Perspectives are changing around what has been known as the ‘cycle of violence’, some professionals say they will not use it as it is incorrect and unhelpful while others still use it. My professional and personal opinion is it is patterns of abusive behaviour rather than a neat cycle.


For me, when I first left my abusive relationship I found it helpful to think of it as a cycle, although it is important to realise that each step in the cycle is abusive, whether it be covert or overt.

I no longer see this as a cycle of violence, but rather as a pattern of abusive behaviour. I now find the term ‘cycle’ unhelpful, because abuse does not follow a neat cycle, and can go from entrapment straight to explosion.

In my own life, I first came across the concept of the cycle of violence when I entered the shelter; my crisis worker showed me the graphic. I found it comforting that I had not imagined the behaviours I had been subjected to because life is very disorientating and confusing on the inside of an abusive relationship. It is hard to grapple with what is real and what is a distortion of the truth. As incredible as it seems to me now, I was actually unsure if what I was being subjected to constituted abuse.

The mental torture he inflicted on me for over a decade made it difficult to hold onto a thought or memory. I found it difficult to trust my own thought processes.

About a year before I left, I started writing notes to myself in a small diary that I kept hidden. They would be short notes, but enough to remind me of the things that had been said and done to me.

These are some of the things that he said to me that I found in the diaries:

‘You are a freak, insane, completely unlikeable.’

‘You are ugly, inside and out.’ ‘You are pathetic.’

‘You are a vile piece of shit.’

And some other things, too hurtful and revolting to repeat.

I also diarised the abusive and intimidating way he treated me, these are direct quotes from that diary:

‘Being vile’
‘Still being vile’ – four days later. ‘Out drinking didn’t come home.’ ‘Bullying me today.’
‘Physical assaults started again.’

It was through these notes I first noticed there was a pattern to these behaviours. In-between, I would write things like:

‘Out to dinner.’ ‘Flowers.’
‘Cooked me a meal.’

This pattern prevented me from recognising what was happening to me was abuse. Once I realised even the times he appeared nice and behaved as though I were in charge, and he would change it was merely an illusion. I had no control over the situation at all. Recognising this pattern ultimately helped me to break through this illusion he would change, which led me to find the strength and courage to leave.

One of the common misconceptions about domestic violence is that there is constant aggression. This is rarely the case. As the diagram above shows, there is a pattern of behaviour when it comes to domestic violence. All stages are abusive and affect the abused person’s psychological well-being and keep them engaged in the relationship. The most destructive part of this pattern is that it is almost impossible to see it when you are in it.

In fact, the abuser is supposed to be on your side; you are on the same team, so it is hard to work out what is happening, and the more craziness you are subjected to, the more confusing it becomes. If you are in an abusive relationship that does not include physical violence, it can become almost impossible to work out what is going on.

An important part of recognising that a person is being abused is to recognise the patterns of behaviour.

This information can be particularly helpful in an abusive relationship that does not include physical abuse. The covert and coercive nature of these patterns of behaviour can help to highlight abuse that may otherwise be explained away as part of the relationship, or worse, the victim overreacting.