If going home feels uncomfortable, there might be things that are happening there that aren’t healthy or safe. For instance, there might be fighting between your parents that makes it feel dangerous at home. Perhaps their fighting gets physical and you might worry about your own wellbeing. In fact, at least one third of American children and teens have witnessed domestic violence between their parents, and most have witnessed multiple occasions of violence.
Domestic Violence is a form of conflict that often happens between intimate partners. Often, there is an underlying fear that one partner uses to control the other. And there are many ways in which one partner can use fear to manipulate and control:
- physical abuse – hitting, slapping, kicking, or beating
- verbal abuse – frequent criticism, humiliation, mocking, name calling, and yelling
- sexual violence – forcing sex, demanding sexual acts, degradation
- isolation – making it hard for a partner to see friends or family
- coercion – making the other partner feel guilty
- harassment – following or stalking, embarrassing the other partner in public
- economic control – not letting the other partner work, interfering with work
- abusing trust – lying, breaking promises, being unfaithful, withholding information
- making threats – threatening to harm a partner and children
- using intimidation – using physical size to intimidate, keeping weapons in the house
- emotional withholding – not expressing feelings, not giving compliments,
- destruction of property- destroying furniture, punching walls
- self destructive behavior – abusing drugs, driving recklessly, threatening self-harm
Researchers have studied domestic violence over many years and have discovered patterns in the way that violence waxes and wanes between two partners. For instance, experts have found that 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 that identified 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.
It should be noted too that this cycle can exist between teen partners as well. The cycle of abuse can happen in relationships that you might have with a boyfriend or even close friend. And the cycle of abuse doesn’t necessarily need to follow the typical roles of males being the abuser and females the victims. There are many females who can play the abusive role. And the cycle of abuse can exist within gay and lesbian relationships as well.
TEARS, Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships, is an organization aimed at breaking the cycle of abuse among teenage relationships. They teach that relationships can be equal and share a balanced level of power so that one partner is not controlling the other. An equal and balanced relationship includes:
- non-threatening behavior
- trust and support
- responsible parenting
- shared responsibility
- economic partnership
If you or a friend is involved in a manipulative or dangerous relationship, it’s important to get help. And if you’re living with parents who experience domestic violence, you can also get the support you need for yourself. Talk to an adult you trust. Or simply find the name of a mental health professional in your area. It’s essential that the cycle of abuse stops for the safety of everyone involved.