Intimate Warfare: Regarding the Fragility of Family Relations

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The community in which children are nursed; the family, should by all means be a safe haven. However, it is not. People in family relations are more likely to be threatened, hit, kicked, raped or beaten up. Such violence in the domestic circle conjures up a lot of questions. The authors have been engaged with this problematical issue for years and are now trying to make the dynamics of violence within the family more comprehensive. This book is a reflection of on their dialogue.

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CHAPTER ONE: Domestic violence: characteristics and size

ePub

Justine van Lawick

Introduction

In this chapter we deal with some of the prime issues regarding domestic violence. How come the “safe haven” that the family unit is supposed to be is, in fact, often a hotbed of violence? What part does gender identity play in both the perpetrators’ and the victims’ case? Are the perpetrators mostly male and females mostly the victims? What is the influence of education and culture? In what way are psychopathology and violence connected?

From the second half of the past century, worldwide research has been carried out into violence within families, especially violence of men against women. Only in the last three or four decades has one come to realize that domestic violence is not an exception to the rule, but a serious social, medical, and psychological problem. People are more likely to be hit, kicked, humiliated, threatened, raped, seriously physically abused, hurt, or killed by family members in their own home, then anywhere else. This seems to be the case all over the world (Jasinski & Williams, 1998). It is hard to accept the image of the family unit as the most violent institution of society. One rather clings to the image of the warm, intimate, safe, and relaxing nest, the “haven in a heartless world” (Lasch, 1977).

 

CHAPTER TWO: Together you will progress

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Justine van Lawick

Most issues on violence within partner relationships only come to light when a woman seeks help within the framework of individual care, from either the GP, A & E departments, social services, the police force, lawyers, Victim Aid, Child Care, primary health care psychologists, addiction care, psychotherapy, or psychiatry. In this chapter, we will discuss the possibility of engaging partners in therapy in order to enhance its effectiveness and speed. In most cases, the woman, categorized as victim, is the one who starts talking, either willingly or because a therapist asks the right questions. Sharing the secret of abuse with a therapist offers relief, but it often comes with the client's injunction not to mention the abuse to others, including the abusive partner. The help given will focus mainly on survival strategies for the woman and ways to leave the abusive partner. Shelters for abused women and their children can be a temporary refuge.

This individual approach can create a stand-off, and sometimes even take a turn for the worse. If the spouse grows more confident and shows more resistance, either on her own or through a group for abused women, this could prove threatening for the husband and, in turn, increase the violence. This could lead to even more control over the spouse and to increased isolation, thus leading to the cancellation of appointments. When the spouse threatens divorce, the situation can escalate even more, because the husband's violence will increase when his fear of abandonment grows. In some cases, an abused spouse will receive help from social services over a long period of time without any noticeable change in her situation. Whenever the social worker insists on a joint interview with the husband, the request will be repudiated for whatever reason, while, during the course of every interview, the spouse will mention the unbearable situation at home. Thus, the social worker gets sucked into the victim's helplessness and contributes to the status quo. The one most likely to need to change, the partner, remains scot-free of having to take any responsibility, and therefore does not receive any support in any process of change. The spouse is in a position where she takes responsibility by asking for help, but, more often than not, she is incapable of changing the situation at home.

 

CHAPTER THREE: The downward spiral of violence between partners

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Justine van Lawick

Introduction

Iclearly recall Peter and Ella, two good-looking, young, and successful people who came to me in the outpatients clinic of a psychiatric centre two days after Ella had attempted suicide by using drugs. Peter had found her just in time, and the hospital where Ella was admitted first referred them to me. Pressing for the reason as to why she had tried to commit suicide, I realized that Ella saw herself as worthless. Despite her shiny career as a manager of a medium-sized company, a beautiful house, a good income, social life, and travels abroad, she still felt unhappy and worthless. Peter was flabbergasted, and did not cease to praise her beauty, her captivating manners, elegant appearance, and cooking skills whenever they entertained guests. He did, however, find that she worked too long hours, and he blamed the demands of her job for her breakdown. He himself was not such a high flyer, and he experienced less stress as a result. When I examined her existential crisis further, it appeared she had undergone several operations in order to fulfil Peter's wishes even more. She had had a breast enhancement and a nose-job, her eyelids had been lifted, and her teeth had been perfected, all in the course of two years. Peter now demanded liposuction of her thighs, which he considered to be somewhat fat. He had already made some enquiries and found that it was possible. Ella had resisted openly for the first time ever, and said that she did not want any more tweaking done on her body. Peter did not let up, and pressed on about the surgery. The conflict ended in their first row ever, in which Peter had slapped her.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: From ill-behaviour to relational behaviour

