The Cycle of Abuse Can Happen Among Teens Too

Abusive relationships can begin at any age. Of course, when parents are abusive or neglectful to their children, those relationship patterns are often learned.Which later plays out later in adulthood. Furthermore, if children are witness to ongoing domestic violence between their parents, the cycle of abuse can become a pattern of relating that gets played out again and again.

The Cycle of Abuse 

The cycle of abuse moves through four common phases: tension building, abuse, reconciliation, and calm. During the 1970’s, Lenore Walker developed the cycle of abuse theory. It identifies  four distinct stages that an abusive relationship tends to get repeated again and again. Often getting increasingly more intense. Over time, the relationship creates identified roles of abuser and victim. And those roles get played out again and again as though each partner knows the steps to take and when.

These phases are:

Tension building: During this initial phase, the relationship is experiencing increasing amounts of tension. There’s a breakdown in communication, fear is increasing, and the victim will do her best to appease the abuser.

Abuse: The tension explodes into an abusive incident in which there is anger, blame, rage that gets expressed through emotional, physical, or verbal abuse.

Reconciliation: The abuser apologizes for his actions, gives excuses, blames the victim, or claims that the abuse was not all that bad.

Calm: The abuse is forgotten and a honeymoon period begins again.

The Need for Control

According to TEARS, Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships, the cycle of abuse is a result of one person in the relationship feeling the need to control the other through manipulation and power. Although, it doesn’t start off abusive, the cycle can develop over time. And sadly, the victim will stay in the relationship despite the abuse.

Often, the victim is afraid of losing the relationship, even though it’s violent, and will sacrifice herself in order to maintain it. Furthermore, she likely knows too well the feelings of powerlessness, which gets played out again and again in the abusive relationship. In fact, powerlessness is a common contributor to dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships.

Powerlessness is a feeling, often an unconscious one, that leads to believing that power is outside of your control. In other words, if you did poorly on your chemistry exam and you can admit that you did not study all the concepts covered in class or that you were distracted during your studying, you are exhibiting a sense of personal power and taking responsibility for your grade. However, if you feel that your low grade is because the teacher does not like you or because the concepts are too hard or because you had an argument the morning of the exam, you are handing over a sense of power to external sources.

Locus of Control

This is also what is known as having an external locus of control. To explain this further, psychologist Julian Rotter introduced and coined the term, locus of control, in the 1950’s. To put it more simply, your locus of control is what you deem to have power over the successes and failures in your life.

Social conditioning, family dynamics, and whether or not there was abuse in her family of origin can contribute to a woman’s vulnerability to being a victim of abuse in a relationship. Aside from familiarity, other factors that keep a teen in an abusive relationship are:

  • Feeling responsible.
  • Feeling jealous.
  • Not having a place to go.
  • May not recognize the abuse.
  • May believe that they are in love.
  • They are not ready to leave.
  • Are inexperienced.
  • Feel pressured to stay.


Although secrecy is often a major contributor to abusive relationships, there are many resources that can support a teen’s safe departure from an abusive relationship. Furthermore, parents, educators, counselors, and mental health professionals are often more than ready to help adolescents who are in a dangerous situation such as this. Learn more about how to help teens in need here.



Understanding Dating Abuse. Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. Retrieved on March 20, 2014 from:

Riding the Wheel. A Woman’s Heart to Heart Living. Retrieved on March 20, 2014 from: