What Is Violence?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines violence as follows:


  • Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence. 
  • The act or an instance of violent action or behavior. 
  • Intensity or severity, as in natural phenomena; untamed force: the violence of a hurricane. 
  • Abusive or unjust exercise of power. 
  • Abuse or injury to meaning, content, or intent: do violence to a text. 
  • Vehemence of feeling or expression; fervor.


Within the Institute’s Domestic Violence Treatment Program, violence is generally defined as any force used by one party to try to get another party to do something, or to get his or her own way. (This would include making harmful, or untrue statements about another person in an attempt to manipulate their behavior.) These violent manipulations always utilize physical power or emotional violence to compel or restrain another person, Thus, the issue of violence becomes an interpersonal issue and can usually can be categorized as one or more of the following types:

Physical Force:

  • Meaning a party does something physically to someone, something or to themselves.

Emotional/Verbal Force:

  • Meaning someone says or does things that they plan, hope or should know will “hurt” someone emotionally or mentally.

Sexual Force:

  • Meaning that something is said or done that a person plans, hopes or should know will cause an uninvited sexual reaction or will attack or malign another person’s sexual ideas, morals, or identity.

All of these kinds of force, can range from very subtle emotional manipulations to extremely aggressive physical behaviors. Sadly, many times the victim is not the intended party, but is a friend or family member who becomes a victim through association with a violent situation.

Many victims, especially children and women, report that physical violence is easier to take than emotional or sexual violence. These persons frequently report that bruises heal, but the hidden wounds of sexual or emotional violence hurt for a very long time.

Unfortunately, physical violence is often claimed to be out of control, and death occurs to men, children, women, parents, and police officers. When this happens, many others become victims because they were in a situation where they watched someone else being abused.

Because physical violence is often lethal, laws have focused on enforcing an end to physical violence. One outcome of the legal systems’ focus on enforcement may be actively viewed through programs such as Western Institute’s Domestic Violence Treatment Program. Within a program such as this one, domestic violence treatment is frequently viewed (by the legal system) as an outcome of a violent situation. When contact with clients is an outcome of a violent situation, the Institute becomes a reactive associate of the legal system. In practice, however, the agency very much views itself as a proactive agent of change. In the agency’s view, society’s primary focus needs to be on the intervention in, and prevention of, all forms of family violence. A program such as Western Institute’s then, is a first line influence against recidivism of family violence even though its’ initial client contact is a result of a reaction to, rather than the proactive prevention of, family violence.

Types Of Violence:

The following lists are some examples of the types of violence we talk about with clients at the Institute. It’s easy to see that many, if not most, of the physical abuse examples include emotional violence. Some of the emotional/verbal examples can have physical aspects, especially in ear damage. It’s even more obvious that sexual violence is often a combination of physical and emotional violence, aimed at the core of the victim’s self-identity and self-worth.

These lists are extensive but are not all inclusive. One exercise used at the Institute is to encourage clients to talk about ways of being violent that are not in these lists; they always come up with new ones.

Physical Violence:

Physical violence may be an act of punching, biting, hitting, slapping, pinching, choking, spitting, kicking, pushing, scratching, shaking, restraining, spanking, hair pulling, burning, a body slam, using a knife, gun, stick, weapon, throwing things, blocking exits, using poison/chemicals, throwing people, jerking people, slamming on the car brakes to end an argument, finger pointed in the face, sadistic tickling, tying up, kicking the dog or cat, punching the wall, stomping, burning or ruining dinner, breaking things, breaking dear items, throwing items away, slamming doors, leaving a mess, kidnapping the children, displaying a weapon, throwing things around, disabling the car, ripping up clothes, throwing clothes in the street, attempting suicide, physically hurting the kids, playing games with the thermostat, missing the toilet, leaving the toilet seat up, manipulating behavior to be unpredictable, monopolizing attention, and creating a scene to get your way.

