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The so-called mindlessness of violence: violence as a pathological variant of aggression


Richard Mizen
a a

The Society of Analytical Psychology, London, UK

Available online: 16 Oct 2009

To cite this article: Richard Mizen (2009): The so-called mindlessness of violence: violence as a pathological variant of aggression, Global Crime, 10:4, 416-431 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17440570903248494

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Global Crime Vol. 10, No. 4, November 2009, 416431

Global Crime 1744-0580 1744-0572 FGLC Crime, Vol. 10, No. 4, Aug 2009: pp. 00

The so-called mindlessness of violence: violence as a pathological variant of aggression


Richard Mizen*
The Society of Analytical Psychology, London, UK This article proposes that violence may be most usefully thought about as a psychological rather than a behavioural phenomenon. Violence, it is contended, is a pathological variant of aggression, where aggression is used to describe a particular part of the range of affective endowments possessed by human beings. We might think about aggression as a set of which violence is a subset. As an affective endowment, aggression requires integration during development and this is supplied initially by an infants primary carers and later by other important objects and institutions in the environment and culture in which the growing child lives. In the absence of the required conditions for enabling psychological integration to take place, rather than integration, disintegration holds sway with the aggressive affects denied or dissociated from. In this instance the affects do not become part of the affective repertoire upon which the individual can draw in order to orientate him or herself to their environment and in particular objects in the environment. Instead the affect is experienced as exterior and other and in some circumstances as violating. In this circumstances violence is resorted to as a way of escaping from the experience of overwhelming affects, for example by evoking in another affective experiences that cannot be tolerated within the self. Clinical case material is used to illustrate this. Keywords: aggression; violence; affect; feeling emotion; psychoanalysis

R. Mizen Global Crime

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Introduction At the risk of stating the obvious I want to begin by saying that violence is a complex matter: no understanding, which aspires to comprehensiveness, can omit cultural or social factors nor ignore questions of context. Nonetheless it is the psychological dimension that I will focus upon in my treatment of the subject and in particular the sorts of understandings that may be afforded by contemporary psychoanalysis, its derivatives and associated disciplines. Whatever their limitations, and I will touch upon some of these, psychological and psychoanalytic perspectives have particular value, because of the ways in which they privilege and attempt to systematically explore subjective experience. Not least they provide a counterpoint to the tendency to define and conceptualise violence primarily in terms of behaviour, giving psychological considerations only a secondary significance. In contrast to this emphasis upon behaviour, and perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, I want to propose that violence is essentially a psychological phenomenon that may have behavioural corollaries and not a behavioural phenomenon with psychological aspects. As an example of this I want to consider the widespread view that violence is in some way mindless; although there may be ways in which this is true I want to show that this
*Email: richardmizen@tiscali.co.uk
ISSN 1744-0572 print/ISSN 1744-0580 online 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17440570903248494 http://www.informaworld.com

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is only in a very specific and misleading sense. In particular I want to propose that violence represents not an absence of mind but rather the ablation of mind where an individual1 struggles, in the face of affective experiences that he or she is unable to manage, to divest him or herself of important qualities of mind by way of psychological defence. An important part of this thesis concerns the nature of affect and emotional feeling. A major criticism of many models of violence is the extent to which they are predicated upon ideas about mental functioning that assume highly sophisticated qualities of mentation when in reality these may be absent, either in a global sense or as lacunae. Moreover such models often lack a developmental perspective and the tendency may be to extrapolate from adult psychological states or concepts of highly cognised abstract mental functioning, as the basis for understanding states of mind that in reality lack these capacities but instead are dominated by overwhelming and unmediated affect. Psychoanalytically informed research into the development of the phenomenon of mind, during infancy and childhood, has described the ways in which a sense of self emerges2 along with the capacity to conceive of oneself and others as having a mind3 and associated with this the sense of self-agency;4 but there are circumstances in which these may be relatively absent or subject to distortion. This has important implications when we try to understand violent states of mind and actions because without this understanding, matters such as motivation and intentionality may too easily be erroneously construed or constructed in terms of consciousness and cognition and too little in terms of unconsciousness and affect. Conceiving violence A problem that arises when we come to explore this area concerns the language that is available to us; the extent to which the words that we use may lack precision or may be over-laden with connotations drawn from colloquial usage. The word violence, for example, has come to be employed in such a loose way that its usefulness as a precise description or clear concept has been debased. It is, for example, often used for phenomena in diverse realms: psychical, physical, imaginary or real. Confusions particularly arise when associated words become conflated, for example, aggressive, brutal, destructive and so on and these are frequently used as synonyms. While it may be true that there