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Justine van Lawick

Systemic psychotherapy regarding physical violence within relationships

This chapter is a sequel to Chapter Three. The time-out programme depicted therein is summarized briefly here. Subsequently, the effectiveness is analysed. The time-out programme seems to work as a regulating programme in which clients learn to calm themselves in situations that conjure up fierce emotions. The time-out programme is not a miracle cure for violence, but a tool for clients to learn to calm themselves, which in turn will lead to increased self-control. It can easily be mastered to break through escalations; not only does it prevent physical violence, but it can also be used to prevent psychological violence. Clients feel more empowered through self-control than through intimidating and humiliating the spouse. This creates a foundation on which the development of reflection can be built. When the capacity to calm and control oneself merges with the capacity to reflect, violent behaviour will be channelled into relational behaviour. Recent publications about attachment, attitude, and neurobio-logical processes cast a new light on the effectiveness of this model.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Escalation and de-escalation

ePub

Justine van Lawick

Introduction

In Chapters Three and Four, we discussed violent escalations which can take place between partners. We can always link these escalations to certain frustrations within human relationships, which are the same all over the world. In this chapter, we explore where these frustrations come from and how they can lead to escalations. We find that clients profit from a schematic description of this process. In this chapter, we also address escalating and de-escalating language and behaviour.

Frustration as an instigator of violence

When asked what kind of frustration can provoke violent behaviour, all over the world four clusters of “instigators” of violence emerge. Cluster A relates to iniquity: injustice, betrayal (such as cheating), or a vulnerable person (child) or animal being maltreated. Cluster B concerns disrespect: violent behaviour, attacks, name-calling, bullying, humiliation, disqualifying, unwanted physical contact, and, in traffic, tailgating, being cut up by other drivers. Cluster C relates to neglect: not getting attention, being misjudged, ignored, not being seen, heard, understood; being abandoned. Cluster D concerns powerlessness: resistance, opposition, not being able to do what you want to do, being wrongly accused, bureaucracy, victim behaviour, authoritarian behaviour.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Violence in families of various cultural backgrounds

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Martine Groen

Introduction

The Dutch philosopher, poet, penal and international law expert, Afshin Ellian, wrote in the daily paper de Volkskrant,

It is utter nonsense to weigh cultural background as a factor in determining appropriate legal sanctions. If [you] do, you imply that minorities are exotic pets. That is rather patronizing. Does a Kurdish man who kills his unfaithful spouse have a right to milder punishment? No, because we do not condone it when people take the law into their own hands in the Netherlands. [17 February, 2001]

There are about 3.1 million immigrants and migrants in the Netherlands, comprising almost one fifth of the Dutch population. Half of these are of non-Western descent. The criteria used for determining one's immigrant status are either one's place of birth, or the place of birth of either parent. According to these criteria, children who have been born here are no longer considered immigrants (former minister Van Boxtel).

The four largest groups of non-Western immigrants in the Netherlands are Moroccans, Turks, Surinamese, and Antilleans. Another substantial, but smaller, group consists of Chinese immigrants. The latter group has been living in the Netherlands for a longer period of time. Motives to immigrate to the Netherlands have varied. Most Turks and Moroccans initially moved here on the explicit request of the Dutch government and manufacturing industries, in order to work here. The Surinamese moved here in large numbers just before Surinam gained its independence from the Netherlands, as they were able then to retain Dutch citizenship. Antilleans are still considered overseas citizens (members of empire, or, in Dutch, rijksgenoten). As such, they are legally entitled to various degrees of citizenship rights. However, the situation is complex and differs per island. According to a report by the Dutch Bureau of Statistics (CBS) printed in the Dutch newspaper NRC on 9 January 2007, it appears that the bureau expects the number of immigrants to rise by an additional 1.6 million. The expected growth can be partially accounted for by the number of immigrants from other EU countries, and by future children of immigrants already residing in the Netherlands. The highest numbers of new inhabitants are expected to be of Chinese, Afghan, Iraqi, and Iranian descent.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The coherence between shame and violence

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Martine Groen

Shame is an important emotion in couples who use violence during conflicts in their relationship. The abuser—in most cases the male—is ashamed of his deeds, the one who is abused—mostly the female—feels ashamed about what is happening to her. While the often unrecognized sense of shame in the male can lead to new violent eruptions after some time, the shame in the female causes her to retreat into herself and to humiliate herself. This dynamic strengthens the downward spiral of violence with couples (see Chapter Three) and maintains it. Shame is an issue that needs to be dealt with explicitly in therapies with couples who are seeking help regarding violence in the relationship, in order to breach the downward spiral of violence.

In this chapter, we deal with the question of in which manner there is coherence between shame and violence and how this coherence can be treated in therapeutic situations. After investigating the layers of shame and the coherence with shame as a regulating and debilitating emotion, further research is done to find feasible therapeutic interventions to breach the downward spiral of violence. At the end of this chapter, some pitfalls that the therapist may encounter while discussing shame-inducing and violent episodes during the course of relationship therapy are discussed briefly.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Rituals of revenge

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Martine Groen

In partner relationships where conflicts are being resolved in a violent manner, there is often a vast amount of resentment about the humiliation endured by the one who has been beaten, once the violence has ceased and the fear of violence has lessened. There is a substantial need for vengeance. Taking revenge precedes forgiveness and reconciliation. To take revenge in a ritualized manner where the therapist bears witness and gives acknowledgement, can stem the destructive flow without the couple returning to the downward spiral of violence.

