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Family Violence: A Review of the Dysfunctional Behavior Patterns

Sieglinde A. Saenger Published: 2000 Copyright 2000 Sieglinde A. Saenger

Table of Contents
About the Author Abstract Family violence: A Review of the Dysfunctional Behavior Patterns Works Cited

About the Author

Sieglinde Saenger is a resident of Natchitoches in Louisiana since 1996. The Mailing address is: 412 Jefferson Street Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457 Electronic Sieglinde Saenger is a German national. She was raised in post war Germany and the concepts of poverty, family violence and substance abuse are not new concepts to her. At the age of fourteen, she graduated from the Martin Luther High School. Prior to her graduation, she worked full-time in a sewing factory to support her family financially. In 1992 she relocated to the United States with her second husband when his tour of duty expired in Europe. After her second divorce in 1995, she experienced the hardships of many abused immigrant women including unemployment and insufficient services for immigrants on the local level. Her childhood experiences as well as her negative experience with local service providers in Louisiana led her to pursue and achieve a BSW at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. With English as her second language, she graduated in December 2001 on the Dean's Honors list for the Liberal Arts College after completing an internship with the Office of Community Services. Her major professor and mentor, Claudia Triche, Head of the Social Work Department at Northwestern State University can be reached at Her Phone number is 318-357-6593. Ms. Sanger is a member of the NSAW, and is currently a candidate for the M.Ed. degree at the University. Her goal is to help abused immigrant women and children, and find solutions and services for people who fall through the crack of mainstream society.

The attached paper is an original research project, written December 2000, and was presented at the 19th Annual BPD Conference in November of 2001.

This Study examines family violence and the commonality of mental illness and other psychological problems experienced by the victims. A contrast of historically accepted violent behavior and gender role indifference is reviewed. The importance of external causalities within the victim's environment is discussed from an ecological point of view. Family violence is one of the main causes of serious health and psychological problems for all individuals involved in such an environment. Violence is an ongoing dysfunctional pattern of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse inflicted by the perpetrator. It is demonstrated that violent acts have livelong damaging effects on the victim's mind, body and soul. From an ecological point of view, family violence is a by-product of today's social, economic and political structure. Social Services across the United States need to understand family violence in its entire context including the problems of poverty, unemployment and substandard living condition that accompany them.

Family violence: A Review of the Dysfunctional Behavior Patterns

Violence within the family has received an increasing amount of attention from the media in recent years. Millions of families worldwide experience the devastating effects of violence within their own family setting. This is perhaps related to society's past stereotypes of women and their role inside the family. This stereotype is still imminent in today's society. The wife's role is seen to be of less significance and therefore she is viewed as having less personal value. This power struggle between husband and wife is an ongoing process and a reliable predictor of family violence. Each year, millions of women and children are the primary objects of psychological, physical, sexual and emotional abuse by someone they know. A great number of victims die of injuries inflicted by the perpetrator. Others are permanently traumatized by what they have witnessed and/or personally experienced in the privacy of their homes. Children living a in a violent environment and unstable living conditions are victims of unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances including poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, and/or mental illness of one or both parents. Social workers specialized in this kind of scenario need to be aware of the importance of different treatment techniques for each individual involved in this matter. It is also necessary that workers in the helping