1. In this article I have for the most part confined myself to aggression in human beings; this is not of course to propose that aggression is not to be found in other sentient beings. Part of my thesis, however, involves the extent to which violence, as opposed to aggression, is a psychological phenomenon involving the ablation of certain sorts of self-aware emotional experiences. Commonly violence is talked about only as a human characteristic, and as counterpoint to the idea of the mindlessness of violence, this perhaps reflects the intuitive understanding that violence involves both the presence of mind and its ablation. By contrast although animals are recognised as possessing aggressive qualities, it would be very rare to find violence attributed to non-human animals except on the basis of facile anthropomorphosism. 2. D.N. Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant (New York: Basic Books, 1985). 3. P. Fonagy, M. Steele, H. Steele, G. Moran and A. Higgins, The Capacity for Understanding Mental States: The Reflective Self in Parent and Child and its Significance for Security of Attachment, Infant Mental Health Journal 12 (1991): 20118; P. Hobson, The Cradle of Thought (London: MacMillan, 2002); J. Holmes, Notes on mentalizing old hat, or new wine?, British Journal of Psychotherapy 22, no. 2 (2005): 17998. 4. J. Knox, Sex, Shame and the Transcendent Function: the Function of Fantasy in Self Development, Journal of Analytical Psychology 50, no. 5 (2005): 61740; J. Knox, The Fear of Love: the Denial of the Self in Relationship, Journal of Analytical Psychology 52, no. 5 (2007): 543.

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are areas of overlap I want to contend that there are also important differences which can easily be overlooked. The psychoanalytic vocabulary is not exempt from this tendency and can be confusing because of the ways in which meanings have shifted over time. In the case of sadism Freuds early use of the words to denote the fusion of the sexual and aggression, had, by the time of Kleins later writings, comes to mean something closer to a concept of normal, innate aggression and both Freud and Klein at times use aggression, destructiveness and sadism as though they are interchangeable. Nevertheless psychoanalytic ideas about violence and aggression are important because of the ways in which they consider intrinsic mental qualities and implicit meaning as an alternative to those ways of thinking that assume that violence may be adequately defined and described merely in terms of types of behaviour or as only a quantitative excess or inappropriate manifestation of aggression. This said many theories and models of violence and aggression that purport to be psychological in reality have very little within them that is. Psychological theories, by which I mean theories assuming at least a significant place for mentation and mental experience, inevitably draw upon behavioural phenomena as a source of data. The risk, however, is that descriptions of behaviour come to be conflated with psychological processes, treating them as though they are equivalents or interchangeable when the relationship between a given behaviour and a particular mental state is in fact obscure. We might take an obvious example here; we may agree that sexual offences are essentially violent and that physical force, threats or coercion are often employed in the course of a sexual assault. But it can also be the case that little or no force is actually used; in strictly behavioural terms it is possible that a violent act may be indistinguishable from a consensual equivalent. It is the emotional-feeling tone that endows the act with its quality of violence. To give another example, in English law the threat to strike somebody constitutes an offence of assault as much as an actual blow. Again it is the emotional tone of the interaction that endows it with the quality of violence. Without an unambiguous understanding of a particular acts emotional meaning the significance of the behaviour remains obscure. It is also capable of misinterpretation or distortion in order to avoid its psychological, social or legal consequences. So consent is central in determining whether or not a given act of body penetration is rape, or in a medico-legal arena, what in one context might be treatment in another is assault; while the psychological vertex is more difficult to accurately determine I want to suggest that it provides the most reliable and useful definition of violence. The risk otherwise might be to confuse violence with non-violent acts of aggression, which while behaviourally similar or even identical may have very different meanings. Aggression as affect If questions of meaning and motivation are essential to both defining and understanding violence, and these remain obscure when we depend upon objective behavioural definitions, how are these matters to be elucidated if we want to develop models, which take these into account? One possibility is to consider more carefully subjective experience. Until recently, theorising about such matters has been dominated by approaches that have emphasised cognitive processing, for example the role of thought processes. This sort of understanding tends to see violence as being instrumental or incidental and therefore secondary: violent acts used as a means to an end, the gaining of money or

