victim hooked into her relationship. It is manipulative, brain washing, gas lighting and at its core abusive control.
It a is imperative we understand that abusers are not abusive all the time, or even most of the time. Typically, we do not fall in love with a loser who has no job, who smacks us across the face on the first date or who verbally rips into us for wearing the wrong colored shirt to church. No, we fall in love with the successful, well presented, kind and charming man. It isn’t until later, once the hooks are dug into our soul deeply, that we recognize just how evil he has become.
It starts small, when we enter the cycle. Little things that don’t add up but are easy to explain away. “He was just kidding.” “He didn’t mean it.” “He’s stressed, over worked, worried.” “He said it wouldn’t happen again.” Our loving souls automatically minimize the abuse because first, he didn’t hit us and second, we just cannot make sense out of the chaos his minor abuses caused. It doesn’t match up to the person we love, the kindness he usually shows. To add to this, the abuser will jump on this bandwagon and skillfully reinforce the excuses, minimizing and blame shifting.
A vital part of blame shifting and minimizing is the honeymoon phase. We’ve all been through it. The great sex, the flowers and phone calls. He becomes the man you fell in love with; charming, loving, kind and generous and this phase lasts, usually, for quite a while. Long enough to suck you back into believing that the abuse was just a one time, out of the norm, and all your fault thing.
Honeymooning slowly fades and you find yourself back into a living routine. He goes to work (hopefully), you go to work or tend the kids or go to school. Things are normal. As humans, we thrive on normality and routine. Routine lulls us into safety and once again we firmly believe that the abuse is in the past. We haven’t done anything to cause him to abuse again so it really must have been our fault.
Unfortunately, reality starts to push itself into our relationship as we start to feel uneasy in our hearts. We start to walk on egg shells without really realizing it, watch our words and try to perform so that he is happy. We can tell that something is building, but we just don’t know what it is. Some women, ones who have been through the cycle many times before, will purposely do something to trigger an abusive attack just so she will have control over when it happens and can expect it. Otherwise, it smacks us up the side of the head with surprise and that in itself will cause harm.
The abusive trigger can be anything and happen at any moment. You’ve dropped the glass and it broke. You parked in the wrong spot. You served supper a little too cold or too late. You hung up the towel wrong, put the kids to bed at the wrong time or simply hummed a tune under your breath. What ever it is, it is enough, in the mind of an abuser, to trigger an abusive outburst.
An abusive outburst can be any reaction that takes the power and control from a relationship and gives it entirely to one person. It is always verbally abusive and emotionally abusive. It can also include physical, financial, sexual or spiritual abuse as well. What ever it looks like at that moment, it leaves you feeling lost, confused, hurt, unhappy and broken, while he walks away empowered and emotionally unharmed. You get the message again, it was obviously all your fault. This is the moment that most women try to get out, get safe, leave. This is also the moment that if she does try to get herself safe, she is at higher risk of more physical harm and even death.
Pretty soon after the abuse, he shows up with flowers, apologizing, love bombing you and making promises. It doesn’t matter if he stayed, was arrested, kicked out of the house or beat you to a bloody pulp. He will show up, he will love bomb her and she will want to take him back. This is the point in which a victim needs to have the most support around her. She is not emotionally strong. Because of the abuse and manipulation she is unable to think clearly. She has been taught to depend on him for everything. She has been taught that it is her fault. She is hurting both emotionally and physically. Without help, the cycle will start again.
The abuse cycle can complete its round in minutes, hours, days or years but it always, always completes. The only way out is to get out. Break the silence of shame. Break the silence that protects the abuser. Start empowering yourself, finding support and educating yourself on the cycle of abuse so that you can recognize it as it is happening. Only then can you take the power and control back over your own life instead of living at the whim of his abuse.
So, why does she stay? The answers are many. They are deep, they are convoluted and they are messy. There is no easy answer to that question for every victim’s story is unique. Understanding the cycle that a victim lives in is a very important piece to understanding a few of the reasons that she finds it impossible to leave. The most important piece to her eventually getting out safely is that you believe her and support her choices even if that choice is to stay for another round of the cycle.
If you need help please contact:
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
ARMS (Abuse Recovery Ministry and Services) 866-262-9284 (not a 24 hr hotline)
Your local Women’s Shelter for Domestic Violence.