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The Cycle of Domestic Violence and Why Victims Stay

To outsiders looking in, it’s often perplexing why victims of domestic violence remain in abusive relationships instead of seeking help or escaping. However, there are valid psychological and logistical factors that make leaving extremely difficult. Understanding the cycle of violence that occurs in domestic abuse situations provides insight into why breaking free can be so challenging. The cycle often begins with a period of tension building, where stressors cause tempers to flare and small arguments erupt. The victim feels like they are “walking on eggshells” to avoid upsetting their increasingly agitated partner. Eventually, the mounting tensions erupt into an explosive incident of verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse. This violent outburst then transitions into a honeymoon phase where the abuser apologizes profusely, showers the victim with affection, and makes comforting promises to change. This provides the victim brief hope that their partner has reformed. But the calm doesn’t last long before the cycle begins again. This repetitive cycle fosters trauma bonding and learned helplessness in victims. The honeymoon phase and intermittent affection confuses victims into thinking their abuser is capable of change. And the eventual broken promises teach victims that attempting to improve the relationship is futile. They begin to believe they deserve the abuse and that escaping is impossible. In addition, many victims are financially dependent on their abuser, isolated from support systems, intimidated by threats of retribution, or unaware of available resources to safely leave. Victims endure abuse an average of seven times before gathering the strength and means to escape. Rather than judging why they don’t just leave, we must offer them our empathy, support, and understanding instead. Escaping domestic violence is a process, not an event. By educating ourselves on the cyclone of physical and emotional factors victims are trapped in, we can gain compassion and provide the right forms of help to empower their eventual freedom.

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