Women who are abused consistently report that the abuse gets worse over time. As the abuse and isolation get worse, the level of fear and danger they experience increases. The higher the level of fear and danger, the more difficult it can be for these women to achieve safety for themselves and their children.
The pattern of abuse can progress very slowly, making it hard to recognize in the early stages. Abusers use different tactics of control at different times, forming a distinct pattern that is very effective in establishing and maintaining control over the victim.
The escalation phase of the pattern of abuse may be a period in which the abuser uses a broad range of coercive tactics to control the victim, such as taking control of the finances, attempting to isolate the victim from potential sources of support, and using emotional abuse to wear away at the victim's self-confidence and self- worth.
These efforts to control are often made under the guise of good intentions, love, and concern- especially early on. For example, an abuser may constantly point out the difficulties of working full-time and raising a family as a way to get his partner to quit her job and therefore become more financially dependent on him. Or an abuser might attempt to isolate his partner from friends by persuading her to spend more time with him. The long-term effectiveness of these forms of control depends upon the abuser's ability to make the victim afraid to resist.
The Acute Incident
The acute incident is an intense show of force intended to make the victim afraid and to firmly establish the abuser's control over her. While the acute incident is often a physical assault of some kind, the use of threats or the destruction of pets or property can also be effective ways of instilling fear and establishing control.
In the de-escalation phase, abusers often apologize, promise to not repeat the abusive behavior, give gifts, or express a desire for sexual intimacy. For abusers, this "making up" behavior may help them ease any genuine feelings of guilt they may have. In addition, abusers may use these behaviors as a way to manipulate their partners' emotions- to give victims hope that the abuse won't happen again. This can help abusers avoid negative consequences of their abuse.
Progression of Violence
Early on in a relationship, when the controlling behaviors are typically less intense, less severe, and often imposed under the guise of "good intentions," it is very difficult to clearly identify them as part of a pattern of abuse. As a result, the first acute violent incident may easily be considered by the victim (and by others) as an "isolated" incident of abuse. Coupled with her partner's remorse and promises to never repeat the behavior, a woman is easily persuaded to stay and "work it out."
But over time, the victim may begin to see the repeated promises and apologies as empty, seeing little change (or an increase) in her partner's violence since the first acute incident. If the abuser's "making up" behaviors no longer instill hope and motivate the victim to stay in the relationship, he may look for other ways to maintain control. Often, that means increasing his use of threats, violence or other forms of control, which increases a victim's level of danger and fear-a process known as entrapment.
The fear, isolation, and confusion caused by this pattern of abuse can keep a woman "walking on eggshells," often afraid to tell anyone what is happening or to reach out for help.