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sexual gratification, say. So the motivations of manifestly violent people might be conceptualised, for example, in terms of the individuals conscious capacity to think about his or her intentions and the consequences of his or her actions, as a superintendent capacity mediating affective impulses; greed versus concern, egocentricity versus social responsibility and so on. These theories have of course included affects in the picture but in a very undifferentiated manner; the ways in which acts of violence might be perceived to involve crude, hot and overwhelming emotions, the archetypal crime passionel, for example. Or alternatively this might be contrasted with those situations where violence might appear to be more cold, calculated and apparently instrumental even if it is deployed in the service of what is inferred to be affect, unmediated by socialisation; greedy pursuit of material or sexual gratification, perhaps. Lacking has been a framework in which to consider the intrinsic qualities and operations of affects and to explore these alongside cognition as separate, if related, autonomous modes of apprehending and evaluating the world. Perhaps since the Enlightenment the subjective qualities of affective experience and the extent to which this makes them difficult to investigate objectively have contributed to the idea that they are merely epiphenomenal, a sort of embarrassing irrational hangover from a evolutionarily primitive past and as such to be set aside, especially compared to the rational, cognitive processes, upon which affective systems were thought to depend as a mediator. More recently, however, the development of functional imaging technologies has made it possible to begin to observe neurological functioning in real time and this has shifted the balance somewhat so that affects have come to be placed more centre stage.5 Indeed what has come to be recognised is the extent to which, rather than cognition exercising an executive function over affect, affects are the principle directors of thought and that . . . all sustained cognition is affectively directed and motivated, often invisibly in a way that promotes the illusion of cognitive autonomy from emotion.6 One of the grounds upon which psychoanalytic ideas have been criticised if not disparaged is that they concern themselves with subjective, especially unconscious affective, mental states as opposed to more easily objectively observed behaviour or cognitive processes. W.R. Bion, pre-empting Panksepp, stated Reason is emotions slave and exists to rationalize emotional experience,7 and from this perspective psychoanalytic ideas have been countercultural in the extent to which they have privileged affect and contended that it is dominant. Some confusion may exist, however, as to what is meant by affect. Affective neurological systems provide innate emotional capacities that embed implicit values, in a way that orientates organisms to their objects and environment in typical ways. These affective systems are realised when an animal is exposed to what Damasio has called emotionally competent stimuli.8 The affective system may involve the activation of body systems (with or without concomitant behaviours) and depending upon the organism the body responses may or may not be accompanied by subjective, hedonically toned, emotional feelings, for example fear, as opposed to an automatic behavioural response such as withdrawal.

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5. J. Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). 6. J. Panksepp and D. Watt, book review, Looking for Spinoza by A. Damasio, NeuroPsychoanalysis 5, no. 2 (2003): 203. 7. W.R. Bion, Attention and Interpretation (1970; repr., London: Karnac, 1984), 1. 8. A. Damasio, Looking for Spinoza (London: Vantage, 2003).

