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Fonagy, P. Target, M. (1995). Understanding The Violent Patient: The Use Of The Body And The Role Of The Father. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 76:487-501.

(1995). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76:487-501

Understanding The Violent Patient: The Use Of The Body And The Role Of The Father

Peter Fonagy and Mary Target

We offer some thoughts about the roots of habitual violence in patients who are not part of the ‘cycle of abuse’. We suggest that both self-harm and mindless assaults on others may reflect inadequate capacity to mentalise. Poor functioning of this capacity tends to lead to mental states being experienced as physical, in both the self and others, and the violence is seen as an attempt to obliterate intolerable psychic experience. This experience is felt to belong to somebody else, originally to mother or father. The problem can be traced back to a crucial stage of the development of the self when the child searches the face of his primary object for a representation of his own states of mind. Failure to find this forces him into pathological solutions to achieve an containing organisation. We explore the meaning of the gender difference in the direction of aggression, and the way in which the child has a second chance to foster a secure psychological self through his relation to the father, even when the mother has been unable to support this and to separate successfully. These issues and others of technique are explored in the treatment of a violent young man.

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