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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Part IX: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base-- Violence in the family

Well folks, we're halfway through the book, A Secure Base, written by John Bowlby, who was one of the first researchers on attachment. This next chapter is on family violence, a prevalent and far-reaching problem that stems from the most basic of needs.

So far I feel like I've learned a lot, and much of what I already knew has been validated. I hope those of you following along feel the same.

If you haven't been following along, but want to catch up, you can find all the posts here. I have been summarizing the book, A Secure Base. Most of the chapters have taken at least two posts, or three, so if you are catching up, the best way is to start with the first post and read sequentially.

Chapter four: Violence in the family.

By the 1980s, Bowlby had noticed that until then, violence in the family from the perspective of attachment theory had until then gone mostly unnoticed by professionals in the mental health field. It was then that the use of attachment theory was just barely beginning to shed a dim light on the tragedy and puzzle of family violence.

Bowlby's observation was that psychiatrists and psychologists had been remarkably slow to notice the widespread problem of family violence, particularly, parental violence. Yet, the research showed that it was more far-reaching than had been previously suspected. Additionally, it is a major contributor to a number of psychiatric syndromes. Violence breeds violence, which perpetuates from generation to generation.

Because of a serious flip-flop by Freud in 1897, it had for many decades been believed that it was not an analyst's job to determine how real-life experience affected a patient, and to consider violence as a root cause for a patient's adulthood problems was considered erroneous, putting blame on perfectly decent parents.

Psychoanalyst Karen Horney, a neo-Freudian, questioned this common practice and looked to the patients' real-life environments as a cause for most problems. Her views were not appreciated by most of her colleagues.

Bearing in mind the view that parental violence causes many psychological disturbances, it is not blame that is sought, but to give compassion for parents who have been brought up in violent environments themselves, and in the long run, help for them is what is needed so as to prevent the perpetuation of violence.

In order to understand the more extreme cases of violence, it is necessary to understand the moderate and common examples of anger.

Sibling rivalry, or jealousy, is a common occurrence when a new baby is born into a family. Just as lovers quarrel if one goes astray, or just as a mother becomes angry with her child for running into a dangerous situation, it is taken for granted that when a relationship is at risk, one becomes anxious and angry. Anger typically goes hand-in-hand with anxiety.

In the cases of lovers, or danger toward children, anger can be functional, to remind the other person how much one cares. When a child feels neglected, because of a new sibling, a small amount of anger may help to balance out the situation, if the parent responds with love. The angry behavior serves to protect the special relationship with a loved one.

Specific relationships, often called libidinal relationships are very important in our lives.

Libidinal relationships are ones that fill our need for food and sex, theorized Freud. Stepping outside of biology to theorize on some of the more puzzling aspects of anger, Freud suggested a death instinct. This hypothesis was abandoned by many clinicians because it was so far out.

The specific relationships that generally arouse anger, are sexual partners, parents, and offspring. These relationships are the wellspring for people. When they are threatened, the person is anxious and angry. When they are damaged by one's own actions, the resulting feeling is guilt. When they are broken, one feels sadness. And when they are resumed, one feels joy.

These three relationships are particularly important, individually and for species survival. All three are important for reproduction and survival of the young. The success of maintaining these relationships long-term, where-in we are either rewarded or penalized depending on the performance of these relationships is evolutionary. They guide our activities.

Within this evolutionary perspective, as Bowlby already noted, anger can be functional. But it can also be overdone. Bowlby theorized that this maladaptive anger is simply overly distorted attachment behavior.

I'm going to end this post for now. There is much left and it gets really, really interesting. I read ahead and was riveted by the next section, which is a case study on the mother's violence toward children, and her own childhood.

Stay tuned.

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