profession use a wide range of knowledge and skills on the micro, mezzo, and macro level within the system. The worker's primary focus should consider the client's personal needs, resource availability, cultural diversity, empowerment, as well as any other of the client's strengths. When working with dysfunctional families, the success and the outcome of each individual case rests on the responsibility of the caseworker, the agency, the community as well as the client. Violence is not just a family matter; it affects "us all" (Perry, 1997, p. 1). Family violence is not a new concept in today's society, but the reporting of violent acts in families is relative new. Violence in any form always has been a natural occurrence of any culture. Of all Western industrialized nations, the United States is viewed as one of the most violent place to live (Rudo & Powell, 1996, p. 1). Each year, millions of women as well as children experience the crucial torment of "homicide, rape, physical assault, sexual exploitation, neglect and abduction" by someone they trust (Reno, Holder, Fisher, Robinson, Brennan & Turman, 1999, p. 6) Innocent children are the ones who suffer the most due to their "size, age and dependency status" (Reno, Holder, Fisher, Robinson, Brennan & Turman, 1999, p. 6). In the United States alone, there were 4.1 million cases of family violence reported and were subject of criminal investigation. About six million children experience some kind of abuse or neglect in this country alone (Rudo & Powell, 1996, p. 1, p. 2). About 2.4 million individuals are clinical diagnosed with PTSD each year including victims and witnesses of violent events. (McNew & Abell, 1995, p. 115). Statistics show that violent crime incidents increased by fifty one per cent including murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Homicide alone is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The number of children involved in these types of crimes is on the raise. (Marans, Berkman & Cohen, 1996, p. 2). Any form of violence significantly affects the victim and the witness of such brutal acts. In his thesis, Incubated in Terror, Perry (1997, p. 3) states that, "most destructive violence does not break bones, it breaks minds" and "emotional violence does not result in the death of the body, it results in death of the soul". Domestic violence is not just a matter of two people interacting inappropriately; it includes all family members living in the same household. How well a family can function depends on the role each member occupies and accepts within the family structure. Historically, punishing the wife physically was a man's right by law. The husband had the authority to discipline his wife as well as children for their lack of obedience and lack of respect. The husband was entitled to beat his

wife with a stick or threaten and frighten her in concern for her "well-being". The British common law altered the husband's power by creating the "rule of thumb", which allowed men to beat the wife with a "stick no thicker than his thumb". In 1824, the Mississippi Supreme court ruled that the state had no right to interfere in acts of private matters and the husband's right to exercise physical punishment (Hart 1991, p.1). In dysfunctional families, the husband sees himself as the absolute individual power within the family system. He strongly believes that his position as the only breadwinner of the family grants him the right to exercise control of all aspects of the family life and over all individuals living in the same household. Forte, Franks, Forte, and Rigsby (1996) believe that there is a significant difference in "role- taking" between the oppressive batterer and the victimized partner (p. 60). In a violent relationship, "role taking is asymmetrical" (p. 60), which means that the dominant partner is unable to put himself or herself in the shoes of "weaker" partner. The battered victim on the other hand always tries to please her partner by putting her or himself in the role of the perpetrator (p. 60), which easily can lead to self-blame and acceptance of the perpetrator's inappropriate behavior. Why battered women stay in a violent relationship? The battered woman is psychologically, physically and emotionally restrained in her decision-making process and capability to leave. She suffers from "depression, low self-esteem, fear, loneliness, guilt, and shame" (Peled, Eisikovits, Enosh, Winstock, 2000, p. 11). In many ways the victim experiences "greater violence, greater power inequality, greater economic and personal dependency, and more limited access to supportive others" (Forte, Franks, Forte, Rigsby, 1996, p. 62). Battered women are mothers in the first place and for many their decision to leave or to stay is primarily based on the well being of their children. For others, their cultural and religious beliefs forbid separation from the perpetrator (Peled, Eisikovits, Enosh, Winstock, 2000). The decision to leave the perpetrator or to stay for the sake of the children is not an easy one. Battered women carefully consider the pros and cons of keeping the family together, or ending the relationship. The main reason why women remain in an abusive relationship with the batterer is primarily due to her " serious loss of income from leaving the relationship, locating employment and childcare, and lack of intimate relationship" (Dutton, Gordon, 1996, p. 9). Without sufficient financial resources, she is unable to provide for herself and her children. Other resources such as governmental housing and shelter for battered women are also limited in numbers throughout many communities. Studies in this area point out, that leaving the violent relationship increases the severity and tendency of physical injuries to the battered women and the children involved (Peled, Eisikovits, Enosh, Winstok, 2000). Sometimes it means death.

