Tag Archives: social-emotional development

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.

References

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.

The Standard Family – S. Freud vs. E. Erikson: An analysis


The following vignettes are developed from a hypothetical scenario described by Doris Bergen in Human Development: Traditional and Contemporary Theories (p. 52-53). For benefit of the reader, I have included a “family tree” with the associated Freudian and Erikson-ian developmental stages.  (Just a heads up, you may need to click on the picture below to and open it in a separate browser window to grasp the rest of this article…)

The_Standard_Family

Janet and Henry getting divorced is about as close to worst possible scenario I can predict for their 5 kids, who range in age from 2 to 20.  Donnie may find his will significantly impacted, thereby leaving him unsure of himself and dependent on others’ evaluation of this worth.  It’s hard to say whether he will be the most effected or the least effected since, technically, he is probably too young to remember the divorce if it happens immediately.  I can also see potential for Donnie to be raised by one of his siblings, perhaps holly, since Janet will effectively be a single mother… although that all moves under the assumption that all the kids end up in custody with Janet.  Jason may have his ability to take on leadership roles impacted, and he may harbor feelings of guilt due to the divorce.  As mentioned previously, I believe it’s likely that Holly will fall into the unenviable position of taking on mother role for Donnie due to Janet being overwhelmed, but there are too many variables to predict exact outcomes.  She’s the only girl, my assumption that she will take on this role might be too biased or superficial… Furthermore, under the increased pressure, Erikson would suggest that it is likely that she will give up easily, refuse to make an effort at all, or feel less than competent at many aspects of her life.  Alan may find a lack of direction, feel unproductive, and be unsure of his own strengths as a direct result of unsuccessful resolution at the adolescent stage.  Brad is another quandary.  Part of me wants to believe he will be the least effected since he is likely already out of the house, but it really does depend on where he is at emotionally, financially, etc.  He may have relationship problems, become territorial or possessive.  He may find difficulty with the concept of love, which is unfortunate.  It will suffice to say that all the children will be significantly impacted.  It may also have a significant impact on Grandma Mildred Standard as she mulls over the legacy she has left this world.  Last but not least, there may be some residual effects on the rest of the family, but the interrelationships between and among the family members are not defined well enough to make reasonable predictions about the aftershock of the divorce between Janet and Harry.

Freud would certainly have a different take on the divorce when compared with Erikson.  Freud might suggest that little Donnie would end up being selfish, wasteful, or overly aggressive.  Jason would likely have sexual problems.  Holly may ultimately have difficulty attracting and retaining a sexual partner of her own.  Alan and Brad, according to Freud, would probably remain largely unaffected.  Although I hesitate to generalize or otherwise stereotype, I believe these effects could potentially be more pronounced in family centric cultures (i.e. The Chu Family, or the Ramierez family).  I would be interested in getting feedback on this, as I am suitably unfamiliar with the role of multiculturalism in this area.  Also, take note that this scenario is firmly rooted in the context of the time when the theory was written… we can only suppose the changes that “modern culture” has made on the potential effects of divorce on children.  Because divorce is so common today, it is reasonable to suggest that effects would be more pronounced (say, in the 1930s) as compared to today.  I believe this generalization holds true to all the scenarios, so for the sake of brevity, I will only address multiculturalism once… but for the inquisitive reader, please feel free to make the same basic assumptions about the remaining 6 scenarios…

If Brad graduates from college, I can see this having a huge impact on the entire family.  Brad sets the tone or an example for his 4 younger siblings.  Furthermore, being the oldest, he has the potential to greatly affect his parents since they are currently working through the process of helping and guiding the next generation (him).  His success or failure is inevitably his parents success or failure… funny how that works.  Brad’s success may have a significant impact on the marriage of Henry and Janet, and it will certainly have an impact on how they continue to raise the 4 younger children.  I would be led to believe that if Brad graduates from college, it might be fair to assume that Henry and Janet are doing something right.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.  Conversely, if he turns into a career criminal, I can see a very different upbringing for the younger kids.