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Panksepp has proposed a taxonomy of affects which describes seven brain systems generating prime, that is, basic affects; these involve
(i) seeking resources, (ii) becoming angry if access to resources are thwarted, (iii) becoming scared if ones bodily well being is threatened, (iv) various sexual desires that are somewhat different in males and females, (v) urges to exhibit loving and attentive care to ones offspring, (vi) feelings of panic and distress when one has lost contact with ones loved ones, and (vii) the boisterous joyousness of rough and tumble playfulness.9

These affective systems are capable of combination in a potentially infinite number of ways within the parameters that they provide. They mediate patterns of attachment and avoidance, approach and withdrawal; the ways in which they embody values enable organisms to orientate themselves to objects in their environment and their potential for facilitating or threatening the survival of the organism. Not only do affects combine and interact with other affective systems but also with cognitive processes; retained in various brain sites as different forms of (unconscious) memory, over time these combinations are structured as unconscious images (although this word should not be thought to necessarily imply sophisticated, conscious viso-spatial ideas) of the ways in which the organism is affected by objects;10 in this way they lead to the development of characteristic sorts of relations with objects that may constantly be revised. These increasingly complex mental structures have the quality of affects in the sense that they embody particular values and function as emotional feelings. To take an example, in the young of mammals including human beings, awareness of protracted separation from a primary object upon which it is dependent for survival gives rise to what has been called primitive distress vocalisation; this is a bit of behaviour (crying out in distress) which may be underpinned by a particular kind of painful emotional experience. During development, in the context of relations with primary carers and of course beyond this within the cultural milieu, this basic affect is subject to modification as a consequence of combination with other affective elements and with cognitive processes. In human infants particular combinations may be seen to lead to the development of the social affects shame and guilt and in pathology, for example, depressive feeling. In this sense, much of what is commonly thought of as being affects may more accurately be understood as affect/cognition amalgams and a common mistake is to assume that the kinds of relatively sophisticated affects (that is cognised affects) that are encountered in older children and adults are prime. Concepts such as good and bad, and emotions such as love, hate or envy, commonly considered to be prime, are in reality highly cognised/ socialised, affect/cognition amalgams which have been structured by experience and in particular experience mediated by primary carers.11 A good deal of theorising makes the error of failing to understand the nature of primitive affect because it extrapolates from the later versions of affective experience to impute qualities to earlier versions, which in reality they do not possess and this has important consequences both when considering affective states in infancy, and perhaps more importantly for our purposes, the persistence of primitive affective states in adulthood, not least in pathology. As I have described there may be no subjective feeling aspect to the affect and it is then likely to involve a closed sub-cortical system which is unavailable for modification in
9. J. Panksepp, Affect, in The Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science, eds. W.E. Craighead and C.B. Nemeroff, 3rd ed. (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2004), 22. 10. A. Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens (London: Vantage, 1999). 11. D.N. Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant, by J. Panksepp and D. Watt, book review, Looking for Spinoza.

