A Look At The Cycle of Abuse
Addressing the stages so you can prevent the cycle from starting over.
The Cycle of Abuse is a social cycle theory developed by Lenore E. Walker in 1979. It was designed to explain patterns of behavior in abusive relationships. These abusive relationships can occur with another person or with a substance. Akua understands the Cycle of Abuse and the best way to treat those trapped in its dangerous cycle. We have found that the best way to treat our patients is to find the reason behind their addiction through an examination of their mindset. At the same time, they also help their loved ones learn their role in the addiction and what they have to change in their own lives.
The Cycle of Abuse is defined by four key steps that are repeated until the pattern is broken.
- Tension begins building around the stresses of daily life. It can build from marital strife, children, or even simple misunderstandings. Tensions can also build from outside sources, such as illness, legal, or financial burdens. This causes the abuser to feel ignored, threatened, annoyed, or wronged.
- The Incident is when the abuse actually occurs. It can be verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. Although the event is triggered from within the abuser, they will often try to find fault with the victim–blaming them for the abuse.
- Reconciliation happens when the abuser apologizes and tries to mend feelings with the victim. They will often give excuses for their behavior, which can also include blaming the victim. The abuser will promise it will never happen again and if the victim believes the abuser they will proceed to step four.
- As the time moves on there is a calm. No abuse takes place and the prior incident is forgotten. This is also known as the honeymoon phase. However, tensions will start to grow again, which will start the cycle over.
The cycle will eventually repeat itself if the victim chooses to stay with the abuser. The Four Steps in the cycle may not present the same in every relationship. For some the “tension” can present itself as a “pink cloud,” which is a time of happiness–this is what can cause the victim to stay with the abuser. An abusive relationship can be much harder for someone to quit because we can’t perform a drug test on relationships to know if a person is still “using.”
What Akua Aims to Accomplish
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is often the case for those who are trapped in the Cycle of Abuse–particularly for those abusing drugs.
Addiction goes deeper than just the feeling the drug creates; you have to look at the deeper meaning behind the addiction. What was the addict feeling at the time of the first incident? Were they feeling anxious? Depressed? What are they getting out of the drug use? Are they using it as a way to fill a void in their life? Is it helping them get over their low self-esteem? To hide some sort of pain?
Drug use isn’t always what society assumes. Addicts aren’t always using so they can “check out” or because the users are slackers. A fair percentage actually have high IQs and just want to find control or change something around them.
Akua aims to heal the whole person and not just the parts of the brain that caused them to become trapped in this dangerous pattern. We want them to detox from the substance they are addicted to as well as any relationships contributing to the substance abuse. The victim and the abuser need to be aware that their relationship isn’t healthy. We find that temporarily removing them from each other helps get to the root of the problem, while giving each side to get a chance to analyze the situation from a distance.
By offering gender specific treatments, we are able to get a better idea of what may lead to the addiction and treat the patient accordingly. We have found treating patients this way prevents many issues that could arise in a mixed gender class, such as “attraction distraction.” The classes also create a healthier environment for our patients as they are more open to sharing their experiences with members of the same-sex, creating a stronger sense of trust and support that is a necessary part of the recovery process.
We will work with our clients to overcome their addictions to alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, oxycontin, and many other substances.
Our clients often ask us, “Do I have to break up with this person (or situation)?”
Not necessarily, but there is something negative happening, so you must make significant change. To do that you have to remove yourself from the situation, at least temporarily, to take a deep look at it and create a long term plan.
There is also a misconception surrounding what “trauma” means in these situations. Many feel like there isn’t a “big enough” reason to have created their current situation. However, unmet needs could also be a very valid reason for the addiction.
We also encourage family members to look at their role in the Cycle. While their loved one is being treated, they should also consider seeking treatment, whether it’s joining in on the meetings or going to private therapy. Addiction affects more than the one using the drugs. It is important to know the role you are playing in the addict’s life, whether you are the abuser or just an enabler.
After a successful treatment, some may experience a “pre-lapse”, which can build over the course of weeks or months. During the pre-lapse, the victim may stop attending meetings, calling their sponsor and start making unreasonable major life decisions, such as quitting their job. During this time, it is important for the family and friends of the addict to encourage them to continue the steps to recovery and not provide support for this toxic behavior.
The Middle Child
Christy was the middle child of her family. She often felt like she had to compete with her straight A, star athlete older brother and her cute baby sister. Her parents don’t intentionally treat her differently. In fact, Christy couldn’t ask for better parents. However, all the love in the world wouldn’t fix the insecurities that develop while competing with her other siblings. These feelings and the desire to feel at peace is what will lead Christy down the road of addiction.
Let’s look at Christy’s story through the four parts of the Cycle:
- Tension started building early in Christy’s life because of the constant comparisons to her siblings. Even if Christy got straight A’s for the semester it would have just been overshadowed by her brother getting straight A’s in his Advanced Placement classes. This pressure could result in depression, which could inevitable lead to self-harm even this early in the cycle.
- Christy tried her first drug at a party at her friend’s house. The drug gave Christy a feeling of calm and she felt at peace for the first time since middle school. She wants to recreate this feeling as often as she can. This is the first incident.
- Early on, Christy is still functioning normally in society. She is still getting good grades and participating in after school activities. The drugs are starting to make her feel healthier both mentally and physically. At this point, the drugs are helping fill the void in her life.
- Once the substance has reached its peak the user hits the “honeymoon” phase. Christy feels content and okay with herself. There is a sense of ease in her life.
However, the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever and soon Christy will start feeling the way she felt prior to the drug use. As the addiction continues, the effects of the drugs start to weaken over time. As time goes forward and Christy continues to use, she will start looking for other ways to get that feeling of contentedness back. This could lead him to use more of the same substance more often or find a new drug–one that could be more dangerous than the last.
If Christy doesn’t seek help, it will become difficult for her to continue living a normal life as drug use will be the only thing giving her some sense of wholeness. This habit will have disastrous consequences.
Christy’s story is something that can happen to any teenager in America. If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s important to remember that the Cycle of Abuse can be broken. However, both the victim and the family need to be active in their recovery. If the addict begins feeling tension again, they can easily slip back into the cycle.
It is important to recognize the factors that contribute to the Cycle. Akua wants to help you and your family break the Cycle of Abuse and overcome your addiction. We will help you realize the root of the addiction so you will be able to break the cycle. Because addiction affects more than just the addict, we will also encourage family members to look into themselves while their loved one is going through treatment. Everyone must understand the role they play in the Cycle of Abuse, otherwise the pattern will continue to repeat itself until the worst case scenario happens.