Family Violence, Trauma and Social Learning Theory

By Abbassi, Amir; Aslinia, S. Dean | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Family Violence, Trauma and Social Learning Theory


Abbassi, Amir, Aslinia, S. Dean, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Family violence is a historical social problem that continues to exist among modern societies. The authors of this paper identify how children learn violent behaviors and continue to teach these behaviors to their own offspring. This paper also discusses practical techniques on how to battle this serious problem among couples and contemporary families.

Family violence is a relatively new term but not necessarily a new phenomenon in human societies. Various scientific disciplines previously traced family violence back to primitive civilization (Bakan 1971; Gelles, 1985; Korbin, 1981; Radbill, 1980; Shorter, 1975; Taylor & Newberger, 1979). Violence against intimate partners and family members has existed in a more systematic way in our culture since the modern state or statehood when civilization was formed. However, in more recent times, society has recognized violence as a social problem (Gelles, 1985).

According to Barnett, Miller-Perrin and Perrin (2005), violence is defined as "an act carried out with the intention, or perceived intention of physically hurting another person" (p.15). This definition, however, does not entirely satisfy those who have studied violence. Potter (1999) noted that the issue of a comprehensive definition of violence is still unresolved. This is due to varied viewpoints that differ in whether or not the operational definition should include verbal, emotional, and physical violence. Most definitions of violence do not include the verbal and emotional abuse as an act of purposeful negligence. This negligence can also be carried out against children or elderly and can be considered as a passive violence against these individuals. Potter (1999) suggested that a more comprehensive definition of violence, which would include verbal and emotional violence, is important because it gives researchers a clearer picture of violence and how individuals can become more effective in accurately assessing the risks posed by it. On the other hand, most definitions of violence are considered overly broad, since some forms of physical aggression (i.e., corporal punishment) are not generally considered acts of violence in some societies (Ripoll-Nunez & Rohner, 2006). Hence, family violence should be more narrowly defined in order to include families with existing violence and prevent the exclusion of purposeful negligent behaviors.

Levesque (2001) defined violence among family members as an "act of omission or commission resulting in physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or other form of maltreatment that hamper individuals' healthy development" ( p. 17). This definition would have been a good working definition if it included the word "purposeful." An act of violence is not a random behavior among human beings (Gelles, 1980). Alfred Adler's theory of Individual Psychology explains that all behaviors have meanings and are purposeful (Adler, 1956) Moreover, common denominators to all violent acts, active as well as passive, can be considered anger or revenge. As a result, a more suitable definition for family violence among human beings may be the following: a purposeful act of omission or commission that is anger-driven or revenge-driven. This act results in physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, negligence or other forms of maltreatment that interfere with the psychological, emotional, or physical development of healthy individuals.

Consistent with problems related to defining family violence, the term trauma should be defined. Trauma is an emotional wound that has long-lasting effects (Gelles, 1980). The term, trauma, was originally defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) as an event occurring outside the continuum of usual human experience (APA, 1987). This definition was subsequently expanded in the DSM IV-TR .

The DSM IV-TR no longer requires a person to be a direct subject of an act of violence to be considered traumatized Experiencing, witnessing, being confronted, or informed with an act of violence against others can result in the development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in an individual (APA, 2000). …

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