Lenore Walker's Cycle of Abuse

Lenore Walker's theory, the cycle of abuse, is a theory that states that there are four phases in all dynamics of an abusive relationship.

Last update: 06 July, 2020

Lenore Walker’s theory, the cycle of abuse, states that there are four phases in all abusive relationships. This researcher and psychologist has been studying this type of abuse for over forty years. She believes that it’s possible to dismantle violence. She also helps mistreated women defend themselves and fight for justice.

According to Walker, the victims don’t expose their abuser openly because they’re afraid. They’re afraid that things could get worse, especially when they’re financially dependent on their aggressor. Walter has contributed a very useful tool to the psychology of gender violence. This tool allows us to understand how battered women suffer. Walker also helps us understand how difficult it is for battered women to leave their abusers.

In 1979, she published her theory’s conclusions. To create her theory, s he used battered women’s testimonies. Throughout her research, Walker realized that these women aren’t attacked at the same time or in the same way. However, the phases remain consistent. Although some phases might last longer of manifest themselves in different ways, they were always evident.

She established a similar pattern of behavior in all abuse situations and she observed how these behavior patterns reoccur in a cycle. This is how Walker’s cycle of abuse helps us understand abusive relationships.

Recent research explains that it’s nearly impossible to get out of the cycle of abuse. Since it’s nearly impossible to escape, the consequences for the abused are severe. The outcome can sometimes be fatal. Gender violence involves the loss of personality. This loss includes biological, psychological, and social factors.

A woman scared due to domestic violence and abuse.

The cycle of abuse: Phases of abuse

Here we’ll talk about L. Walker’s cycle of abuse. This is one of the most widespread theories about the phases of an abusive relationship.

Tension building phase

In this phase, there’s a gradual escalation of tension. Walker characterized this by a frequency of continuous struggles and violent acts. This phase doesn’t necessarily have a specific duration. It can last for weeks, months, or years. Throughout this phase, there are incidents involving jealousy, shouting, or small fights.

The victim interprets these insults and verbal abuse as isolated cases that are under control. The aggressor experiences sudden mood swings and they become angry at unimportant things. They’re frequently tense and/or irritated. 

The victim tries to placate the matter. They don’t want to rock the boat. They believe that if they calm the aggressor down, this will end the conflict. The victim tends to blame themselves and justify the aggressor’s behavior. Every time there’s an incident of minor aggression, tension increases in the aggressor. The victim’s apparent passivity aggravates the aggressor and they don’t make any attempt to control their emotions.

Acute violence

This is the shortest of the three phases. Violence erupts in this stage. There’s a lack of control, which is why the physical, psychological, and/or sexual aggression occurs. The victim experiences disbelief and anxiety and they tend to isolate themselves. They may feel powerless in regards to what has happened. They usually wait several days before asking for help.

Pushing away.

Reconciliation/honeymoon phase

In this phase, the aggressor usually asks for forgiveness and promises the victim that it’ll never happen again. They use manipulative strategies to make sure that the relationship doesn’t end.

When the victim accepts gifts, invitations, or promises, this does nothing but reinforce the violent behavior. The tension that built up during the tension building and the acute violence phases has disappeared.

In this phase, it’s difficult for women to report the situation they’re going through. This sudden change in attitude makes them think that it was a one-time event that will never happen again. The victim wants to believe that the abuser will never do anything like that again. The fact that the aggressor seems calm reinforces the belief that they can change. Their loving behavior is proof of that. This reconciliation phase ends as soon as small incidents begin again.

“Any time of the day or night is good to say enough and end a stage of your life that you wished you hadn’t lived.”

-Raimunda de Penaflor-

How do you break the cycle of abuse?

To break the cycle of abuse, the victim has to be aware of their situation. From that point on, the victim can start receiving emotional and professional help.

A woman receiving help for abuse.

In recent years, a lot of light has been shed on this issue. We’re finding out that this problem is more widespread and common than we had previously thought. Societies have reacted with legislative measures. However, we’re far from eradicating this type of violence.

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

-Malcolm X-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.