Early violence and resulting trauma profoundly affect development at every level, from the maturation and differentiation of the brain to the establishment of affect regulation, the acquisition of cognitive skills, the ability to form intimate and sexual relationships, and the capacity to provide effective parenting. This paper explores the effects of physical abuse, sexual abuse, war trauma, and cultures of violence during development on difficulties in establishing enduring intimate and sexual relationships in couples and families. Case vignettes drawn from analytic work with families and couples illustrate the legacy of violence in the lives of families. In the case of a family, the mother had a father who had been a high ranking officer in a concentration camp, and she married a man who had fled a violent revolution in his country of origin. Their teen aged son’s problems with drug abuse and inhibited learning reflected marital difficulty in which these traumatic origins were pooled, continuing the effects of the internalization of violence in the current generation. In the case of a couple, the young African American partners suffered from a blockade of their sexual life that could be traced to their shared reaction to their separate histories of family violence including the violent deaths of two the woman’s brothers. The vignettes illustrate the point that experience of direct violence or of living in a culture of violence tends to be carried in psychically unsymbolized ways that limit full emotional development and result in many areas of symptomatology. Psychoanalytic couple or family therapy reveals these histories and provides a path to maturation and healing.
Keywords: Parenting, abuse, trauma, sexual blockade