In contrast to Erikson, Freud may see this event contribute to successful resolution of the younger children’s respective conflicts.  Donnie learns how to give and receive, Jason develops a stable gender identity, Holly is subsequently able to focus on school and learning, and Alan develops the ability to have adult intimacy.  It would appear that the weight of the world rests on Brad and his ambition to graduate from college…

If Howard comes down with Alzheimer ’s disease, there are a number of different effects that might come as a result.  The most impacted individual will be Sally, his new wife.  She is so much younger than him; I have to wonder if she would reconsider marrying a man that was 22 years older than her.  They are in two totally different categories, assuming pigeon-hole the couple based on age alone… 22 years is quite a gap.  Furthermore, I can see Sally being more concerned with guiding Sue than taking care of Howard.  There’s a storm brewing there.  Grandma Mildred may be effected to some degree because she is a member of the same cohort… it would frustrate and scare me that a peer came down with Alzheimer’s, I couldn’t resist the temptation to think “Am I next?”  Add to that the fact that Grandma Mildred is a widow, and it only compounds the health related concerns for her.  Freud didn’t really address much at this developmental stage, so we’ll leave the conjecture to Erikson.

The one I couldn’t resist is the scenario where Sue starts dating John.  Wow, what a mess.  I am not sure how far you have to be removed to consider yourself “far enough” to be dating a family member, but a marriage there could really twist up the relationships.  I can imagine that it would affect Bill and Ann the most, since they are the people responsible for guiding John in his intimacy vs. isolation struggle.  It would probably have a significant impact on the relationship of Howard and Sally… I can definitely see it making family reunions quite the rumor fest.

If Donnie was diagnosed with autism, I can see major changes in store for all the siblings, as well as for Henry and Janet.  I can see Jason suffering from a significant rivalry with his younger brother, fighting for attention.  Holly may come to find that she has little support (lack of attention and focus) on the part of her parents and her self-esteem will likely suffer as a result.  It’s difficult to know how Alan will be affected because he may be in the process of reexamining a lot of things in his life right now.  Lack of guidance may cause Brad to have difficulty forming intimate relationships or friendships.  Freud would definitely have something to contribute in this scenario.  In short, Donnie is probably in big trouble, hypothetically speaking… depending on his current level of development, he may be stuck at the oral phase and end up being a chain smoker, alcoholic, or a glutton.  If he managed to progress to Freud’s anal stage, Freud might suggest that he may have significant difficulty controlling aggressive impulses.  It stands to reason that the other children may also suffer the negative effects highlighted with in the section covering the divorce of Henry and Janet, although the influence would be from the other direction.  It leaves me curious, how would Freud’s explanation change if it were a sibling that caused the trauma, as compared to a parent?

Finally, if Grandma Mildred has an operation, she is the common denominator between and among all the members of the family.  Her death might cause a two-way or a three-way split in what is currently perceived as a single family system.  Her children, while still in their middle adulthood, may see themselves transitioning to “old age thinking” faster than they wish due to complications with their mom.  It appears unlikely that is Mildred passes away that Howard and his wife and step-daughter will be at the next reunion.  However, if the situation is simply surgery, sometimes family systems have a way of bonding in crisis… so I have confidence that this family system can make it through that trial.

Reference

Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Comparing and Contrasting S. Freud with E. Erikson


The course of personality and social-emotional development was permanently altered by writings of both Sigmund Freud and Eric Erikson.  “Although their theories have implications for other developmental areas, their primary focus was on explaining social and emotional developmental states and the personality dimensions that may be formed by experiences encountered in each stage.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 36)  This essay will attempt to highlight some of the strengths, and some of the criticisms of both Freud and Erikson.