Verbal, Emotional Violence:

Verbal and emotional violence can include a threat of any of the above physically violent acts, intimidation, name calling, withholding car keys, sarcastic or abusive jokes, put-downs, disrespect of another’s parenting skills and responsibility, reminding of prior beatings, paying your spouse an allowance, public humiliation, staying away all night or longer as a punishment, discounting or dismissing feelings, dredging up the past, hoarding the checkbook “because they’re too stupid,” screaming, challenging another’s sense of reality, use of profanities, telling lies, blaming, setups, jealous behavior, inspecting mail, playing mind games, talking down to them, always finding fault, harassing visitations, keeping secret bank accounts or property, treating them like a servant, making them do illegal things, attacking their ideals and morals, preventing or interfering in them getting or keeping a job, interfering with religious or spiritual participation, insisting they seek medical help then berating them for it or refusing to assist them, targeting physical violence to past wounds, secret or hidden places, putting down their spiritual beliefs, or invading their privacy.

Sexual Violence:

A sexually violent act may be unwanted sexual overtures, uninvited intimate touching, spousal rape, child molest, date rape, incest, forced hickeys, uninvited pornography (tapes, movies, poems, pictures, jokes, etc.), tickling, inappropriate nudity, demands to wear exploitive clothing, withholding sex as a bribe, punishment, or threat, involving other people in sex, comparisons to past lovers, criticism of sexual performance, sarcastic sexual comments and innuendoes, having an affair (or lots of affairs), treating an intimate other like a porno star, dredging up and manipulating past victimization (e.g., “You’re such a slut because your brother raped you and you’ll always be a slut!”), threatening to expose another’s sexual secrets, challenging another’s sexual orientation, insisting on explicit or lurid sexual details, false accusations of affairs, using sex to express anger, sexual hurting or torture to prove you’re in control of another person, physical violence during pregnancy, involving weapons or “tools” in sex, reminding or taunting another about past affairs, ridiculing another’s morals or sexual preferences, minimizing feelings, or ridiculing another’s sexual image.

Cycle of Violence

The theory of the Cycle of Violence was developed by Dr. Lenore Walker. It has three distinct phases which are generally present in a violent relationship.

  1. Tension Building Phase
  2. Violent Episode Phase
  3. Honeymoon Or Remorse Phase

As with any individual or interpersonal behavioral cycle, once caught up in the cycle, people tend to keep repeating the phases over and over again. Until they find a way to “break the cycle,” the violence and interpersonal manipulation will continue. Breaking out of the cycle of violence is usually easier said than done since for many persons, it feels natural and has become a way of life passed on to them by earlier generations of care providers.

Breaking the cycle of violence is a primary goal of this program; knowing what the cycle of violence looks like is the first step in that process. This section describes and discusses the components of the cycle of violence.

The Tension Building Phase:

It does not matter who we are, everyone encounters stress in day to day life. Feelings are our emotional and physical reactions to external stressful stimuli – feelings tell us something important is happening. So, when life happens, we have feelings about it; these feelings are a part of what makes life exciting and satisfying. Unfortunately, many times, people have been socialized not to express or acknowledge most of their feelings. What they usually do is minimize, deny or “stuff” those feelings. When these natural feelings are minimized, denied, or stuffed, it is just like filling a pressure cooker with water, plugging up the vent, and then turning the heat up – eventually it will explode.

The Explosion Phase:

After minimizing, denying, or stuffing feelings for so long, the internal emotional pressure cooker cannot take any more, and the person simply explodes. This explosion is different for everyone and its nature depends on many social, familial, cultural, and interpersonal components. While there are many ways to categorize violence, we use three: physical, emotional, and sexual violence.

Each type of violent explosion has unique components. However, each type also shares the common thread of power and control utilized to modify or manipulate another persons’ behavior. Thus, recognizing how and why we are trying to control others with our behavior is a major first step to being non violent.

The Honeymoon Phase:

Once the explosive reaction subsides, the person begins to recognize the damage that has been done. They begin to feel remorseful. Typically they say, “I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again.” This is said, if not out loud, at least internally. It is at this point in the cycle that the person who has exploded begins to lose trust in themselves – “How many times do I have to say I am sorry and that I will never do it again before I stop?” Just trying to make everything better moves them back into the tension building stage where the cycle begins again.

