Attachment Theory And Domestic Violence

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A look at the existing statistics indicates that thousands of families may be suffering in silence as they are continuously subjected to domestic violence. Where spousal violence has been going on for ages, attention to this social malady was intensified in the 1970s where women began rising up against women battering husbands. In today’s world, there are cases of husbands also being abused by their husbands, although not to a level similar to that of women, it is suspected that the number could be higher as men are afraid to come out in public to escape the stigma.

As with every social phenomena that rock the society, there exists a number of theories that have come out to explain domestic violence and its impact on families. One of these is the attachment theories that posit that insecure attachments that children have with their attachment figures may result to dysfunctional interpersonal relationships later in life.

The attachment theory is a relatively new theory introduced by John Bowlby in the 1970s but it took time before it could be accepted as a psychoanalysis theory because it was a strange break from the existing thoughts.

The conclusions forming the attachment theory are based on the observations of infants and the close attachment they enjoy with the caregivers especially the mothers. For normal development to occur in children, secure attachment is crucial as it gives them a sense of security (John & Tonia, 2007).

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Attachment comes in when infants identify with those that are close to them to cope with stressful moments. Attachment is hence a means of survival and stems from proximity.

Attachment Theory Domestic Violence

Infants are attached to those people that tend to be sensitive to them and those that positively respond to their needs be it social or emotional. After infancy then, children tend to identify with these caregivers and turning to them for security. It is the response that children get from their parents that determine the nature of their personalities and social interactions in their adult life. It is important to point out that children have a number of people that they maybe attached to at any one moment; however this attachment is hierarchical with the principal attachment being with the primary caregiver.

Although in most circumstances the principal attachment is with the mother, this can also be any other person who proves to be more responsive to the child’s emotional and physical needs. There are a number of factors that influence attachment. Any sense of insecurity or alarm arising from any feeling of pain is likely to leads to what Irving et al (2003, 512) refers to as “attachment behavioral system. ” The distress arising out of this leads to infants seeking comfort and soothing from the attachment principal, this reduces the attachment behavioral system.

Attachment can either be secure or insecure. Secure attachment refers to “representational systems where the attachment figure is seen as accessible and responsive when needed. ” (Peter, 2001, 12) Insecure attachment is where the responsiveness of a caregiver is not guaranteed and “the child adopts strategies for circumventing the perceived unresponsiveness of the attachment figure. ” (Peter, 2001, 12) The difference between the two lies distinctly on how receptive and acceptable an infant feels the caregiver is towards it.

There is also a likelihood of an infant developing a paradoxical relation with the caregivers, this is the attachment figure becomes a source of both security and fear. This is what leads to what has been referred to as a disorganized attachment where they develop avoidance behaviors. Such children also may adopt care giving or commanding habits leaving their parents helpless and failing to take up appropriate parenting measures. This may lead to adverse effects to the child at later stages in life. Traits similar to those observed in children are also seen in adults and have an impact on interpersonal and inter-spousal relationships.

For parents with attachment disorders, they may have dysfunctional relationships with their children. Those that had secure attachments have over 80% of having children with secure attachments. Domestic violence has been identified as one of the risk factor of disorganized attachment. Several co-relations of domestic violence with disorganized attachment have been identified. The dominant notion amongst social psychologists is that disorganized parents are more often than not violent and instill fear in their children resulting to insecure attachment (Jeffrey, William, 1998).

An attachment perspective may be used to explain the relationship between attachment and domestic violence. As has been observed, attachment is as a result of a child establishing a constructive bond with his or her caregiver. This attachment is out of confidence that the caregiver’s presence means comfort and security. This attachment though might be distorted should the child have a perception that the caregiver might in one way or another not be in a position to offer such security and comfort. This can be as a result of domestic violence.

As David et al (2007, 141) observes, “witnessing domestic violence between caregivers shatters the child’s trust that the parent will not cause pain and injury and will protect the child from danger. ” Domestic violence in most instances results to one of the partners getting injured or harmed by another. For a young child, seeing this instills fear in a child and results to negative perceptions in regard to the batterer or to the victim. Such a negative perception may result to the child having a disorganized attachment with the caregiver (Jude & Phillip, 2002).

There has also been identified evidence of what Fiona (2008, 6) refers to as “trans-generational transmission of attachment patterns. ” This is where insecure attachment that mothers had in their caregivers during childhood is replicated in the current relations between the mother and her kid. Most women with disorganized attachment can trace the source of their disorder to the childhood experiences. Both physical and emotional abuses gone through by a mother during her childhood affect her adult behaviors and attitudes, these inadequacies can later affect parenthood.

