For those of you following my series on attachment theory I need to apologize. I left you hanging on the last bit of the chapter on maternal violence. Things got a little hectic and I dropped the ball. But here we go again. The final part of chapter five, on maternal violence in the book, A Secure Base, by John Bowlby. Bowlby was one of the first researchers who focused on attachment theory, which is the base of knowledge that supports attachment parenting.
Catch up on this attachment theory series.
Maternal Violence stems from fighting and suppression of feelings:
In the latest bit on maternal violence we learned that abusive mothers often stem from childhoods where they are subjected to violent outbursts between parents and then the suppression of their feelings about it.
It makes me really glad that I read the book, Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter, early on in Annika’s infancy. I highly recommend it. In fact, I need to buy a copy for myself because I’d like to refer back to it occasionally. Tears and Tantrums essentially says that children’s upsets should not be soothed or punished away, but they should be allowed to express themselves. Tantrums and crying are a way to relieve stress. It’s one of the few parenting books that I think every parent should read and will easily complement any parenting style, even people who don’t support attachment parenting.
Okay, back to A Secure Base.
The final part on chapter five:
Signs of an abused child:
Abused children are often known for having difficulty making friends and being aggressive when put in a daycare setting. This is supported by research findings in the 1970s and 1980s.
The study grouped two sets of 10 children, ages 1-3. One set was known to have been physically assaulted by their parents. They were matched with all other variables with children who had not been abused.
The children’s behavior was categorized as: approach, avoidance, approach-avoid, and aggression. It was also divided by the target of either another child or the caregiver.
There was no noticeable difference between the two groups in the ways they approached. However, there was a striking difference in responses to being approached.
The abused children either directly avoided, or used approach-avoidance behavior. For example, they might crawl toward the other child, then suddenly veer away, or crawl toward, but with head averted.
When approached by a caregiver, the abused children were three times more likely to use avoidance tactics. Some of the children alternated between avoidance and approach. All ten of the abused children showed approach avoidance, while none of the control group did.
Aggressive behavior was shown in both sets of toddlers, but more so in the abused set.
The abused children showed aggressive behavior that was particularly disagreeable, which was termed “harassment” and showed the intention of making the victim feel distress. These attacks generally came without warning or provocation. This was different than provocation of hostility, which typically was met with retaliation. Clinical studies later reported that this behavior was shown more toward the adult to whom the child was becoming attached.
It seems obvious that abused children would show less concern for others in distress. In fact, the abused children reacted with fear, distress, or anger, and some even reacted hostilely toward a crying child.One 2-year-old boy shouted at another girl to “cut it out” while she was crying, then began to pat her back, and before anyone could intervene, his patting turned to hitting.
Children mimic their own treatment:
Bowlby stops here to say, and almost plead with parents, to note the behavior of toddlers. He says it is very clear that early on in life patterns are established. The details in what toddlers say, and how they behave toward others are often straight replicas of how they have been treated at home.
“Indeed the tendency to treat others in the same way that we ourselves have been treated is deep in human nature; and at no time is it more evident than in the earliest years.”
Long-term effects of child abuse:
Long-term studies still need to happen in order to determine development of abused children. But some evidence shows that if care improves, some will improve enough to pass for normal, and some will not.
A 1980 study shows that some children who are abused develop brain damage and are diagnosed as mentally handicapped. Also, when disagreeable behavior is developed, it can become difficult for any caregiver or therapist to provide the support these children need.
Some children reach psychiatric care where the origin of their condition is gone unrecognized. Some of these children are psychotic. Most are ambivalent, going from one extreme to another, one minute hugging, the next, kicking. Males are generally diagnosed as aggressive psychopaths or violent delinquents. Females are often diagnosed with multiple personalities. These case studies are not fully developed because once psychiatrists began to recognize the effects of abuse, parents began to falsify information.
Many abused children grow up to continue the violent patterns. Abusive mothers are also found to be less responsive to crying children and have less desire for any interaction with babies, even positive ones.
Physically abusive men:
We now turn to study men who abuse their wives and/or girlfriends.
A study with a man called Mr. S, who was prone to violent and inexplicable behavior toward his wife, he said that he feared his own violence. He spoke to researchers after his wife has left him, having just born their first child.
He professed love for his wife and said he believed his behavior toward her was unwarranted. Further discussions revealed his childhood with only harsh and unsympathetic treatment in a large working-class family. His parents fought violently. He struggled with his desire for love that he never received. It was suggested to him that he spent much of his childhood feeling anger and despair. This led to his violent outbursts toward his wife. He felt relieved to finally understand that his violence had a root. The outbursts leading to his wife’s leaving, had happened after the child’s birth. He was jealous of his wife’s affection for the baby.
This type of behavior is characteristic of men who grew up battered. The most violent offenders are found to have grown up withstanding brutal treatment.
Battered wives, on the other hand, typically grow up in disturbed and rejecting homes. A significant minority were battered.
Women in these situations were often escapees of their neglectful homes at a young age, unprepared to deal with adult life and take up with the first man they meet, typically an abuser.
And so these inter-generational violent patterns continue.
Anxious attachment breeds more violence:
These couples continue on these patterns because they are anxiously attached to each other. The interviews with Mr. S. were a part of a study on why the violent patterns of these types of families remain unhelped by medical and social services.
This study found that these couples would separate often after violent outbursts, but often remained together for years. Strategies and techniques were developed by both to keep the other hanging around.
Most of the techniques were coercive and from the outside, seemingly counterproductive.
Threats of desertion and/or suicide were incorporated to gain attention from a partner. Imprisonment techniques were used. Some actually locked in, and others used financial control.
And of course, battering was used as a coercion. The women did not enjoy this treatment, but it was found that some got a wry satisfaction from it. Women who said they feared their husbands would just come after them if they left announced this with some triumph, exclaiming that ‘he needed her.’
Bowlby’s analysis of these types of situations is that what these couples feared more than anything was loneliness.
So what can be done to help these families get out of this cycle?
Much effort has been placed on helping families become emotionally healthier.
A type of service in which families are given home visits in which volunteers give friendship, support, and practical assistance to young families experiencing difficulty.
Volunteers establish relationships with the families and encourage their strengths, while assuring them that child-rearing difficulties are universal.
The receiving families were not necessarily already abusive, but ones in which difficulty had been established and has the possibility for it.
Visiting is often started while the mother is still pregnant. These are generally young, impulsive, isolated mothers who have never received proper care, affection, or security. All visits are by invitation only and there are no time limits.
The volunteers are mothers who take on the role of mothering the new mother. She will talk and play with the children, giving a good example for the young mother.
At the time Bowlby wrote this book, a new service called Home Start, had been established in the United Kingdom. It is still active and looks like it’s going strong. I plan to do a little research to see what other types of services are out there and if there is anything like this in the U.S. I’ve never heard of anything like it. Have you?