Family violence is "intergenerational" (Rudo, Powell, 1996, p. 8). In dysfunctional families, the victim as well as the perpetrator is capable of child maltreatment and neglect. Research in family violence established evidence that abusive parents have experienced some form of abuse in their childhood. Adults who experienced and witnessed violence in their childhood had increased potential of becoming a batterer themselves. Marital rape is also a strong link that child abuse is imminent. (Saunders, 1994). Rudo and Powell (1996) believe that the "...sins of the parents and the failings of society" are to blame for child abuse and neglect (p. 8). When the structure is interrupted by dysfunctional behavior, childrearing becomes a significant problem. In these families, parents use socially inappropriate child rearing practices including "inconsistent parental supervision of children, use of harsh punishment, failure to set limits, neglect in rewarding prosocial, behavior, and a coercive style of parent- child interaction "(Fraser 1996, p. 349). Children raised in this environment are unable to acquire social appropriate problem solving skills (p. 349), and they probably will become "proactive" and "aggressive"(Perry, 1997 p. 11) toward people in authority, and toward their peers (Fraser, 1996, p. 349). Other factors correlated to violence in families include poverty, low socio economic status, mental illness, and drug and alcohol abuse. In the United States alone one out of five families live in poverty (p. 348), and these families experience a significant shortage of basic social resources in order to survive including " shelter, food, clothing, and heath care"(p. 351). The abuse of drugs or alcohol is a great concern of the criminal justice and welfare system. Studies indicate that alcohol and drug abuse are clear components of spousal and child abuse. Battered women are under severe emotional and psychological stress, which can affect to some degree their role as good parent. Many battered women turn to alcohol and drugs to release tension and stress. This on the other hand can lead to abuse and neglect of the children (Saunders, 1994). Sometimes women kill the father of their children to protect themselves and the children from more physical and emotional harm. When tried in court, the battered woman must establish evidence that her criminal act was an act of self-defense. In today's legal system the term of "insanity" is used in cases of mentally disturbed defendants. The battered victim also must prove that at the time of the crime she was mentally incompetent, incapable of distinguishing "right from wrong", and not concerned with the legal consequences of her act (Dutton, Gordon, 1996, p.2). Parents who suffer of some kind of mental impairment are very likely to abuse their children. Studies in this area indicate that battered women may suffer from "borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia" and severe depression (Saunders, 1994, p. 54). Women and children who have a history of physical and sexual abuse very likely suffer from PTSD. Extreme

traumatic experience can impair an individual's capability in " emotional behavioral, cognitive and interpersonal" performance (McNew, Abell, 1995, p. 116). In a study, researcher compared a group of sexual abuse survivors with Vietnam veterans to look at similarities of symptoms of PTSD caused by traumatic experience. The study concluded that both groups showed similarities of symptoms of post-traumatic stress including " intrusionavoidance", "intimacy conflicts", and "anxiety" (p. 116). Children raised in dysfunctional families bear the most negative consequences of violence that they observe and have experienced continuously. Long-term exposure of violence can cause significant brain damage in children (Perry, 1997, p. 3). Children who are victimized or witness of some form of abuse may have "emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social and psychological" developmental deficits (p. 11). According to Fraser (1996, p. 351), delays in a child's cognitive development are caused by deficits in physical "constitution" and such conditions include" brain damage and other neuropathology; imbalances of trace minerals; imbalances of hormones such as testosterone; low IQ; and unremediated hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention deficit disorders." Other factors responsible for delays in children's development include "the type and pattern of violence", the family environment, support system availability, and the "age" of the child (Perry, 1997, p. 3). The organ of violence is the brain. The brain is taught violence through violence. The underdevelopment of the brain in children can lead to significant neurochemical deficits and other life threatening abnormalities. (p. 5) Children's early physical and psychological development depends mainly on the social environment and how it fosters the child's social interaction with others. It is of significant importance that the community as well as family promotes a child's physical and psychological well-being. This can be accomplished by providing a variety of opportunities to promote healthy social interaction on communal as well as familiar level. If children lack influential role models and opportunities in the early stages of their life, they fail to develop "attachment" to other individuals (Fraser, 1996, p. 348). Children at any age who are traumatized by violent acts inside the family very likely develop psychological, behavioral and cognitive problems later on in life. Studies in this area support facts that violent events can cause symptoms of PTSD. According to McNew and Abell (p.116), symptoms of PTSD are of multiple characteristics and may include the following: " flashbacks, numbing, restriction of affect, hypervigilance, sleep disorder, problems with intimacy and sexuality, depression, dissociative responses, anger and rage, guilt, shame, fear, somatic complains, anxiety, helplessness, dependency, low-self esteem,