It is apparent that mothers experiencing trauma due to domestic violence are bound to be constantly in fear and full of uncertainties. These fears and uncertainties are likely to be transmitted to the children leading to disorganized attachment; “these mothers may display the more subtle, frightening behaviors associated with unresolved loss or abuse. ” (David, 2007, 142) There are various types of mothers depending on the nature of their attachment experiences. Disorganized mothers for example have been found to be more abusive.

Preoccupied mothers are unpredictable to their children; these children yearn for their attention and protection and are bound to exhibit clingy behaviors. Dismissive mothers avoid having an attachment with their children as they are afraid of confronting their own attachment experiences, these children are hence likely to have avoidance or reduced attachment (John, 1988). Disorganized attachment in men has been observed to perpetuate domestic violence. Bowlby, the pioneer of the attachment theory, observed that domestic violence was as a result of anger.

This is a view that remains highly controversial as it is not seen to conform to the feminists’ view of domestic violence as brought forth by power relations. Indeed, the disorganized attachment experience by infants may have lifelong adverse effects. This however is not to mean that those having insecure attachment status cannot change to secure status. The existing research has indicated that the condition is reversible, children may change from insecure to secure and vice versa in the later life depending on their experience and also the current relationship (Debora, Sharon & Eric, 2005).

As had been afore mentioned, studies regarding domestic violence were intensified in the late 1980s as sociologists gained immense interest in unearthing the causes and motivations behind spousal battering. The conclusion reached by this examination established that battering is a form of defense mechanism where the batterers employ domestic violence as a “method of coping with attachment anxiety. ” (Jerry, 2008, 68) Preoccupied partners are unpredictable; they may seem to be self-controlled but change suddenly if insecurity creeps in, they are likely to be violently angry.

Disorganized attachment in kids when perpetuated later into adulthood and marriage life may result into a partner with an impaired state of mind that might result to lethal violence. These are individuals who are likely to have experienced or witnessed traumatizing abuses in their early childhoods. (Jerry, 2008) Indeed, the problem of domestic violence can be traced to the nature of the attachment behavioral system. The attachment theory which was established in the 1970s focuses in the nature of attachment system that children have with their mothers or their caregivers.

Infants are constantly searching for an attachment figure, this is mostly a caregiver who is responsive and is able to offer a sense of protection and security. If these are not fulfilled though, an infant experiences anxiety and terror. Attachment may be either secure or insecure. Secure attachment is where the caregiver is responsive and attends to the infant’s needs. Insecure attachment on the other hand is where the caregiver fails to respond appropriately to the infants needs; this may result to serious interpersonal problems even into adult life.

Caregivers that had insecure attachments with their attachment figures in their childhoods are likely to abuse their children or spouses in their adult lives, resulting further to disorganized attachments in their children creating what has been referred to as “trans-generational transmission of attachment patterns. ” Domestic violence is brought by either of the partners having unresolved issues of attachment in their childhood. References Irving B. W. et al. (2003) Handbook of Psychology: Forensic psychology. John Wiley and Sons.

Jerry, Tello (2008) Family Violence and Men of Color: Healing the Wounded Male Spirit. Springer Publishing Company, David O. , Douglas F. G. (2007) Attachment theory in clinical work with children: bridging the gap between research and practice. Guilford Press. John H. , Tonia L. N. (2007) Family interventions in domestic violence: a handbook of gender-inclusive theory and treatment. Springer Publishing Company, Steven N. S. , Gerald P. K. (2006). Forensic mental health assessment of children and adolescents. Oxford University Press US. Peter, Fonagy (2001) Attachment theory and psychoanalysis.

Other Press, LLC, Jeffry A. S. , William S. R. (1998) Attachment theory and close relationships. Guilford Press. Jude C. , Phillip R. S. (2002) Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. Guilford Press. John, Bowlby (1988) A secure base: clinical applications of attachment theory. Routledge. Frederick P. B. , Michelle M. C. (2006) Women who perpetrate relationship violence: moving beyond political correctness. Haworth Press. Debora B. , Sharon L. F. , Eric J. M. (2005) Handbook of behavioral and emotional problems in girls. Birkhauser.

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Attachment Theory And Domestic Violence. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Attachment Theory And Domestic Violence
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