Domestic Violence Awareness

Domestic Violence Awareness

By Diane Cummins on October 1, 2022

In 1989, October was first declared as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. October is a time to acknowledge those who have survived domestic abuse and ensure that they have a voice. As such, it would be remiss of me not to discuss this sensitive topic.

You may know someone - a close friend or loved one - who has been a victim of domestic abuse. Or, perhaps, you have been a victim yourself. An average of 20 people each minute are abused by domestic partners,  which equates to over 10 million people annually  (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network). Domestic violence occurs in every community and affects people from all walks of life, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, gender, race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. Millions of Americans live in fear each day in their homes because of domestic violence.

What, exactly, is domestic violence? Although domestic violence may seem like an unpredictable outburst related to a specific situation, this is the farthest thing from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence is actually a cycle, or pattern of events and behaviors, that repeats itself over a period of days, weeks, or years. At every stage in the cycle, the abuser is fully in control of his or her actions and is actively working to manipulate, control, and isolate his or her victim. Domestic abuse is divided into 4 stages: tension, incident/explosion, honeymoon, and calm. We will explore each stage of the cycle in more detail to help elucidate the common patterns of abuse and understand why it is so hard for the person experiencing abuse to leave the abusive situation. It is important to note that not all instances of abuse occur in the same way, but the 4 stages tend to occur in rotation in many abuse cases.

Stage 1: Tension

During this stage, outside stressors are beginning to build up within the abuser. These stressors could be related to financial problems, a rough day at work, fatigue, or any number of factors. As the abuser becomes more stressed, tension begins to mount. This is because the abuser does not feel in control of his or her situation. This loss of control leads to increased tension and anger, which is directed toward the person being abused. During this period of tension, the person who is the target of abuse tries to find ways to ease the tension to stop an abusive incident from happening. The target of abuse may feel anxious, hyperalert, and as if they are walking on eggshells around the abuser due to fear of setting him or her off. During this stage, the victim of abuse often feels like something bad is about to happen.

Stage 2: Incident/Explosion

During this stage, the abuser's built-up tension is released in an explosive incident directed at the person being abused. This explosion often includes a major act of violence, including a physical and/or sexual attack, as well as increased verbal abuse. During this phase, abusers will continue insulting their partners, threatening them, and manipulating them emotionally. Abusers also shift the blame for their actions onto their partners, blaming the victims for the abusive behavior. For example, they may say, "If you hadn't made me mad, I wouldn't have hit you!" or "If you had just cleaned the house, this wouldn't have happened!"

Stage 3: Honeymoon

During this stage, tension begins to decrease with the passing of time after the most recent explosion. During the honeymoon phase, the abuser will try to make amends for the abusive behavior by apologizing, buying the victim gifts, and being overly loving and kind toward the victim. According to Bottaro (2022), this period mimics the beginning of a relationship, when both partners are on their best behavior, hence the term "honeymoon".  Abusers will often promise to change and insist that the abuse will never happen again.

These extra acts of kindness cause a chemical reaction in the brain of the abuse victims, releasing oxytocin and dopamine, hormones that stimulate feelings of closeness and love. Because of this, domestic abuse victims gravitate closer to their abusers, feeling that the relationship will finally be "normal".

Stage 4: Calm

During this stage, explanations and justifications are made to help both partners excuse the abuse. The abuser will continue to blame the abuse on outside factors, such as job stress, financial strain, or any number of external factors. The abuser will also try to minimize the abuse, convincing the victim that the abuse was not as bad as it seemed at the time. Because abusers are very manipulative and convincing, the victim often begins to minimize the severity of the abuse. The abuser will eventually convince the victim that the abuse is an act of the past, even though that is not true.

Did you know that not all domestic abuse is violent or sexual in nature? Domestic abuse can also be emotional, which hurts the victim mentally rather than physically, leaving scars that others are not always able to see. Let's talk about emotional abuse.

Emotional Abuse

A relationship is emotionally abusive when "there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person's self-esteem and undermine their mental health" (Gordon, 2022). The goal of emotional abuse is to control the other person through silencing, discrediting, and isolation. One form of emotional abuse, known as gaslighting, can cause abuse victims to doubt their perceptions, memories, and even realities. Often, partners who are emotionally abused are too wounded to withstand the relationship any longer but too afraid to leave.

Signs of an emotionally abusive relationship include:

Leaving an Abusive Relationship

When you hear the story of someone in an abusive relationship, you - like most people - might wonder, "Why don't they just leave?" Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Ending a long-term relationship is hard, but it is even harder when the victims have been isolated from their friends and families, financially controlled, beaten down psychologically, and physically threatened and/or beaten. 

The first step in preparing to leave an abusive relationship is realizing that the abuse is not the victim's fault. Whether the victim is you or someone you love and care about, know that it is not your fault. Victims are not to blame for their partner's mistreatment. Know your worth - Know that you deserve a safe place to live and loving relationships. If there are children involved, know that they deserve a safe and loving environment as well.  Lastly, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available for victims of domestic abuse, including crisis hotlines and shelters.

Second, realize that abusers have deeply ingrained psychological and emotional problems. If you are hoping that your abuser will change and that the abuse will stop, know that it is not likely. In order for this to happen, the abuser will need to accept accountability for his or her actions, seek professional treatment, stop using alcohol and/or substances (if this is an issue), and stop blaming others - including you - for his or her behavior. If you believe you can help your partner - that you are the only one who understands him/her - and that it is your responsibility to help, please realize that it is not your responsibility. By staying with the abusive partner, you are not helping. By remaining in the relationship and accepting the repeated abuse, you are reinforcing and enabling the abusive behavior, thus perpetuating the problem. It is best for you and for the abuser for you to walk away from the situation as soon as you can.

Third, know what your abusers red flags are. Be alert for signs that your abuser is angry and that tension is brewing. If he or she is increasingly combative, verbally assaultive, and easily angered, you are cycling back into Stage 2 of the cycle of abuse, Incident/Explosion. Be ready to leave in a moment's notice. Take proactive measures, such as memorizing the phone numbers of trusted family, friends, and emergency contacts. If you have a vehicle, keep enough fuel in the car for an emergency getaway. Keep the vehicle facing the driveway exit with the driver's side door unlocked. Practice escaping quickly and easily. Once you enter the Incident/Explosion cycle, time will be limited. 

If you do escape the abuse and your abuser is continuing to contact you, verbally abuse you, or stalk you, tell him or her to stop. If the behavior continues, contact your local police department to get information on how to file a restraining order. Change up your daily routine, e.g. take different routes to work each day. Do not tell your abuser where you are living. Change your cell phone number to create distance between you and your abuser. 

Lastly, do not be afraid to contact domestic violence advocacy groups in your area. Representatives are there to help you find the resources you need to remain safe from future abuse.

Resources for Domestic Violence and Abuse - Fort Wayne Metro Area


Botarro, A. (2022, June 8). How to recognize and end the cycle of abuse. Verywell Health.

Gordon, S. (2022, August 8.) What is emotional abuse? Signs and red flags of emotional abuse. Verywell Health.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n. d.) National domestic violence awareness month.