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At times, abuse within relationships can manifest in cyclical patterns, making it difficult for us to recognise and address. The cycle of abuse typically encompasses four distinct stages: tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm. While not every abusive relationship follows this exact sequence, understanding these stages can shed light on the dynamics at play. 

It should also be noted that abusive relationships may also, or alternatively be marked by the use of; 

  • controlling behaviour 
  • physical violence 
  • sexual assault 
  • emotional abuse 
  • stalking 
  • technology-facilitated abuse 
  • financial abuse. 

A widely use tool to identify domestic and family violence is to look at the Duluth Power and Control Wheel. 

Stages of Our Cycle of Abuse 

Tension: Our cycle often begins with a build-up of tension, marked by emotional outbursts, irritability, and impatience. External stressors may exacerbate this tension, leading our abusive partner to seek control within the relationship. 

Incident: As tension peaks, it may culminate in an abusive incident characterised by intimidation, verbal attacks, physical violence, or other forms of coercion. This stage is where our abusive partner exerts power and control over us. 

Reconciliation: Following the incident, our abusive partner may express remorse and make efforts to reconcile. Apologies, affectionate gestures, and promises of change may temporarily ease tensions and prompt forgiveness from us. 

Calm: The cycle seemingly concludes with a period of calm, during which the abusive behaviours may subside, and the relationship appears harmonious. However, underlying issues remain unresolved, setting the stage for the cycle to repeat. 

Breaking Our Cycle 

While breaking free from the cycle of abuse may seem daunting, it is possible with the right support and resources. Seeking help from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals can provide invaluable guidance and validation. 

Rebuilding Your Confidence: Reclaiming our self-confidence is essential to breaking free from abusive relationships. Engaging in activities that bring us joy, reconnecting with loved ones, and investing in personal growth can bolster our self-esteem and resilience. 

Seeking Intervention: Recognising that exiting an abusive relationship may require outside intervention is crucial. Support services, shelters, and helplines are available to provide assistance and safety planning.

How A Psychologist Can Help

  1. Education and Awareness: Knowledge is power. We help you understand the dynamics of abusive relationships and recognise the signs of abuse (e.g. via the Duluth Power and Control Wheel), empowering you to make informed decisions about your well-being. 
  2. Safety Planning: Safety is our top priority. We work closely with you to develop personalised safety plans, including strategies for identifying and avoiding potential triggers, establishing support networks, and accessing emergency resources.
  3. Emotional Support: Healing from the trauma of abuse requires compassion and empathy. We provide a safe and supportive space for you to process emotions, validate your experiences, and rebuild self-esteem.


Abuse takes various forms and can occur in cycles, perpetuating harmful patterns of behaviour. By understanding the types and stages of the cycle of abuse and accessing support resources, we can take steps towards ending the cycle and prioritising our well-being.

Remember: You are not alone, and help is available. Reach out to us today to begin your journey toward healing and empowerment.

One of the major sources of assistance is the 1800 Respect support service; you can 

Or for Police, call 131 444  

In life-threatening situations, call triple zero – 000 

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