Tag Archives: Normal

What Effect Does Violence have on Kids? – Practical Application of Stanley Greenspan’s Theory of Emotional Development to Violent Behavior

I have chosen to apply the Theory of Emotional Development as seen by Stanley Greenspan to violent behavior.  I can see where this theory can explain how violent behavior gets embedded into a person, especially when the behavior is experienced from birth or from a young age, either by witnessing or by being victimized by violence.

Greenspan’s Theory assumes that children learn behavior by experiencing it.  The behavior would then continue into adulthood unless something drastic affects them.  It would have to be to the point that they feel they need to change the behavior.  In the case of violence, this drastic happening could be, going to jail or prison, going too far with the violence, or even being injured bad enough to be hospitalized for a while.  This of course depends on the person.

There are several assumptions from the theory that I will compare to the affects of violence on children.  I will also compare the milestones within the stages of emotional development to the stages the children go through when submerged in a violent environment.

There are also several reasons why violence would be someone’s first reaction to any situation.  There are many signs that a child could have violent tendencies, we could see these as they grow older.  Some children show behavioral problems at very young ages, their mental health status could grow worse and there are often problems academically and behaviorally throughout adolescence.

It seems that how often someone is exposed to violent behavior and the age at which they are first exposed determines the severity of the violent actions the child may eventually commit.

If a child is exposed to violence through a victim standpoint, it is most likely that as parents, the violence will be committed against their immediate family, but it is also likely that violence will be committed against outsiders as well.

If a child is exposed to violence through a witness standpoint, negative results could include becoming aggressive and having developmental challenges. Also, some criminal behavior could be seen.

There are many long-term effects that can take hold of a person when they are exposed to violence, especially if it was for a very long period of time.   These effects include depression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse.  The child also learns to associate a positive attitude to violent behavior, if they are continually exposed.  They end up feeling as if the perpetrator is rewarded for the behavior.

In the Theory of Emotional Development one assumption is, “the capacity to organize experiences is present early in life”.  When violence is present in a person’s life, it is generally something that has been experienced from a very early time in their life.  Generally it is in the form of domestic violence toward a parent or themselves.

The violence that is experienced through the child’s life is organized when the child either accepts this behavior as normal or decides that the behavior is wrong and then fights against it.

This theory, “Assumes that initially organization is emotion based rather than cognition based”.  The research associated with violent behavior shows the learning of violence is cognition based.  It is a learned behavior in that, the more a child is exposed to various types of violence, the more likely they are to become offenders and the worse the offences become.

It also says, “Infants organize their emotions differently at different stages of ego development”.  Infants who emerge into life where violence is prevalent will organize their emotions accordingly.  These babies will startle easily, as loud noise and yelling does anyway, but then will grow into toddlers who may sense something is wrong, but will also be desensitized to the violent behavior around them.  Also, because of the actions that are prevalent in the home, they will see the violence as normal because they have no ability to compare it to others’ behavior.

This theory says, “With the maturation of the brain, interpreting progresses to higher levels of organization”.  As the child progresses into elementary school age, and they are exposed to other children’s life styles, they will begin to understand, maybe truly for the first time, that the behavior they are experiencing is wrong.

At this point, and as they grow, they will start to compare their own home life to their friends’ and then start to really organize how they feel as to whether the behavior is normal in other peoples lives.  Because they are starting to comprehend what’s happening in their household, they will generally devise a way to hide what’s happening to them in order to appear normal to everyone else.

This theory also states, “Emotional organization is acquired through relationships with those who care for the child”.  The child’s primary caretaker is generally their abuser.  Because of this, the emotions acquired in this relationship are generally those of confusion.  This is because the parent usually tells them that they are loved, but then the actions of that parent don’t agree with the words.  The child unknowingly learns to develop hate; sometimes toward the abuser and sometimes toward themselves because they feel they can never do what it takes to feel the love promised them so often.  These emotions carry through to adulthood and usually affect their own relationships, even as early as Jr. High or High School relationships.

Another assumption from this theory is, “Socialplay is the vehicle for promoting emotional organization”.  Children who live with violence in the home are more likely to try to stay away from the home as much as possible.  As soon as they realize they have an escape at a friend’s house they will make any excuse to try to go there in order to get away from either viewing the violence or becoming a victim of it.