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the light of experience; the pattern of body function remains fixed and more or less automatic. Where there is a felt aspect it is likely to be cortical and open and more or less available to change and the possibility of modification and learning from experience. Those affective systems that include a subjective experiential element are more likely to require interpretation and mediation by a carer, at least initially, in order to process the experience so that the affective element can be given context and acquire meaning. Interpretation of the affective response of an infant, by a primary carer, allows for its transformation into a mental as opposed to a predominantly body-sensational experience.12 The role of carers is to both mediate and give meaning to the infants affective experience as well as to protect the infant from exposure to experiences of overwhelming affect, say excessive hunger or fear of loss of the primary object. The ways in which human beings develop the capacity for mentation and are moulded by their infant and childhood experiences turns upon how emotional feelings are cathected to complex patterns of relations with objects. Such emotionally toned patterns, retained as images in unconscious memory, acquire the qualities which analysts frequently describe as object-relations, complexes, unconscious phantasies and so on, and it is the elucidation, exploration and explication of these which has always been an important if not the important focus for psychoanalytic investigation. An understanding of these processes produces a model of ordinary development in which innate sensory, cognitive and affective capacities are unpacked in the context of relationships with objects;13 thus biopsychological potentials demonstrating consistent qualities come to be realised in each individual in idiosyncratic ways, dependent upon their particular circumstances personal, familial, cultural and social etc. these influences may be profound within the parameters provided by the neurological affective systems. The psychological processes by which an infants affective experiences are given meaning are dependent upon the provision of attunement, mediation and management of affect by a carer. This has been extensively explored within the psychoanalytic literature both in relation to infants and carers and to analysts and patients.14 But although widely described as clinical phenomena, for example, by Winnicott in his concept of Primary Maternal Preoccupation,15 the actual mechanisms involved have been obscure; to emphasise this Bion limited himself to the empty concept of alpha function to describe the obscure and uncertain emotional/cognitive functions, described by him as reverie, that mothers bring to bear on their infants experience.16 Recent developments in understanding, however, have allowed some clarification of these processes. Schore, for example, describes how the neurological systems of mothers and babies operate in ways that are in certain respects synchronous so that aspects of subjective (mostly unconsciously perceived body, sensory and affective) experience may be accurately conveyed. This includes the capacity to evoke, by means of what analysts refer to as projective identification, unconscious, affective, biopsychological states as a primitive means of communication and upon this depends an infant carers capacity to attune to, manage, mediate and

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12. R. Mizen, The Embodied Mind, Journal of Analytical Psychology 54, no. 2 (2009): 25372. 13. M. Fordham, The Model, The Fenceless Field, ed. R. Hobdel (London: Routledge, 1995). 14. D.N. Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant; P. Hobson, The Cradle of Thought. 15. D.W. Winnicott, Primary Maternal Preoccupation, Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis (London: Hogarth Press, 1956). 16. W.R. Bion, Attacks on Linking, Second Thoughts (1967; repr., London: Karnac, 1984).

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regulate their body states, including affects.17 Although this is of crucial importance in infancy, these processes are by no means confined to this period but continue to manifest throughout life, albeit overlaid by the development of later, more sophisticated forms of communication. These largely unconscious pre/non-verbal forms of interaction are an important part of analytic relationship. Violence Implicit in analytic models is the assumption that pathological mental states are a consequence of failures by primary carers to successfully mediate the affective experience of their infants and children during the long period of psychological and physical immaturity. This might have the quality of passive neglect, the failure to manage or attune to the infant or child in a way that protects him or her from affective experiences of an intensity that is likely to be felt to be unbearable and with which he or she has not the emotional maturity to cope, or alternatively as originating as a result of active exposure to affects which the infant/child is not mature enough to cope with (e.g. sexual experiences prior to sexual maturity). In both cases this may evoke what Carvalho calls the fear of annihilation by uncontained affect.18 In the absence of mediation and attunement instead of the affects being available for integration by acquiring context and meaning, they instead become denied, split-off or dissociated by means of the various psychological defensive mechanisms that Freud collected together under the rubric of repression.19 Under the operations of projective identification, for example, affective experiences which are felt to be potentially overwhelming to the infant may come to be experienced as qualities of the object and in the extent to which they are a threat, invasive, violating or persecutory. This understanding affords a model that assumes an ordinary endowment of innate affective potentials with various functions (which as described above become augmented and modified during ordinary development) including those which are normally aggregated under the rubric of aggression. Aggression, or as it transpires more accurately speaking the aggressions, has the function of mediating distance and difference in relation to objects; this allows for the formation of judgements as to what may be internalised and what may be rejected, what is to be protected or defended or what is to be attacked and driven away and so on. In infant development the interplay of these affective elements, mediated by carers, can be seen as important both interpersonally, in the establishment of object attachment, and intra-psychically in defining internal objects and the differentiation of I and not-I objects. A vignette might help to illustrate this.
An infant being fed in her highchair by her mother is old enough to have gained some mastery over the control over her limbs. Mother is attempting to spoon feed her but the little girl seems reluctant to accept this seemingly wanting instead to feed her self. She refuses to accept the food-laden spoon into her mouth pushing away mothers hand but reaching for the spoon. Mother is in a hurry and wants to finish the feeding so that she can go out. Finally the little girl sweeps the dish containing the food off the highchairs tray and onto the floor.