survivor guilt" and "enuresis"(Burman, & Allen-Meares, 1994, p. 29). From a psychological point of view, traumatized victims of violence are emotionally worn out. They may "withdraw, turn inward, appear depressed, display difficulties with attention, school achievement, and social engagement; they may assume the role of oppositional, aggressive perpetrator" (Marans, & Cohen, 1993, p.1). Children can be exposed to violence within the family by "seeing", "hearing", or by "witnessing" the injuries suffered by the victim (Rudo & Powell, 1996, p.3). In most cases, the target of the brutal physical attack is the mother of the child. In the article Family Violence: A Review Of The Literature, Rudo and Powell (p. 6) state that children who experience and/or witness violence in their home " become tomorrow's murderers and perpetrator of other crimes of violence." Infants living in a violence-ridden environment suffer the most developmental damage of all children. Infants exposed to violence do not receive the amount of emotional and physical attachment from their mother that is needed for their personal well being. Infants may develop a high-pitched "excessive" scream, poor eating habits, and disruptive sleeping pattern (James, 1994, p. 4). Toddlers exposed to violence in the home inhibit acute behavioral and emotional problems that have significant negative impact of the child's early socialization skill. There is also a significant difference between the behaviors of the two sexes. Boy's behaviors are more "externalized" while girl's behaviors are more "internalized" (p. 4). By the time the child enters school, its negative feelings and emotions are expressed through aggressive play, fantasies (Marans, & Cohen, 1993, p. 2), acting out, feelings of sadness, physical and verbal aggressiveness toward others, as well as anger and sadness after the violent outburst (James, 1994, p. 5). Studies show that boys experienced more somatic complains than girls. They also indicate that children from dysfunctional families demonstrate signs of mental health problems and learning disabilities (p. 6). In adolescence, aggressive behavior is influenced more by outside sources such as negative peer interactions, poor neighborhoods, and school districts. These children lack sufficient respect of authority, are more likely involved in early sexual activities, and probably active members in gangs (Fraser, 1996). Research of this age group concluded that adolescence's aggressive behavior is associated to the hostile environment they live in. Without early treatment and community support, their lives as adults are going to be controlled by "heavy polydrug use, sexual promiscuity, reckless driving, marital violence, and occupational marginality" (p. 348). From infancy to adolescence, family violence interfered with the children's growth and development. For them violence is their role model and violence is a mean of survival.

Treatment for families in crisis depends on several aspects, including how many individuals are involved in this matter, the duration and the extent of the problem and what the family had done in the past to resolve existing problems. Treatment and intervention should be directed toward the needs of each individual involved in this family matter. Proper screening methods will determine the appropriate treatment plan and psychological profile of the victim and the perpetrator. Psychometric instruments such as the "Multiphasic Personality Inventory" determine the victim's psychological state and treatment possibilities. Treatment methods applied should be directed toward the goal of "normalization" and emotional stability, as well as the elimination of psychological malfunctioning (Saunders, 1994, p. 54). Another important instrument is "the Index of Spouse Abuse ", which measures "the severity of both physical and nonphysical abuse" (Forte, Franks, Forte, Rigsby, 1996, p. 59). Other treatment possibilities of dysfunctional families include "individual therapy, group therapy, play therapy and family therapy (Burman, AllenMeares, 1994, p. 31, 32). The treatment of child victims should be different from treatment of adult victims. Special concern should be given to children who witnessed the homicide of a parent. During assessment, it is very important for the counselor to establish a baseline of "trust" and "rapport" with the child victim (Burman, Allen- Meares, 1994, p. 31). This can be attained through "attending" and "listening". It is also of significance that abused children are given the opportunity of safe surroundings to express their true feelings and emotion without negative influences. Play therapy focuses on "breaking through the communication barriers", with the use of "symbolic communication techniques" including " story telling, clay, hand puppets, and photographs" (p.31). This therapy allows abused children to express their fears, anger, grief and happiness. Group therapy with children deals directly with the trauma children experienced. It does it through "role plays, behavior rehearsal, and direct communication." Family therapy includes all individuals involved. The focus of family therapy is to decrease existing negative behaviors pattern within the family. Family therapy targets the client's "anxieties", "mood swings", "poor academic performance", and "aggressive, abusive, and disrespectful behaviors" (p. 32). Treatment for abused children should be applied as soon as possible. Another implementation approach is couple therapy. During sessions, the spouses are encouraged to talk about positive as well as negative relationship matters in the family. This is especially true in families where spousal abuse occurs in any form. Couple therapy can help the abused spouse to put her own personal needs first rather than the needs of the perpetrator. In couple therapy, role-playing is an important tool when dealing with role inequalities in families. (Peled, Eisikovits, Enosh, & Winstok,