Family history

Which factors increase the chances of violence within partner relationships? Studies show (as seen in Chapter Five) that violent behaviour seen and experienced in the family home increases the chances that such behaviour might happen in a first partner relationship: 60–80% of men who hit originate from families where violence was used as a way to solve conflicts. Thirty-five per cent of those men have seen their mother being beaten at home (Straus,

 

CHAPTER NINE: The reproduction of violence

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Martine Groen

Children as witnesses

“Mummy has been irritated all day long and is muttering about everything we do. At the end of the day Daddy comes home. He is in a bad mood too and starts talking about his work to Mummy. They get into an argument and he threatens to hit her. She runs away and almost trips over Rob. He starts to yell, she hoists him up and throws him away. Rob just lies there on the floor. At first we think he is dead, but luckily he snaps out of it when Mummy shakes him to and fro.”

Introduction

This chapter treats the subject of the abuse of children, characterized by extreme, escalating physical aggression between parents or by one of the parents, and of children who are witnessing the parental violence. Children between zero and seven years old are most at risk when confronted with the violent emotions of parents. The level of the divorce rate is very high in this phase of parenting.

Perhaps one of the factors contributing to the interactional escalation is a poor expectation of educating children, or a romantic expectation of bringing up children that is disappointed, or the pressures of managing children and work. Other reasons for the escalation of negative interactions between parents are poverty, debts, and transgenerational repetitive behaviour. Recently acquired knowledge about the influence of violent behaviour of parents or care-givers on the development of children shows how destructive this is and what the consequences could be.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Of young rulers and the terror at home

ePub

Justine van Lawick

Introduction

This chapter deals with another form of violence within families: that perpetrated by children against their parents. Increasingly, there is mention of children, teenagers, and adolescents who treat their parents with violence. This goes so much against all expectations regarding normal family life that many may find it hard to believe that it occurs on a regular basis. Society's acceptance of children hitting their parents is even less than that of parents who hit. Because the abuse of parents goes against the prevailing norms, parents are often deeply ashamed when it does happen and try to hide it in every possible way. Therefore, it is a group that hardly ever has been studied. A study in the USA (Harbin & Madden, 1979) into fifteen families wherein an adolescent between fourteen and twenty years old abused the parents, shows that these parents suffer from fear, depression, and a strong sense of guilt. They try to trivialize and to gloss over their children's behaviour, and desperately try to keep up the image of a harmonious family. This denial leads to the adolescents not being sanctioned for the abuse they have committed and to the parents not seeking help. In a study by Cornell and Gelles (1982), during a representative random test of American families with a teenager between ten and seventeen years old, 9% of the parents reported at least one violent act perpetrated by the teenager against them.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The therapist as a person

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Martine Groen

Processes of transference and countertransference

At the beginning of the 1980s I worked in an all woman team. We all worked with clients who had suffered the serious consequences of violence. At the time, we did not truly grasp the impact this had on our team, but, in hindsight, certain patterns emerged. Each and every one of us got stuck in repetitions of unaccepted events in our own lives.

We argued, could not say “no”, became overstressed in turn, repeated patterns of torment, chased each other in anger or, on the contrary, with powerlessness or victimized behaviour which belonged somewhere else but which was now projected on to colleagues. The dynamics which come with working in a team came under great pressure. The powerless anger enhanced the border-crossing behaviour of team members, which, in turn, was fed by the high demands of the subsidiary. The concept of co-traumatization has been the subject of discussion before, but only briefly. More often than not, the extreme stress was dealt with on an individual basis; it was not regarded as a structural theme which was recurring. Furthermore, we did not recognize that contamination had taken place within the team and that it was possible to drag each other into a powerless downward spiral.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Apprehensive heroes

ePub

Martine Groen

The emphasis in this book is particularly placed on border-crossing behaviour within families and the consequences for children who grow up in violent, quarrelling families. The scale and size of this behaviour demand reflection. What is going on? In this chapter, different views are discussed surrounding the authority crisis within the primary living system and its consequences on the regulation of aggression of our youth, the future generation. This process of undermining was been set in motion immediately after the Second World War, and it has consequences for the manner in which we relate to the aggression we encounter every day on the streets, in public transport, and in the therapy room.

The manner in which aggression is regulated between people differs through time and history and is linked to the then ruling values, norms, and developed systems of punishment (Berlin, 1990). Nowadays, there is a growing “zero-tolerance” towards violent behaviour. The debate on norms and values has found its way into the political agenda once again. One has become aware that boundaries are crossed at all levels, and that no one has an answer at the ready.

 

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