Monday, October 15, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #15

Domestic Abuse Misconception #15: If an abuser apologizes for his behavior then it means that he has changed. The truth is, apologizing for abusive behavior is never a sign of any change and is just one point in what is commonly called the Cycle of Abuse. 

Abusive relationships aren't always overtly or even covertly abusive. In most abusive relationships, the actual abuse is just part and parcel of a cycle. The Cycle of Abuse includes a period of tension building, where the victim feels the need to walk on eggshells and fear is escalating. Then comes the actual abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, financial...some episode or more intense interaction that is set on controlling the victim and breaking her down. Next comes what is often called the "honeymoon phase," with the apology or the promises that it will never happen again. The vow to change. Perhaps the begging for forgiveness. It might include a denial that the abuse ever happened. Often this is followed a period of relative calm and peace before the tension builds again. 

Some victims describe this cycle more as a switch being flipped. He is "up" and nice and caring and then it flips and he is "down" and brooding, manipulative, and threatening. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Over and over and over again. 

Whether it is the cycle or the switch, each period can last minutes or months. It isn't always consistent and that is what is so very hard. This is one of the reasons victims stay, hanging on to the promise that "this time he'll change for good." This is one of the reasons friends and family might minimize the abuse, because right now he is so nice. This cycle is what can drive a victim to question her own sanity. 

This is why a mere apology, a beg for forgiveness, an apparent act of kindness will really tell you nothing about an abuser. This is why trust can only be established after consistent behavior change over a period of time...probably a long period of time. 

True repentance will always bear fruit over time. Promises of change, as discussed in Misconception #12, must always be accompanied with the true fruit of repentance and the very hard work to break the cycle. The reality is that few abusers are willing to break that cycle.

It is important to be aware of this cycle when supporting a victim. She knows this cycle better than anyone. Do not press her to trust him prematurely, without the evidence of true repentance. Trust can only be earned with behavior change over a long period of time, proving that the cycle has been broken. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

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