Changing Internal Representations of Self and Other: Philosophical Tools for Attachment-informed Psychotherapy With Perpetrators and Victims of Violence
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Changing Internal Representations of Self and Other
Philosophical Tools for Attachment-informed Psychotherapy With Perpetrators and Victims of Violence

Attachment research shows that the formation of unconscious, insecure representations of the self, the other, and the self–other relations is linked to perpetration and receipt of violence. Attachment-focused therapy aims to change these internal schemata to more secure, adaptive representations by therapeutic work addressed to senses, emotions, and behavior. The paper proposes a new approach to altering the self and other representations in offenders and victims: It involves intellectual reflection on self, will, action, and responsibility informed by Augustine's views, facilitated by actual relational experience, and translated into a distinct self-soothing strategy. The reflective–experiential approach can complement existing methods of working with violent or traumatized individuals both within and outside an attachment theory framework. It consists both in identifying that a non-reflective non-distinction between self and behavior supports damaging self- and other-representations and interactions, and in proposing ways for clients to comprehend and consciously operate with the distinction between self and action.


Will, action, responsibility, violent offenders, the abused, emotion regulation

Representational Models of Self and Other in Attachment Theory and a Philosophical Method to Alter Them in Therapy

According to attachment theory and research, when individuals' inborn need to create an affectional bond with their caregivers is frustrated through the latter's negligence, absence, rejection, or abuse, they form insecure attachment styles or patterns of relational behavior, which put them at increased risk for both perpetration and receipt of violence, in childhood, [End Page 241] youth, and adulthood (Bowlby, 1984; Fonagy et al., 1997; Levy & Orlans, 2000; Ross & Pfäfflin, 2004; Allison, Bartholomew, Mayseless, & Dutton, 2008; Buck, Leenaars, Emmelkamp, & van Marle, 2012; Dutton & White, 2012).

Underlying insecure and secure attachment styles are the history, nature, and quality of individuals' interactions with their caretakers internalized in the form of representations of self and other or internal working models (Bowlby, 1973, 1988). These mental models contain organized beliefs, evaluations, and expectations about the self, significant others, the relations between them, and the world that serve to predict, understand, and appraise social situations. They guide individuals' attention to information present in the relational environment, their interpretation of others' behaviors and states of mind, their modes of interaction in close relationships, and anticipation of how these will work or how challenging relational episodes can be dealt with. Once formed and through repeated use, the working models come to operate largely outside conscious awareness and are highly resistant to change: New information is assimilated, accommodated, or distorted to fit these existing schemata, instead of internal models being revised in light of new information and experience (Bowlby, 1979; Tidwell, Reis, & Shaver, 1996; Fraley & Shaver, 2000; Pietromonaco & Feldman Barrett, 2000).

In a landmark study, Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) identified four adult attachment styles, one secure and three insecure, based on how the two underlying dimensions of working models—self-representations and other-representations—can be combined: secure (positive self-model, positive other-model), dismissing (positive self-model, negative other model), fearful (negative self-model, negative other model), and preoccupied (negative self-model, positive other model). A negative self-model puts the individual at risk for both receipt and perpetration of relationship violence. For instance, a preoccupied individual with a negative self-model avoids self-hatred and the feeling of a defective self by seeking external validation from others and acting violently when not received. A dismissing individual with a positive self-representation can inflict or suffer violence when their self-regulating strategy of distancing themselves emotionally or physically from a close other is met with resistance and pursuit behavior, for example, from a preoccupied partner. From an attachment perspective, intimate relationship violence is very much a question of how these working models and resulting relating behaviors come together in the couple's relationship dynamics (Henderson, & Dutton, 2001; Sonkin & Dutton, 2003; Stith, Smith, Penn, Ward, & Tritt, 2004; Allison et al., 2008; Bartholomew, Kuijpers, van der Knaap, & Winkel, 2010).

Attachment theory is concerned with close relationships, but by looking at violent...