Contemporary research has established pathways by which violent patterns of relating can be handed on from one generation to the next. Attachment security is one of these pathways, and the adult couple relationship has been shown to have the capacity to buffer, or to accelerate, such intergenerational effects. On these grounds there is a strong case for working with couples to prevent the intergenerational transmission of violence. Through detailed consideration of therapeutic work with a violent couple this presentation examines the pathogenic potential of insecure patterns of attachment, both organised and disorganised, to trigger violent behaviour in the couple. It considers dynamic factors that affect why the perpetration of violence so often cannot be named as such, and the intense feelings of shame and humiliation that can accompany its recognition. Accessing and acknowledging such feelings, and developing a capacity to think about them, lies at the heart of the psychotherapeutic endeavour from attachment and other psychoanalytic perspectives. The endeavour may be constrained by pressures on therapists that come from within the intersubjective field of the consulting room and from external sources either to avoid engaging with violence or to reenact shaming encounters, particularly in a social climate where zero tolerance of domestic abuse is aspired to through the public naming (and therefore shaming) of perpetrators.
Keywords: Attachment based psychotherapy, intersubjective field, abuse, shame.