Socialplay then becomes more and more about what their friends have access to that the child doesn’t feel they have.  These things do not necessarily have a monetary value, but emotional value.  Affection, courteousness, and other familial values are not found at home, so they take comfort in finding them in other people’s homes.

Greenspan also says, “Experiences must be age appropriate; have range, depth, and stability; and be personally unique.”  Unfortunately for children who experience violence on a daily basis there are not many age appropriate experiences.  These children quickly learn the keys to survival and how to fend for themselves.  These methods become intertwined into daily life and as the child grows, it becomes a way of life.  This is usually the start of the person committing violent acts when they are older.  It is not generally something they see as being a chosen action, but more something that just happens.

Greenspan has defined six milestones within the stages of emotional development. These milestones are self regulation, intimacy, two-way communication, complex communication, emotional ideas, and, emotional thinking.  Each of these milestones represents a phase or stage of a child’s life, and what they should accomplish during that phase where emotional development is concerned.

The first stage of emotional development is engagement.  This stage usually lasts from about three weeks of age until about eight months of age.

During this stage the “infants learn to share attention, relate to others with warmth, positive emotion, and expectation of pleasant interactions, and trust they are secure”.  This is the stage in which self regulation and intimacy are learned.  During these crucial early weeks and months of a child’s life, if they are involved in a violent environment, they would learn the opposite of what is involved in engagement.  They would eventually learn there are not many, if any, pleasant interactions and would not feel secure in their own actions.  In fact their first reaction to attention would come to be the flight reaction and then when older the fight reaction.

Two-way communication is the second stage of emotional development.  This stage usually lasts from about six months of age until about 18 months of age.  During this stage “infants learn to signal needs and intentions, comprehend others’ intentions, communicate information (motorically and verbally), make assumptions about safety, and have reciprocal interactions”.  This is the stage in which two-way communication is learned.  The children in this age group are still too young to recognize that the violence in their environment is not normal; yet, they are learning skills to survive there.  The two-way communication they are learning is how to signal their needs in the least threatening way.  Whether they are experiencing violence by witnessing it or are being abused, they learn the other person’s intentions could be painful and their safety could be compromised if not handled with care.  They carry this skill into later life when dealing with others.

The third stage of emotional development is shared meanings.  This stage usually lasts from about 18 months of age until about 36 months of age.  During this stage “children learn to relate their behaviors, sensations, and gestures to the world of ideas, engage in pretend play, intentionally use language to communicate, and begin to understand cognitive concepts”.  There are two milestones associated with this stage, complex communication and emotional ideas.  A lot of children who are exposed to violence from an early age end up learning things like complex communication at a later time than other children.  Because of this, these children sometimes develop learning disabilities which eventually become a sore spot for these children.  When other children don’t understand what is happening in that child’s life and choose to use that child’s slower development as something hurtful, the violent feelings tend to erupt as this is what that child has been taught at home.

The fourth and final stage in Greenspan’s theory is emotional thinking.  This stage usually lasts from about three years of age to about six years of age.  During this stage, “children can organize experiences and ideas, make connections among ideas, begin reality testing, gain a sense of themselves and their emotions, see themselves in space and time, and develop categories of experience”.  Emotional thinking is developed in this stage.  This is the age when children start to recognize that things in their home environment are not quite right.  They start to put together the fact that other children’s home lives do not involve violence on a regular basis.  At this point the child is still unsure of what, if anything, they can do about the violence in their own home.  This can be the turning point in a child’s life.

It can be when they subconsciously decide if they will incorporate the violence their caregiver has unknowingly taught them into their own lives and become violent with other people, or if they will become more docile and turn inward.

I feel that this theory, if taken further into research about violent behavior, would be a good one to look at in order to help predict violent tendencies in children.  If we do this we can try to incorporate treatment earlier and possibly cut out a lot of the violence we are seeing today.  The assumptions and the stages of the theory for emotional development are very helpful when looking at violence from an outside perspective.


Cullen, P.  (2009, May 21). Physical, emotional and sexual abuse was widespread in State institutions. The Irish Times p. 9.

Fagan, J.  (1996). The Criminalization of Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits
National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from LexisNexis database.

