Abusers can be either male or a female. This article is therefore inclusive as the cycle of abuse is the same whether the abuser is a male or a female. These stages of the cycle of abuse are important to know about if you are going to manage your safety.
It is incredibly painful and heartbreaking when you realize that the person you love is hostile towards you. Especially when we know that we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. You want to help your partner understand that there is a better way to talk with you, but instead they insist on controlling and dominating everyone and everything around them. The harsh reality is that verbal abuse is a violation of our trust and emotional safety. In order to make lasting changes in your partner, it is critical that you learn how to recognize, and respond to, the cycle of verbal abuse.
Step 1: Kaboom!
The cycle begins with a loud verbal explosion, yelling, screaming, accusations, verbal harassment, needling, or threats of abandonment. “You’re lucky I put up with you. No one else would tolerate what I do. If you don’t shape up, I’m going to dump your sorry ass, you loser!” Meanwhile, he/she the one behaving like a lunatic. He/She is not going to leave you. It’s an empty threat. You should be so lucky. However, one of the effects of emotional abuse is that you believe his/her nonsense and actually fear being abandoned.
Step 2: Promises to be Better
Next, a period of remorse, rationalizations and/or excuses follows. He/She will either:
- Apologize and vow it will never happen again.
- Pretend like it never happened, which is also highly abusive.
- Blame you for their outburst. If you didn’t do x, y, and z, he/she wouldn’t have to be that way. Abusive personality types never take responsibility for their own actions. It’s always someone else’s fault.
- Deny the incident occurred.
- Minimizes their behavior and insists it wasn’t that bad. Usually, you’re so relieved that the screaming and insults have stopped, no matter how he/she spins events, that you go along with it. You hope the recent attack was the last, but it never is.
Step 3: The Calm Before the Next Storm
Things go back to “normal” for a time. This is referred to as the “honeymoon phase.” No overt abuse is taking place. You’re getting along, while simultaneously waiting for the other shoe to drop and hoping that it won’t. He/She appears sincere in her efforts to be kind and loving, but what he/she is actually doing is lulling you into a false sense of security that the worst is over. It’s not.
Step 4: Tick, tick, tick
Tension begins to build again, replacing the all too fleeting honeymoon period. Irritability surfaces. Communication deteriorates. He/She makes veiled accusations, blaming you for his/her unhappiness, frustration and anything else he/she can think of. He/She emotionally withdraws and gives you the cold shoulder. Eventually, this escalates into another full blown rage episode, verbal attack, humiliation party or completely shuts you out.
If you are concerned about being the victim of emotional or physical abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
The Repetitive Cycle of Abuse
This repetitive cycle of abuse will leave you feeling insecure, fearful, worthless, broken, and dependent upon the abuser. Eventually, your entire life revolves around trying to second guess his/her moods and needs in an effort to stave off the next attack. You become a non-person in that your needs don’t matter because your entire focus shifts to keeping her happy, which is an impossible task. You won’t be able to make him/her happy, no matter how hard you try. Nor will you be able to change his/her behavior; only he/she can do that.
The only way to end the cycle of chronic abuse is to end the relationship. You can try some kind of formalized therapy, but the abuser usually denies the fact that there’s a problem. Alternately, if he/she does agree to attend therapy, he/she typically sabotages treatment by either labeling the therapist as a fraud, especially if he/she gets called on his/her bad behavior, or finds a therapist who colludes with him/her and piles more blame and abuse onto you.
Verbal Abuse Makes Us Doubt Ourselves
- Recognize your own experiences and feelings – trust your gut.
- Don’t let anyone else tell you what you are experiencing.
- Don’t overlook behaviors that are immature and wrong.
- Don’t let anyone tell you that “you make them feel – or do it.”
- Don’t let others “dump emotions and feelings” on you or make you responsible for how they feel, act, live or die.
Know that the “magic” in the abuser is that they can be one minute be sweet and wonderful, then be fault finding, be inconsistent, confuse you by “telling you things” at the most inappropriate times, tell you that no one else cares, tries to find fault with your friends, family, church, and others, keeps you isolated, holds on to your goods, belongings, etc., keeping you dependent on them and leave you feeling that you are wrong.
You Must Respond to Verbal Abuse
Know that the verbal abuser has to be responsible for themselves. It is not your job to “save them” and make them better. It is not up to you to figure out “what they really meant” or “didn’t mean” to say. Abusers and those with problems with anger always say, “Well you should know I didn’t mean it.” Well it is too late! The person needs to take responsibility for their own behavior. It is not your job to understand.
Don’t let yourself get trapped in their “potential for you” and your “need to be loved.” Don’t get trapped in the emotions and dramatic feelings because “it feels so good, right, exciting”, etc.
Recognize that there are many different categories of verbal abuse:
- Countering what you say
- Discounting you or what happens
- Abuse disguised as jokes
- Blocking & diverting
- Accusing & blaming
- Judging & criticizing
- Name calling
- Finding fault with you and telling you how you need to change, grow up, improve, etc.
It is very important to understand that you can be conditioned to accept these things. Over time, we learn and adapt, and end up thinking, “Well, it’s not that bad. I am used to it” or “they will get over it”. Instead, you need to remember that there is nothing wrong with you and you are not your partner’s child.
Your Partner May Change, if…
Your partner MAY change if you set limits and they know that you mean business, if you embrace the following concepts:
- Even if they thinks it is justified, you will not accept it.
- Even if they says that it’s just a joke, you will not accept it.
- Even if they do not “get it”, you will not accept it.
- Even if they blame you, you will not accept it.
- Even if you are wrong, you will not accept it (the reason is that the other person is the one doing the abuse).
Abuse is always wrong. Control and “telling others” is always wrong, even if it is for “their own good.” Dominance, control, and power is what the verbal abuser wants. The verbal abuse is actually a learned habit they use to solve their fears and insecurities. Essentially, they “get what they want.”
You probably have thought that, “you would never act that way, so why do they it?” It is essential to remember that your partner has a different “private logic” and “reality” than you do. You cannot figure it out. What you can do is accept that the behavior is selfish and that they will tell you anything so they can get what they want: Control and their needs met.
Boundaries and limits are critical. Set them, draw the line, and hold fast – even if they push more, make threats, try to make you feel guilty, or get you upset. You need to be accepted and honored as a separate and unique individual who can make your own decisions.