Generally, a number of things are true about the cycle of violence:

  • Once on the cycle it is hard to get off – especially without help and support.
  • Eventually the honeymoon phase disappears and all that is left is tension and violence!
  • The violence usually worsens. Verbal conflicts escalate to physical violence – with death being a common outcome (the death of a person or of the relationship).Outlined below are typical feelings and behaviors exhibited by family members in the various stages of the cycle of violence.
    Stage One: The Tension Building Phase
    Victim Feels: Angry, unfairly treated, hopeless, tense, afraid, embarrassed, humiliated, disgusted or depressed.
    Behavior: Nurturing, complaining, accepting, works to diffuse partner’s anger and frustration, may verbally express own anger feelings or may use alcohol and/or drugs to avoid situation.
    Partner Feels: Tense, frustrated, disgusted, self-righteous or jealous.
    Behavior: Verbally abusive, fits of anger, silent, controlling, drug and/or alcohol usage, possessive, demanding or irritable.
    Children Feel: Afraid, tense, angry at parent for not “fixing” partner or confused.
    Stage Two: The Explosion Phase
    Victim Feels: Frightened, trapped, helpless or numb.
    Behavior: May try to protect self, hit back or submit helplessly, may try to get away or seek help, may feign unconsciousness.
    Partner Feels: Angry, enraged, disgusted, self-righteous, jealous or frustrated.
    Behavior: Dangerously violent, deliberate desire to hurt or kill, out of control or irrational.
    Children Feel: Frightened, trapped and helpless.
    Behavior: May watch helplessly, hide or attempt to stop fighting, may attempt to help or may join in beating the victim.
    Stage Three: The Honeymoon or Remorse Phase
    Victim Feels: Relieved, angry over incident, guilty or hopeful.
    Behavior: Offers excuses for batterer, talks, tries to settle, solve or prevent future incidents.
    Partner Feels: Apologetic, remorseful, forgetful about degree of violence, self-righteous or unable to understand why victim is still angry.
    Behavior: Makes promises to change, blames others and victim for life situations and actions, especially alcohol.
    Children Feel: Embarrassed, humiliated, relieved, guilty or angry.
    Behavior: Try to please, distract self to forget about stress behaviors, nervous or tics.

The Time Out:

Regardless of their prior history or upbringing, once people get on the cycle of violence they tend to stay there. Without intervention, using control and violence to manipulate other people’s behavior becomes a bad habit and, like a bad habit, being on the cycle of violence, is difficult to unlearn.

A common goal of persons on the cycle of violence is to learn to live in a nonviolent manner. However, if people feel out of control, manipulated, or in danger, they will likely remain on the cycle of violence. From an interpersonal safety viewpoint, it is vitally important for at least one of the parties to have a functional safety plan in place. An important early step towards regaining safety in a violent relationship is learning such a safety plan.

As it is used in the Institute’s domestic violence program, the Time Out is designed to prevent additional violence within an already violent relationship. The concepts are helpful in many other areas of our life also. There are three (probably many more), major reasons to consider the use of a time out:

  • To stop the violence.
  • To rebuild safety in our relationship and in ourselves.
  • To rebuild trust in our relationship and in ourselves.

When using the time out to stop the violence in a relationship, clients must remember that there is only one person in the whole world that they stand a chance of controlling. Of course, that person is themselves. Clients are encouraged to take care of themselves if they feel they are in danger, but, if they recognize that they are in a bad situation and they may react in a violent fashion, then they need take a time out.

The only way to regain or rebuild safety in a relationship is to learn how to recognize when we are going to be violent and to do something else. Since we can only control ourselves, we must learn a new “habit” to replace our violent behaviors. The time out is a tool that the client can use to stop violence in their relationships. Just like a tool of any kind, before it may do its job, it must be available during the time it is needed. Since this tool (the time out) is an internal psychological tool, it must be overlearned before it will replace the prior bad habit of reacting too stressful or confusing situations violently.

People can only rebuild trust in their relationships through consistency. Once broken, regaining the trust of another is a long arduous task. It is only by consistently being nonviolent that trust can begin to be rebuilt.

NOTE: Clients are encouraged to thoroughly discuss the time out with their partners (if he or she is willing) before using it for the first time. In order to clarify for themselves and their partners what the time out will look like, they should complete a Time Out Contract. If their partner is willing, please have him or her sign it as well. If at any time the client becomes angry again, encourage them to take another time out. If the client and partner are unable to sit and discuss the problem, it may be time for them to call in a third party for assistance.