Nader, C. (2008, December 3). Death often tragic end to history of domestic violence.  The Age p. 11.

Murrell, A.R., Christoff, K.A., Henning, K.R. (2007, July 17).  Characteristics of Domestic Violence Offenders: Associations with Childhood Exposure to Violence.                                  J Fam Viol, 22:523-532

Appleyard, K., Egeland, B., van Dulmen, M.H.M., Sroufe, L.A. (2004. February 2). When more is not better: the role of cumulative risk in child behavior outcomes. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46:3, 235-245

Bergen, D. (2008). Human Development Traditional and Contemporary Theories. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Quick Definition of Mental Health

In looking at mental health criteria I came across this definition.  From an article in the Encyclopedia of Public Health, titled Mental Health says:

Dianne Hales & Robert Hales define mental health as the capacity to think rationally and logically, and to cope with the transitions, stresses, traumas, and losses that occur in all lives, in ways that allow emotional stability and growth.  In general, mentally healthy individuals value themselves, perceive reality as it is, accept its limitations and possibilities, respond to its challenges, carry out their responsibilities, establish and maintain close relationship, deal reasonable with others, pursue work that suits their talent and training, and feel a sense of fulfillment that makes the efforts of daily living worthwhile.  (Rosenfield, 2002, p. 2)

I think this definition supports what is written in the “Psychopathology Defined in Context” because in this document one requirement of mental health is “being able to function comfortably on a day-to-day basis”.  I understand these definitions to mean that a person who is mentally healthy will be able to progress in life within what is understood to be normal limits.  They will not have any extreme stressors that cause them to stop their mental growth because they will be able to deal with any stressors they come across productively.

This document also mentions four dimensions in which to look at mental health.  In taking a look at these dimensions, and an article from the Mayo Clinic titled, Mental health: What’s normal, what’s not, I was able to identify and recognize them.  The dimension of comfort and discomfort are, when you are comfortable, your behaviors, feelings, and thoughts are within what is considered ‘normal range’.  Excessive behaviors such as cleaning even when there is nothing to clean, or feelings that don’t seem to go away would make a person uncomfortable.  Another example of discomfort would be abnormal thoughts.  Abnormal thoughts would include believing something is controlling you, or considering killing yourself.

The next dimension mentioned in the document is efficiency and inefficiency.  All of the actions mentioned above would also demonstrate this dimension.  If the symptoms are severe enough or uncomfortable enough they would disrupt any kind of routine a person has in place, thus, causing everything to take longer or to not happen at all.

The third dimension is potential and actual.  The disruption of a mental illness causes any potential growth to cease.  Many times the person does not realize this and believes things are very different than what is actually happening.  The person’s perception is often a key factor in determining the correct treatment.

The final dimension is acculturation and bizarreness.  When a person’s behavior becomes disruptive or is considered to be out of the norm, other people’s perceptions can be used to help determine what diagnosis is appropriate.  This could be useful when the person does not see anything wrong with the way they are behaving.

Hopefully this quick look at the different dimensions of mental health will aid in the search for information on this topic.


Rosenfield, Paul J.; Stuart J. Eisendrath. “Mental Health.” Encyclopedia of Public Health.The Gale Group Inc. 2002. Retrieved September 02, 2009 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404000537.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). “Mental health: What’s normal, what’s not.” Retrieved September 02, 2009 from MayoClinic.com: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mental-health/MH00042

What is a healthy family?

I believe a healthy family is based on a level of mutual respect for other members and themselves.  I believe that a healthy family should provide a level of support for its members, however, each family is a unique system (much like the individuals within it) and each individual will play “roles” within the family system that they are comfortable with.  Individual role-players may exert varying degrees of influence when change occurs (like death, illness, financial issues, or divorce).  Every member of the family should enjoy a sense of security or “belonging” to the family, and all members should share good interpersonal relations with each other.  Healthy families are loyal to each other, and ideally members offer each other unconditional love.  My universal definition of family extends beyond the nuclear family to include multigenerational and extended families… it might also include groups of people with whom you have come to cohabitate (like a college fraternity).