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Rarely is the writing of a single individual so influential on a field that he becomes a household name… such is the case with Sigmund Freud.  We need only refer to a Freudian slip (a verbal mistake that expresses the unconscious mind’s feelings) to get clarity on how deep and wide his influence is.  (Bergen, 2008, p. 43)  “Freud was one of the first theorists who thought that the causes of human behavior could be discovered by scientific methods, and he used the methods that were available in his time to investigate the underlying developmental causes of adult mental health issues.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 37)  Adult is a key component of that statement, since Freud is best known for his phases of psychosexual development that begin with the “oral” phase (ages 0-1) and culminate with the “genital” phase (age 12+).  There is some irony that Freud worked almost exclusively with adults, yet the bulk of his theory was concerned with childhood.

Another basic construct that is inseparable from Freud is the concept of defense mechanisms.  Rationalization, repression, displacement, regression, projection, identification, reaction formation, and sublimation are all concepts that were born of and nurtured by Freud and his disciples.  He is credited with differentiating between the conscious, the unconscious, and the preconscious (the area between the two).  Freud not only put “the unconscious” on the map but he operationalized it in a new way—as a dynamic unconscious, laying down the foundation of a science of the unconscious.  (Lothane, 2006)  He is generally recognized as birthing of the concepts of id, ego, and superego.  All of these theories were the metaphorical shoulders on which the giants of psychological thought stand today… Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Anna Freud, Karen Horney, and Melanie Klein are all indebted to the work of S. Freud.  And that influence only takes the metaphorical couch into consideration… Freud’s real legacy lies beyond the couch in the application of psychoanalysis to community problems and social issues.  (Twemlow & Parens, 2006)

As can be expected with any theory or theorist, Freud is not without his critics.  Among the criticism is that his theory does not meet the test of falsifiability, primarily because they are not supported or discounted with empirical evidence.  (Bergen, 2008, p. 42)  Critics levy charges of “circular reasoning,” “predicting backwards,” “denigrating female development” with an overemphasis on male development in the Oedipal phase, and finally as a “dated construct” due to the fact that it was firmly situated in the Victorian society it attempted to describe.  The confusion around Freud and his theoretical constructs is that we appear to be misapplying Freudian concepts at present.  “Psychoanalysts have to decide whether to stay with the original meanings or to choose different and proper terminology to suit their new concepts instead of misapplying the original ones.”  (Fayek, 2002, p. 476)

Eric Erikson, while less known in contemporary layman circles, is no less influential.  “Erikson’s theory draws on many of Freud’s concepts; however, his emphasis is on explaining how healthy personalities develop rather than focusing on unhealthy developmental processes.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 43)

Like Freud, Eriksons work is increasing seen as dated due to ongoing changes in society at large.  For example, “it is certainly the case that adolescents do ‘try on’ many identities, but because of changing social conditions, they may not do that for a longer period of time without it having unhealthy consequences.”  (Bergen, 2008, p. 50)  Erikson’s discussion of the final two periods of life may also need revision dude to the fact that individuals live longer now than they did previously.  (Bergen, 2008, p. 51)

My biggest issue with Erikson is of a more personal nature.  It is generally well known that Erik Erikson had a 4th child who suffered from Down’s syndrome.  This son, who died at the age of 21, was effectively abandoned by him and his wife.  A psychoanalyst who was famous for effectively treating problem children failed to give even the minimum parental care to his own mentally challenged son.  One might question the integrity of an individual who would do such a thing, but the reality is that this experience shaped some of the critical aspects of Erikson’s theory of human development.  (Paranjpe, 2000)

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References

Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Fayek, A. (2002). Psychic reality and mental representation: Contemporary misapplications of Freud’s concepts. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 19(3), 475-500. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.19.3.475

Lothane, Z. (2006). Freud’s legacy–is it still with us?. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 285-301. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.23.2.285

Paranjpe, A. C. (2000, Nov). Review of Identity’s architect: A biography of Erik H. Erikson. Canadian Psychology, 41(4), 288-289. doi: 10.1037/h0088184

Twemlow, S. W., & Parens, H. (2006). Might Freud’s legacy lie beyond the couch?. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 430-451. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.23.2.430