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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A closer look at maternal violence: Part XI: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base

Thus far, chapter five of A Secure Base, by John Bowlby, has proven to be the most interesting to me. In the last part of the chapter we learned that childhood anxiety, rejection, abandonment, and simply fear of abandonment, can affect dramatically a person's likelihood to abuse their own children.

It makes more sense to me now that I have my own child. But as a young person, I always assumed that people only became physically violent if they grew up in physically violent homes. Now we know better. So on we go.

If you're new to this series and want to catch up, click here.

The (next) part of chapter five on violence in the family.

Even though Bowlby studied violent mothers, he never treated one. But one of his patients, whom he calls Mrs. Q, came very close to becoming a batterer. Here is her story.

Bowlby met with a new patient at a well baby clinic. She was concerned because her 18-month-old son was refusing to eat, and was losing weight. She was, and had been since his birth, anxious and depressed. She was worried that her son would die, so she had been pestering him to eat. She had felt urges to throw her baby out of the window. She also had battered his carriage and smashed dishes. While talking to Bowlby she fully expected him to become angry with her. He suggested weekly psychotherapy.

During therapy she gave him fragmented bits of her own childhood, but her story remained consistent enough that he was able to piece together the picture. He learned that her childhood, which is typical of abusive mothers, was filled with parents who fought angrily and often. They assaulted one another and threatened murder. Her mother threatened to leave repeatedly. Twice, Mrs. Q had come home from school to find her mother with her head in the oven. And her mother often pretended to desert the family by disappearing for half days. Mrs. Q was terrified that if she did anything wrong, her mother would leave. Her mother made things worse by insisting that the family keep quiet about these events.

Mrs. Q had been a successful technician before motherhood. She was skilled person, friendly, and a sociable neighbor. She made every attempt to be a good wife and mother. Her violent outbursts were puzzling to herself. Bowlby concluded after much therapy that her outbursts were the result of her deeply held anger toward her mother that she had never been able to express growing up.

This type of theory has been expressed by many other professionals in the field of psychology, but its simplicity is not all appreciated by many. This theory also fits a situation where a husband abuses his wife and she turns her anger toward her children. 

The effects of personality development in children who have been assaulted are usually not the only problem. Along with physical abuse, these children are also often rejected, verbally and physically. The results vary depending on the consistency of the outbursts.

These children are often described as depressed, passive, inhibited, dependent and anxious, and also as angry and aggressive. These children do not play and show little or no enjoyment. Expressions of feeling are often barely noticeable or very ambiguous and contrary. Crying is prolonged and unresponsive to comforting. The children are easily angered, and the anger is not easily resolved. These patterns tend to persist.

Some literature suggests that the reason some parents become abusive is because of a child's prematurity, ill health, or negative temperament. Bowlby does not believe these are reason enough for abuse. He says they may be factors that encourage the cycle, however. The cycle is more likely to continue, he says, because of lack of support and a negative upbringing.

Abused toddlers often present as a picture of frozen watchfulness, as if waiting to see what might happen. But these children are often hyper sensitive to their parents' needs.These signs show potential for the argument that children learn early on how to placate a disturbed and potentially violent mother.

I'm going to stop here. There is still much left in this chapter, but I don't want to gloss over it because it is all very fascinating. Also, it's late and the words are blurring on my screen. My apologies for the late post, it's just been that kind of week.

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