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17. A. Schore, Clinical Implications of a Psychoneurobiological Model of Projective Identification, in Primitive Mental States, ed. S. Alhanati, Vol. II (London/New York: Karnac, 2002). 18. R. Carvalho, Psychic Retreats Revisited: Binding Primitive Destructiveness, or Securing the Object? A Matter of Emphasis?, British Journal of Psychotherapy 19, no. 2 (2002): 15371. 19. A. Freud, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (London: Hogarth Press, 1936).

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It may be apparent that this early situation is already a very complicated one emotionally with the potential for a myriad of developments in a variety of ways even if the actual significance of what is observed remains obscure in the absence of further elucidation. So it contains the possibility of all sorts of motivations and responses by both mother and infant, predicated not least on the personality development of both participants, which even in the little girl is already very complex. Prominent among the affective elements are aggressive ones and the mother may experience the girls aggression as an expression of a move towards self-assertion and self-agency or alternatively as an attack upon her. The mothers response to her daughter may be contingent upon her own experience of aggression in childhood and what it has come to mean to her; it will moreover depend upon her ability to accurately understand the emotional meaning of her daughters behaviour or for this understanding to be distorted by the projection of her own disavowed affects onto her daughter. The assumption is often made that all aggressive phenomena are manifestations of a single underlying substratum when in reality a rather more complicated picture pertains.20 On the one hand what we call aggression in reality consists of a number of disparate neurological systems giving rise to similar phenomena; on the other are the ways in which single systems manifest in diverse ways. So an instance of attack behaviour by one animal on another might be the result of a number of different possibilities: a fight to preserve a territory, a fight to avoid predation, an attack in order to kill and eat a prey animal. Behaviourally each of these instances may seem quite similar but in reality be underpinned by quite different affective systems and indeed may generate quite different qualities of subjective experience, including hedonic tone. So a particular behaviour might be underlain by a subjective feeling tone of hot affective attack. Alternatively a predatory animal attacking its prey may be possessed of an affective experience consistent with what has been called quiet biting attack. This can change, however, in a situation in which a prey animal injures or causes pain to the predator in the course of the predatory attack; then the affective tone might alter from quiet biting attack into hot affective attack.21 Single affective systems, on the other hand, may be responsible for situations with important differences; the inter-male aggression system, which is governed by testosterone, gives rise both to fighting for territory and mating opportunities among males; in females, however, it is responsible for invoking aggressive behaviours in defence of their off-spring.22 Human beings, while endowed with a repertoire of affective capacities, are dependent upon their cultural milieu (especially in infancy in relations with primary carers) for the ways in which these affective potentials may be realised and expressed in the increasingly complex social context of their lives. This is true for the micro-culture of the original relationship with the primary carers, initially mother (probably commencing in utero)23 and thereafter in the expanding family and societal relations in which the individual lives. If aggressions are part of the innate potential with specific functions then their realisation as an affective capacity is dependent upon the ways in which the carers are able to mediate these aggressive potentials.

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20. 21. 22. 23.

J. Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience. Ibid. Ibid. A. Piontelli, From Fetus to Child (London: Routledge, 1992).

