Understanding Domestic Violence

Understanding Domestic Violence: Causes, Cycles, and Treatment Approaches


Domestic violence is a pervasive and deeply troubling issue that affects individuals and families across the globe. It encompasses various forms of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological harm inflicted by one partner onto another within a domestic setting. This article delves into the causes of domestic violence, the reactive cycle it follows, and the therapeutic approaches, specifically Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS), that can aid in its treatment.

Causes of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence arises from a complex interplay of factors. One significant contributor is a history of exposure to violence during childhood, which can normalize abusive behaviors (Manchikanti Gómez, 2021). Socioeconomic stressors, such as financial instability, unemployment, and lack of social support, also play a crucial role (Fowler et al., 2021). Additionally, societal norms that perpetuate gender inequality and reinforce power imbalances between partners contribute to the prevalence of domestic violence (Jewkes, 2018). Psychological factors, including low self-esteem, anger management issues, and mental health disorders, further exacerbate the likelihood of abusive behaviors (Holt et al., 2008; Jewkes, 2018).

The Reactive Cycle of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence often follows a predictable pattern known as the reactive cycle. This cycle consists of three main phases: tension-building, acute battering, and honeymoon. In the tension-building phase, stress and conflict gradually escalate, leading to increased tension and hostility. This phase is characterized by verbal abuse, threats, and controlling behavior (Walker, 1979). The acute battering phase involves the actual act of violence, where physical or severe emotional abuse occurs. Following this, the honeymoon phase sees the abuser expressing remorse, making promises to change, and temporarily exhibiting loving behavior. However, without intervention, the cycle typically repeats, often with increasing severity (Walker, 1979).

How and Why Domestic Violence Happens

Understanding why domestic violence happens requires examining both individual and societal factors. On an individual level, perpetrators often have a need for control and dominance, using violence as a means to assert power over their partner (Fowler et al., 2021). This behavior can stem from deep-seated insecurities and learned behaviors from past experiences. Societal factors include cultural norms that tolerate or even condone violence against certain groups, particularly women.

Treating Domestic Violence with Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an effective therapeutic approach for treating individuals involved in domestic violence, particularly those with borderline personality disorder or emotional regulation issues. DBT focuses on teaching skills such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. In a group therapy setting, DBT helps participants understand their triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms (Linehan, 1993). By addressing the underlying emotional and psychological issues, DBT can reduce the likelihood of abusive behaviors and promote healthier relationships (Linehan, 1993).

Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is another therapeutic approach that can be beneficial in addressing domestic violence. IFS helps individuals explore and heal their internal “family” of subpersonalities or parts, which can include the perpetrator, victim, and protector roles (Schwartz, 1995). In a group therapy setting, IFS allows participants to gain insight into their internal dynamics and how these contribute to abusive behavior. Through this understanding, individuals can work towards self-compassion and healing, ultimately reducing the cycle of violence. Group therapy provides a supportive environment where participants can share experiences and learn from one another, fostering a sense of community and accountability (Schwartz, 1995).


Domestic violence is a multifaceted issue rooted in individual, societal, and psychological factors. Understanding its causes and the reactive cycle it follows is crucial in developing effective interventions. Therapeutic approaches like Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Internal Family Systems offer valuable tools for individuals seeking to break the cycle of violence. In group therapy settings, these approaches provide a supportive and structured environment for participants to learn, heal, and develop healthier relationships. Through continued research and application of these therapies, we can hope to see a decrease in the prevalence of domestic violence and its devastating impact on families and communities.

Fowler, D. N., Cantos, A. L., & Miller, S. L. (2021). A systematic review of variables related to the perpetration of intimate partner violence by males and females. Partner Abuse, 12(1), 3-50.

Heise, L. L. (1998). Violence against women: An integrated, ecological framework. Violence against women, 4(3), 262-290.

Holt, S., Buckley, H., & Whelan, S. (2008). The impact of exposure to domestic violence on children and young people: A review of the literature. Child abuse & neglect, 32(8), 797-810.

Jewkes, R. (2018). Intimate partner violence: causes and prevention. The Lancet, 359(9315), 1423-1429.

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. Guilford Press.

Manchikanti Gómez, A. (2021). Intimate partner violence research: From clinical interventions to population-based approaches. Journal of Women’s Health, 30(4), 464-472.

Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal Family Systems Therapy. Guilford Press.

Walker, L. E. (1979). The Battered Woman. Harper & Row.

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