2000, p.17). Anger management treatment programs are useful tools to teach perpetrators non- violent ways of problem solving skills especially in spousal and child abuse cases. Perpetrators are encouraged to apply learned skills in all areas of their personal lives, including non-violent ways of parenting (Saunders, 1994, p. 55). When working with dysfunctional families, the social worker's role is multifaceted. Because abusive families experience a variety of difficult problems, the social worker must be competent and versatile enough to identify the client's, needs and problems, provide information, establish trust, identify the client's strength, work toward a goal, and the eventual empowerment of the client through the achievement of autonomy. During assessment it is necessary that the worker is capable of establishing trust between him/her and the client. This trust can be obtained through "attending and listening" to the client (Burman, Allen-Meares, 1994, p. 29). Empowerment is another important tool in the worker-client relationship. Empowerment can help the battered client in her decision making process. In social work, empowerment by definition means "to allow clients control over their own lives and the ability to make decisions for themselves"( Peled, Eisikovits, Enosh, Winstok, 2000, p. 12). Social workers and agencies in the helping profession directly intervene, identify the battered victims needs and, "actualize" their rights (p.16). Many social agencies across the country apply their own definition of empowerment when working with battered victims and that means leaving the abusive spouse. The battered victim's "freedom of choice" between leaving and remaining in a relationship for whatever reason is denied by many social services (p. 19). Identifying the client's strength is one of the most powerful tools in social work practice. In dysfunctions families, the strength of each individual relies in the context of the family itself, the community, and the intervention programs that promote the reestablishment of a healthy family structure. Social work has experienced a tremendous fundamental transformation during the last one hundred years. Helping the most vulnerable of society always has been, and always will be an important component of the social work profession. Historically, family violence was an acceptable behavior but today it is considered a crime. The evolution of this more humane view is still a work in progress. To be a force in change, social work must face the reality of the situation. Social work practice and the treatment process are focused primarily on the acts of violence themselves rather than the underlying circumstances of poverty, unemployment, underemployment and the substandard living conditions that accompany them. As long as the focus is a treatment of the symptoms manifested as violence rather than the disease of poverty itself

there will be no cure. To serve their clients more efficiently, social services across the country need to employ universal standards within the systems itself, concerning policies, eligibility requirements and treatment processes. It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigation in this field, as new techniques will provide more information concerning what is effective. The statistics and studies that have been done so far indicate that this is a growing area of concern for this nation in general and for the profession of social work specifically.

Works Cited
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(eds.), Minefields in their hearts: The mental health of children in war and communal violence.(104 -127). New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press. McNew, J. A., & Abell, N. (1995). Posttraumatic stress symptomatology: similarities and differences between Vietnam veterans and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Social Work. 40, (1), 115 - 126. Reno, J., Holder, E. H., Fisher R. C., Robinson, L., Brennan, N., & Turman K. M., (1999). Breaking the cycle of violence: recommendation to improve the criminal justice response to child victims and witnesses. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice Office Programs Rudo, Z. H., & Powell, D. S., (1996). Family violence: a review of the literature. Florida Mental Heath Institute, University of South Florida. Saunders, D. G., (1994). Child custody decisions in families experiencing women abuse. Social Work. 39, (1), 51-59.