When Kindness is Manipulative
Being in an abusive relationship can be confusing and scary. Most abusive relationships begin the same way as any other relationship – strong feelings of love and attraction and experiences that are fun and exciting. Over time, the abusive partner may begin to have behaviors that feel “off” to the other partner. Maybe he* begins to get angry easily or blames her for mistakes. Then, he starts to criticize her more or escalates in his verbal, emotional, sexual or physical abuse. After that, things may seem to go back to normal…temporarily. Many women describe this experience as a cycle because the behaviors of their partner seem to repeat themselves and follow a pattern.
This pattern has been given the name the Cycle of Violence and it’s usually talked about as having three phases: a tension building phase, an escalation of the violence and a period of calm. These stages are not necessarily distinct from one another. Because the third stage, the period of calm, is sometimes called the “Honeymoon Stage,” some people may mistakenly talk about this as if it is a break from the abuse. At Genesis, we recognize that these stages are all part of the abuse. The “Honeymoon Stage” is really just another type of abuse that often involves denying her experiences, gaslighting or making her feel crazy, or blaming her for the abuse. The abuser may also employ manipulative kindness by doing things such as asking for forgiveness, promising he’ll never hurt her again, or buying her flowers. When manipulation is involved within a pattern of controlling behaviors, it’s not kindness, it’s abuse. This manipulative kindness, on top of any gaslighting or minimizing, can be so confusing because she’s left questioning what is really going on in the relationship. Feelings of love for him, hope that things will change or that his apologies are sincere, confusion about how he really is and feelings of fear all keep the cycle going. The longer the relationship, the more likely the “Honeymoon Phase” goes away and she’s left living in tension and violence.
Some signs you or a loved one may be experiencing the cycle of violence can include:
- Experiencing verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Noticing a pattern in your partner’s behavior
- Finding yourself experiencing conflicting emotions of love, fear and confusion towards your partner
- Questioning your own interpretation of events
- Noticing an escalation in the tactics your partner uses
Knowing about the cycle of violence can be helpful. It gives her a way to explain what she is experiencing, and allows her to recognize it is not her fault that she is in the cycle of violence. It highlights how difficult it is to end the cycle of violence (especially because it is not her fault, and his actions are not in her control). It helps her know she is not crazy. And, importantly, it helps her recognize a pattern in his behaviors that can help her take steps to safety and safety plan through each phase of the cycle.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or would like help with safety planning, call our 24-7 hotline at 214.946.4357.
*While we often refer to the abuser as “him” and the victim of abuse as “her,” we recognize that partner abuse can occur to men and women alike.
Written by Noelle Cloward, women’s and children’s therapist at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.