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I am less traditional than most (I suspect) in the respect that I do not narrowly define “marriage” as a relationship that can exist between a man and a woman.  In that respect, my definition of family is predominantly relationship based.  The reader could correctly infer that I am supportive of same sex relationships.  I could potentially see issues in the counseling relationship if I were to counsel someone who was critical of that lifestyle… I might be inclined to suggest that is more “normal” than some people are comfortable with.  All that aside, I would be the first to admit that I have not always taken such a liberal position… perhaps that’s proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks?


Roles of Cross Cultural Influences in Diagnosis

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Before we can begin exploring deviations from the norm as it relates to a specific culture, it is extremely important that we define exactly what is meant by the word culture.  Culture is defined as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.  It could also be defined as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. (culture, 2010)

As with any definition, it comes with limitations.    Given the changing nature of our social world and given the efforts of individuals to adapt to such changes, culture can best be viewed as an ongoing process, a system or set of systems in flux. (Lopez & Guarnaccia, 2000, p. 574)  Constant change is the rule with and within any given subset or group of people.  Any generalization regarding a population should come with a specific guideline as to whom it would apply, and more specifically, over what period of time the cultural generalization encompasses.   Attempts to freeze culture into a set of generalized value orientations or behaviors will continually misrepresent what culture is. (Lopez & Guarnaccia, 2000, p. 574)  While the representation may prove valid for a period of time, it is inevitable that the research will date itself; thereby propagating the perpetual need for new and innovative research.

A related limitation of the values-based definition of culture is that it depicts people as recipients of culture from a generalized “society” with little recognition of the individual’s role in negotiating their cultural worlds.  A viable definition of culture acknowledges the agency of individuals in establishing their social worlds. (Lopez & Guarnaccia, 2000, p. 574)  Simply because I am a white male from Omaha doesn’t necessarily mean that I have assumed all the traits that could be used to label or otherwise describe that general population.  Exceptions are abundant in every generalization about a specific populace.

An important component of this perspective is the examination of intra-cultural diversity.  In particular, social class, poverty, and gender continue to affect different levels of mental health both within and across cultural groups. (Lopez & Guarnaccia, 2000, p. 575)  In order to be truly inclusive of all the various aspects a culture has to offer, we would have to adopt a multi-layered approach to our cultural studies.  We all wear many hats, and it is a disservice to not examine all of them.  Similarly, it is unfair to assume that those intra-cultural differences affect different cultural populations the same.

Culture is linked to the way emotions, mental distress, social problems, and physical illness are perceived, experienced, and expressed.  Beliefs about what constitutes illness and what can be done about it vary considerably across cultures.  (Bhui & Dinos, 2008, p. 411)  We have established that in some cases a diagnosis has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Even a correct diagnosis may have a negative impact on a specific client.  The cultural connotations associated with a specific diagnosis can play a role in the effect it has on your individual client.  Before we diagnose, need to consider the socio-cultural context of the illness.  For example, a mental health diagnosis may have real implications for a member of the US Armed Forces.

As immigration into the United States continues to accelerate, we must ready ourselves for the influx of clients from the underdeveloped, or the developing world.  Mental health diagnostic constructs and subsequent treatment practices designed in developed countries are often used in the provision of care in the developing world and in care practices for ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, and refugees.  However, there are concerns about the limitations of using mono-cultural outcome measures in these culturally diverse contexts. (Bhui & Dinos, 2008, p. 411)  Our interview process is currently dependant on interviewing and subsequently interpreting the responses from our clients.  Given the complexities of our global community, it is suitably difficult to make underlying cultural assumptions.

In closing, while there are definitive benefits to the standardization of diagnosis techniques, we need to understand and appreciate that those standard one size fits all solutions may not always been the most appropriate way to proceed with accessing the mental state of a culturally diverse client.

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Bhui, K., & Dinos, S. (2008, Dec). Health beliefs and culture: Essential considerations for outcome measurement. Disease Management & Health Outcomes, 16(6), 411-419. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=36400847&site=ehost-live

Lopez, S. R., & Guarnaccia, P. J. (2000). Cultural psychopathology: Uncovering the social world of mental illness. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 571-598. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/ehost/pdf?vid=6&hid=113&sid=f275d2f9-b3c8-458b-9968-29981a5cf4c1@sessionmgr114

culture. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture