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Emotional Dysregulation and Family Violence: a Different Perspective

The psychological literature on the impact of living with domestic violence presents a singular view which asserts that these conditions produce emotional dysregulation and incompetence in children. Emotional dysregulation is proposed as the link between exposure to violence and psychosocial difficulties. By contrast authors, Callaghan et al (2017) conducted a study that explored the embodied, relational and contextual emotional experience of children living with domestic violence and in doing so ‘constructed a less pathologizing account that opens up pathways to a more subtle reading of children’s emotional lives’. Their work demonstrated that, ‘contrary to dominant psychological accounts, children are able to articulate their experiences of emotions, but that these accounts can only be understood within the child’s context, story, and symbolic register. Their work places the understanding of emotions in relation to multiple and ambivalent family relationships, culture, belief systems, values and emotional and embodied experiences. They challenge simplistic notions of “good mental health” and “good emotional development” which fail to appreciate emotional life ‘as it is lived in place, space and time’ and suggest that children’s capacity for catharsis and coping are similarly embodied and relational.

This understanding encourages work with children and families to connect to their capacity to envisage alternative stories and futures rather than being dominated by self-fulfilling prophesies of ‘emotional and relational incompetence’. In doing so children are supported to differentiate their identity and emotionality from family behaviors that are unhelpful and frightening which threaten to repeat the cycle of violence and abuse.

Callaghan, M., Fellin,L., Alexander,J., Mavrou,M. and Papathanasiou,M. Children and Domestic Violence: Emotional Competencies in Embodied and Relational Contexts Psychology of Violence 2017, Vol. 7, No. 3, 333–342

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