Protest Behaviour & Family Violence
In my last post, I introduced insecure attachment styles in more depth and outlined some protest behaviours. Levine and Heller acknowledge, when discussing anxious protest behaviour, that “acting hostile can transgress to outright violence at times”. In this post, I'll explain some introductory family violence and begin to explore the relationship between protest behaviour and family violence.
To this end, we need to understand some basic points about family violence.
First, family violence is defined in different ways by different people and organizations. For the purposes of this blog, family violence means: abuse and/or violence perpetrated by and against intimate or familial attachment figures.
There are generally 5 categories of abuse and/or violence:
emotional / psychological;
While these types of abuse and / or violence can be perpetrated by anyone against anyone, the relational aspect, that is the relationship between the perpetrators of violence and those being victimized, can add a variety of layers to the abuse. There may be social, familial, cultural and economic aspects at play. For example:
Abusers may be the sole or main source of income, rendering other family members financially dependent on them. The implicit threat, and fear, of poverty can be part of the familial power dynamic.
Where family members live together, physical abuse can be coupled with the implicit threat of homelessness should a survivor seek safety by leaving the home.
The close proximity in which family members live may impact the frequency of the abuse and how much access an abuser can get to the person they habitually abuse.
Depending on the power dynamics within the family, certain rules may exist that make it easier for abusers to hurt and / or take other forms of advantage of their family members. For example, if the family culture is one where 'the man of the house' has the final say in decision-making, he can make and enforce rules that either implicitly or explicitly advantage himself at the cost of other family members' well-being and safety.
In addition to these layers, it is important to consider both the perpetration of abuse, and the impact of it on a survivor, using an attachment lens. To this end, it is useful to compare and contrast protest behaviours with common examples of abusive and/or violent behaviour.
Here are some examples of abusive / violent behaviour that can be perpetrated in family violence situations:
Here is a reminder of some forms of protest behaviour that I set out in my previous post:
See some similarities between forms of abuse and protest behaviour?
While there are a number of factors at play when one person abuses another, including power and control, we can see that protest behaviour can result in abuse and / or violence. Understanding the relationship between attachment insecurity and abusive behaviours enables us to consider that both the perpetrator and the survivor may suffer from attachment insecurity. For example, where a survivor has a history of being abused by an attachment figure within the family, this can breed attachment insecurity as the attachment figure, ie. the purported source of relational safety, is also the source of danger, creating the sort of paradox we see fearful/disorganized attachers face. Similarly, where a perpetrator's abuse is the result of protest behaviour, we can see the underlying attachment insecurity. This gives us important clues as to how to support families in which violence does, or has, occurred.
With respect to intimate partner violence, one of the important points that cropped up in my reading is that anxious and avoidant attachers tend to attract one another. My understanding is that the anxious attachers are attracted to the veneer of calm that avoidant attachers display; while avoidant attachers aren’t keen on doing much of the work to maintain the attachment bond, which an anxious attacher will happily undertake. However, as Levine and Heller show in a very useful diagram (check out the book – you can see the diagram on pg. 158), the relationship turns into a vicious cycle of the anxious attacher seeking proximity and the avoidant attacher seeking distance and withdrawing.
Initially, this cycle can feel like (*cue advertisement voice* ) a romantic thrill made up of a caring person investing in a relationship and discovering a mysterious new person’s layers.
Problematically, as an anxious-avoidant relationship continues, this cycle can become increasingly unsustainable and destructive for both parties. However, when the cycle has erupted into a violent relationship, the anxious-avoidant mixture becomes not only toxic, but physically dangerous.
When a family system is made up of multiple anxious, avoidant, and / or disorganized attachment styles, the family dynamic can include a variety of protest behaviours.
Now that I’ve spent four posts setting out my understanding of this corner piece of the puzzle, I’ll spend my next post explaining how it is useful in solving family violence. One of the most fascinating things, in my opinion, about attachment theory is that a person’s attachment style can change – and that’s exactly what I’ll be discussing in my next post.
As always, if you want to explore more in the meantime, click on the links above; pick up a copy of the books referred to in this post; or google “attachment and earned security” or “attachment and evolved security” to learn more!
 Pg. 87, Attached