Setting a Foundation
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” – Do, Re, Mi, The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music was awesome. I loved the songs when I was young. It also introduced the negative and brutal effects of group-think as Liesle’s love interest, Kurt, goes from (what she perceives as) a romantic, smitten, 16 year-old boy to a Nazi soldier intent on hunting her and her family down. Yeh. Not cool. So what gave?
The protagonist in the movie, the fun-loving, lyrical, bound-to-fail nun Maria, proposed the very beginning for learning music was the notes: “A, B, C….”, she sung.
So what’s the foundation of family violence? That’s a hard question. The educator in me wants to first describe family violence to you, or explain power dynamics and control tactics; but the systems-thinker in me warns that everything flows from a solid foundation. Seeing as this is a puzzle, we’re not looking at a single source for our foundation: multiple pieces form a good foundation, chief among them, corner pieces.
Channeling my inner-Maria, I’m going to propose that one of the corner pieces is attachment theory. Why? Because one of the essential characteristics of family violence is relational behaviour gone abusive/ violent; and to understand relational behaviour, we need to start with attachment theory.
While the title of this blog seeks to solve the issue of family violence, I intend this to include intimate partner violence. Intimate partners do not always fall within the definition of ‘family’, depending on how you define the term. The thing intimate partner violence and family violence have in common is that the abuse and/or violence is perpetrated against or between attachment figures, loved ones between whom attachment bonds have formed. (I promise I’ll elaborate upon what this means over a couple of posts!) To this end, it’s important to treat both family violence and intimate partner violence as attachment-informed violence.
I’m not a mental health professional, but as a mediator, I am required to learn a variety of family relations principles from a mental health practitioner; and my work requires me to engage with family dynamics. A lot. So below is what I think I know. (If you’re a mental health practitioner and can clarify, let me know and help me grow in the comments below! (… Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
Attachment theory espouses that human beings develop “deep and enduring emotional bond[s] that [connect] one person to another across time and space”. Imagine an invisible beam that connects you to your loved ones, no matter where they are geographically, when in time the bond began, or whether they’re even living any more. The bond endures beyond time and space. (Seriously though, the Trekkie in me is kind of loving trying to figure out how to beam to one another…it's too bad that I’m well below a mediocre physicist.)
Our language, culture, and stories evidence our understanding of these bonds and their ability to transcend time and space. Watching a movie about an “old flame”? The relationship may have petered out, but the bond persists even if it is no longer nurtured. The re-connection between old love birds is the bond being reactivated, because though the relationship ended, the bond didn’t. Thinking about how Moana’s grandmother shows up as a spirit animal when she’s most in need of emotional nourishment? Yep, Moana was totally drawing on the energy that comes from the bond that endures past death. The Lion King viewed from the perspective of attachment bonds gives us loads to chew on, (I’ll lay it out in a little more detail in a future post), as does any story about grief and connecting with loved ones who have passed on. I know you know the stories, and if you stick with me, I’ll explain the attachment theory underlying these compelling, blockbuster-hit plot-lines in my next few posts.
We’ll return to Kurt and Liesel soon enough. But first, we need to understand attachment theory to get to the heart of the matter. Why? Because the connection between people or characters, (queue that visual of the beam again) can be stable or unstable. Attachment theory gives us a lens through which we can assess the stability of the connection and how different types of instability inform family and intimate partner violence.