LinkedinTwitterThe DetailsConnectBlog Facebook Meet the TherapistHome For Writers

Thursday, May 6, 2010

T3 - The Cycle of Abuse

Many of our characters struggle with abusive relationships--either currently or in their past. I thought delving into the psychology behind abuse might be helpful for today's Therapeutic Thought.

Take a look at the diagram. The yellow Honeymoon Period and the red Tension Building Period are indicative of "normal" relationships. Most all husbands and wives (or partners or what have you) go through these two stages--swinging back and forth like a pendulum.

The Honeymoon Period is just like what it sounds like. All fun and games, gifts, flowers, promises, and apologies (especially after a Tension Building phase). But the Tension Building phase brings in the little criticisms, some yelling at each other, swearing, even. It's when anger sets up a tent in the living room and people can feel they are walking on eggshells in their own home.

Alternating between the two is considered normal, even healthy. A relationship isn't tested until it hits a few bumps in the road, and when the bonds hold, the relationship is that much stronger for it. While this isn't the best news for married people, it's great news for writers. Tension makes our stories unputdownable. (Yes, I know that's not a word.) All you women's fiction writers out there who like to focus on the married couple instead of the sexual-tension-dating-phase couple usually create something huge that happens between the husband and wife, upsetting the Honeymoon Period and beginning a page-turning story. Usually, this is infidelity, pornography, or drug addictions coming to light.

But for an abuser, they can't go back to the Honeymoon Period without complete the cycle and Exploding. The Tension Building phase gradually escalates to psychological abuse--also called "gaslighting" (where they play mind games on the victim and make them think they are going crazy). They will isolate the victim from all support systems (see diagram below), and drug/alcohol addictions add to the mix in a horrific manner.

The abuser's inability to manage their anger is so lacking that they spiral out of control, sometimes blacking out in rage and not being fully aware of what they do. They can attack someone else physically, emotionally or sexually. A lot of women get raped during this time. Burns, broken bones, stabbings, bruises...and so much more.

The abuser then slips into the charming, charismatic, loving partner they were in the beginning when things were so good. They apologize, give gifts, flowers, cry, and say "I'll never do it again." The victim, desperately wanting to believe they haven't fallen in love with a monster, believes them (or doesn't, even) and it starts all over again.

One thing I recently found out in a domestic violence training is that a battered woman typically tries to leave her partner EIGHT times before she successfully disentangles herself from the relationship. Eight times of trying to make it in a shelter or with a friend, trying to take children away from the home only to be brought back by some financial insecurity or emotional connection with the abuser that renders the woman powerless in the situation.

Abuse is rampant in the world, so it's little wonder it shows up in our fiction. Understanding the mindset of the abused is difficult, as we're on the outside, looking in. What we often don't realize is that the abused woman has been trained/brainwashed to not seek out help or attention, to blend in to the scenery by trying to hide/cover their bruises. They often get upset or agitated when someone asks a pointed question or probes too deeply. But deep down, they do want help--they are just scared to get it. It's such a psychology trap.

If you have any specific questions about this cycle, I'd be happy to field them in the comments section if I can.

Q4U: Have you ever tried to talk a woman out of an abusive relationship? What were her reasons for staying? How did that feel?

Wordle: signature


Aisley Crosse said...

Hi Jeannie,

I thought I would email you about this post but rather I think my comments might be better in the comment section for people who may come across this post who are currently in a situation they may be looking to get out of.

** if this is an emergency call 9-1-1 **

1 - if you aren't being abused, chances are you know more than one person who is even if you don't know that they are.

2 - the reported incidents are not proportional to the actual incidence rates. This is a personal crime and largely under-reported. But it is a crime.

3 - abuse comes in all kinds of forms and is an issue of power and control (the cycle above is correct - though, as I say further in - though individual circumstances may effect it).

4 - Though there are generally accepted facts stated above please do not try to apply them to every individual, situation or case. As always there are exceptions - especially in the case of abuse. The situations are as individual as the people themselves.

5 - there are a widespread network of rape crisis lines (Kids Help Phone and other don't tell don't ask lines can provide you with the number to your local line)

7 - don't ever act as if you know what is best for a person who has/is experiencing abuse. This makes you just another person looking to take power over them. Merely inform them that you are concerned, and that you are "safe" for them. If you can't say that then give them a number to your local women's support line, rape crisis line, children's aid, social services - etc.

Thanks Jeannie, I didn't want to jump all over this without paying respect to people who might google abuse and find your blog post. I think it's important to always keep that in mind. Also for writers who might be starting to write about abuse without knowing what they're writing about. Great post. I'm glad to spread the awareness. I just wanted to help out!


Jaime Wright said...

Great insights, Jeannie. I've never counselled a woman in an abusive situation - I have worked with youth in those situations and that's so dicey ... had to get a youth pastor involved, then police then ... yeah. Not fun.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks for your comment, aisley. while i had not intended this post to be directed toward people being abused, i'm glad that you included ways that they can seek help, as well as ways people who are seeking to help those who are abused can do so. thanks so much for contributing that info, should someone happen upon this post in need of help besides a writer or two!

jaime - youth in this situation can be a different beast...getting authorities involved is important. but even in young teen relationships, they can experience the exact same emotions. thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...

This is useful for anyone to know, we all live amongst others who are only shadows of the people they should have been. Only by understanding the various ways abusers control and we see well enough to make a difference.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great summary, Jeannie. If you have room in a subsequent week, I would really enjoy seeing things from the other side of the situation, the abuser's perception, or perhaps a look inside the mentality of a couple. The biggest thing I got from the character therapy you did for me was shaking off the last of my judgements (He's the abuser, he's bad, she shouldn't be with him) and embracing the character's point of view, which does not paint things so clearly. If you have any concepts to offer on the internal psychological experience, I'm sure that would be very helpful for people to characterize such a relationship convincingly.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful post, Jeannie. I'm plotting for a new novel and considering some abuse in either Hero or Heroine's past. This would really help in shaping whomever I decide on


Post a Comment

Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.