Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

A Social Learning Perspective on Childhood Trauma and Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

A Social Learning Perspective on Childhood Trauma and Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence

Article excerpt

Although violence and trauma within the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) community remain public health concerns, there has been limited research on factors that may contribute to intimate partner violence (IPV) in same-sex relationships (Breiding, Basile, Smith, Black, & Mahendra, 2015). Previous research evaluating the use of social learning theory in understanding trauma indicates the important relationship between individuals' early childhood learned behaviors and their acting out of these behavioral patterns in adulthood (Ernst et al., 2007; Herrenkohl, Tajima, Herrenkohl, & Moylan, 2008; Kalmuss, 1984; Margolin & Cordis, 2004; Mihalic, & Elliott, 1997); however, these studies have not included self-identified members of the LGB population. To address this gap, we examined LGB individuals' childhood trauma experiences, including (a) self-reported psychological trauma, sexual coercion, and physical injury experienced in childhood (Straus, 1977; Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996) and (b) instances of witnessing or perceiving violence between parents or legal guardians during childhood (Ernst et al., 2007; Mihalic & Elliott, 1997).

Social Learning and Trauma Theory

According to social learning theory, adult behaviors are associated with behaviors acquired in early childhood through observational learning, or imitation (Bandura, 1973). The strength of the learning is contingent on the rewards and sanctions within the social learning model (Bandura. 1973). Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, and Huesmann (1977) delineated four processes that govern the modeling of aggressive or violent behavior: (a) Observing past reinforcement of the violent act facilitates modeling, (b) observing approval or indifferent reactions to the perpetrator's violence gives the observer the impression that the violent behavior is acceptable, (c) observing violent behavior generates emotional arousal and an attraction to violence for the observer, and (d) observing particular methods of aggression influences the observer to use similar methods when carrying out an aggressive action. In line with social learning theory, children who witness their parents using violence to solve family disagreements are at greater risk for imitating this behavior in their own social interactions, both as children and later as adults (Herrenkohl et al., 2008; Lefkowitz et al., 1977; Margolin & Gordis, 2004). This social learning perspective, often called the cycle of violence hypothesis, assumes that children learn violence and then the violence becomes transmitted across generations (Widom, 1989).

As one of the first IPV researchers, Walker (1979) noted that survivors of IPV typically experienced minor abuse as children, whereas perpetrators often reported histories of severe child abuse. In addition, Walker found that IPV perpetrators often experienced early childhood trauma in which they witnessed one parent beating another parent, which modeled and reinforced the use violence in adult relationships. Through observational learning, IPV perpetrators internalized these violent behaviors as normal and developed similar behavioral patterns in their intimate, adult relationships. Thus, in line with social learning theory, the internalization of spoken and unspoken family rules contributed to the learned behavior of IPV (Kalmuss, 1984; Walker, 1979).

It appears, then, that through the intergenerational transmission of family violence, individuals who witnessed parental IPV as children are more inclined to use relational aggression in adulthood (Bandura, 1973). Several research investigations have found that children who witness violent acts behave more aggressively throughout their life spans (e.g., Herrenkohl et al, 2008; Margolin & Gordis, 2004). From a social learning perspective, when children become exposed to abuse and witness IPV they (a) attend to, become aroused by, and learn violent behavior; (b) learn the family system's rules for using violent behavior; (c) learn the rules that govern the use of violence; and (d) incorporate this new knowledge into their behavioral repertoire. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.