Positive Self-Talk Examples:

  • I made it out non-violently, no slammed doors, no last words. I’m getting it together.
  • I don’t need to prove myself in this situation. I can stay calm.
  • As long as I keep my cool, I can remain in control of myself.
  • No need to doubt myself. What other people say is their problem. I’m the only person who can make me mad or keep me calm.
  • Time to relax and slow things down. Take a time-out if I get uptight.
  • My anger is a signal. Time to find out what got triggered inside me. Time to relax.
  • It’s impossible to control other people or situations. The only thing I can control is myself, and how I choose to express my feelings.
  • It’s okay to be uncertain or insecure sometimes. I don’t need to be in control of everything or everybody-in fact, that’s impossible.
  • If this person goes off the wall, that’s their thing. I don’t need to respond to their anger or frustration nor do I need to feel threatened.
  • People are going to act the way they want to, not the way I want.
  • I feel angry. That means I may have been hurt, or scared, or…
  • It’s nice to have other people’s love and approval, but even without it I can still accept and like myself.
  • I recognize that my anger is my basic feelings being stimulated. It is okay to walk away from a fight.
  • When I get into an argument, I can stay with my plan, know what to do. If things go wrong, I can always take a time-out.
  • If people criticize me, I can survive. Nothing says I have to be perfect.
  • Nothing says I have to be content or strong all the time. It’s okay to feel unsure, confused, or not have all the answers.
  • I don’t need to feel threatened here. I can relax and stay cool.
  • I’ve got the right to make mistakes. When I learn from mistakes, that’s part of growing.
  • I can show my feelings and express my fears in ways besides anger.
  • I can change and choose the direction of my changes.
  • I can ask for help when I need it and offer help when I think it’s needed.
  • I can ask for what I want but know that I cannot always get it.
  • I can tell people when I cannot fulfill their expectations of me.
  • I can consider new ways of thinking, acting, and reacting to other people.
  • I can reject stereotypes of how I am “supposed” to be.
  • I can take responsibility for my actions. No one can push me into doing anything.
  • Everything I do is a choice. Not getting my first choice is not losing. Not all choices have positive-seeming consequences, but its still my choice and my consequences.
  • I can show my strength by choosing not to hit someone who doesn’t meet my expectations.
  • I am learning. I am responsible. I am worthwhile. I am important. I can put aside the fight and say how I feel. I am not responsible for how anyone else reacts.

Time Out Responsibilities:

#1 Self Watching
  • I will recognize my anger at its beginning stages. I will use my Thinking (Thoughts), Acting (Actions), and Feelings (Emotions) as “Red Flags” to warn me that my feelings have entered a danger zone.
  • Example: Thinking (Thoughts) – “You’re wrong, you’re a bitch/bastard.”
  • Acting (Actions) – Clenching fist, rapid heartbeat, roar in the ears, seeing red, pacing around.
  • Feelings (Emotions) – Upset, pissed off, frustration, rage.
#2 Signaling
  • I will say to the other person, in a non-blaming, non-intimidating manner, “I’m beginning to feel angry and I am taking a TIME-OUT. I will be back in one hour.”
#3 Leaving
  • Promptly and quietly leave for a prearranged period of time, preferably at least one hour. It is recommended that you do some type of non-violent physical activity, as a way of relieving tension, such as walking, jogging, playing basketball, etc. It is recommended that you DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL, OTHER DRUGS, DRIVE OR DWELL on the situation. When you have calmed down enough, it is recommended that you think.
#4 Positive Self-Talk
  • We are always talking to ourselves inside our heads, but when we are angry, we tend to be very negative. While on my TIME-OUT, I will concentrate on Positive Self-Talk.Example: I will choose to be non-violent towards others. I will cool down, so I can think and I will share my feelings about this issue calmly – later. I will make positive choices on how to express my anger. I’m pleased to recognize my escalationg anger and that I need to take a TIME-OUT. I feel empowered to express my anger non-violently.
#5 Returning
  • Example 1: Check back in with the other person. Be on time to build trust. Ask the other person if she or he is willing to talk. If yes, let them know what feelings led to your anger. Attempt to discuss these feelings. If the other person does not want to talk, respect that and do not push. Set a mutually agreeable time to discuss your feelings and listen. If you think you may forget your feelings by the time you discuss them, you can write them down. Example 2: Check back in with the other party. Be on time to build trust. Discuss the WANT behind your anger. Ask yourself, “What is it I want in this situation? Remember – these are examples of issues that may be discussed. You cannot always expect to get what you want, but asking is assertive behavior, and assertive behavior is positive behavior. Demanding is aggressive behavior.