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If we have understood something about the ways in which aggression as an innate affective potential may be integrated and realised during infancy, childhood and beyond, how does this facilitate an understanding of the phenomenon of violence? In the light of an understanding of the role of aggression it may be possible to begin to say something about the nature of violence and identify some of its essential qualities through its relationship to aggression. Freuds now somewhat debased concept of acting-out24 has passed into everyday speech, but in using this idea he had something particular in mind; in his original formulation he meant the way in which, under the force of the internal super-ego censor, unacceptable thoughts, ideas and feelings are repressed; rather than being given direct expression they are instead manifest obliquely, as dream images, symptoms, body sensations or alternatively are enacted. This idea was developed by Bion,25 who, drawing upon Keats concept of negative capability, proposed a mode of psychological defence by which action becomes a substitute for a (painfully affectively toned) thought. By this means an action may be
. . . something which . . . is thought, even though it is thought apparently instantaneously transformed into action, or to reverse Keatss formulation of negative capability action which is used as a substitute for thought and not thought which is a prelude to action.26

From this vertex violence may be understood as a type of action that fulfils the function of eliminating affective experiences which are felt to be unacceptable or too painful to bear; I will turn in a moment to the nature of the mental contents being eliminated. This understanding means that it is possible that phenomena not usually thought of as action, such as speech, and some kinds of mental activity like obsessional rumination may be used for the purposes of evacuating painful affective experiences rather than giving them expression. In this sense they have the essential quality of action in the way that they have the quality of doing as opposed to giving mental representation to mental contents. It is perhaps in this sense that the idea of the mindlessness of violence arises, not because this is an expression of a body-driven automatic behavioural pattern, devoid of mentation but because of the extent to which the action is intended to divest the actor of mind as an embodied affective experience which is felt to be unbearable. This sort of mindless action is characterised by the operation of psychological splitting and projection mechanisms, particularly projective identification which has the aim of getting rid of unwanted affective experiences in both unconscious phantasy and conscious subjective experience. If it cannot necessarily be defined in terms of behaviour, violence does, however, involve the quality of action. It has the function of removing from a mind affective experiences, which are felt to be unbearable, by means of splitting and projection, and with this in mind it becomes possible to understand something about the parts of the mind which are being evacuated. Donald Meltzer proposed a concept of violence as violation that includes the subjective experience of violation as a central component part. 27 It includes an implication of intrusions which may be either emotional or physical but does not

24. S. Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, Standard ed., Vol. XIX (London: The Hogarth Press, 1940). 25. W.R. Bion, Two Papers: The Grid and the Caesura (London: Karnac, 1989). 26. Ibid., p. 7. 27. D. Meltzer, The Apprehension of Beauty (Strath Tay: Clunie Press, 1986).

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distinguish between these; they are instead experienced as though they are concrete intrusions by alien, non-ego, non-self elements regardless of their origins. From a slightly different angle Fonagys concept of mentalization illuminates this by describing, for example, the ways in which patients suffering from a personality disorder may lack the capacity to mentalize28, that is mentally represent their affective experiences;29 these are experienced instead as either pleasurable or unpleasurable body states but not as emotional feelings. As a result such patients may be unable to think about or evaluate their affective experience but become instead driven by their body states; on the one hand this involves the unreflected-upon pursuit of pleasurable body states whatever the long-term consequence of this might be, and on the other the avoidance of unpleasurable body states whatever the consequences of that might be, perhaps giving rise to another rather misleading idea, impulsiveness. In the absence of a more sophisticated capacity for representing affective experience and for this to become the basis of relating to other people, projective identification becomes the means by which the infant is able to evoke in his or her carers sufficient understanding of his or her affective state to enable the carer to respond in a way that mediates the experience. So an infant communicates her hunger and her anxiety about her hunger to the carer and the carer responds in a way that recognises the hunger and the anxiety that it is generating. Initially the hunger is not experienced as hunger only as an unpleasurable body experience; the carers response over time, by means of an accurate enough identification with the infant, allows him or her to derive the meaning of her experience; I am hungry, where all goes well this acquires a context in which this may be borne, for example, but mummy will feed me shortly. The converse may also be true, however. So in the absence of the carer being able to mediate, attune to and give meaning to the experience, the infant is left with only variations upon body states which lack a context within which they might be managed. In the absence of the growth of increasingly sophisticated mental structures which allow reflection upon and give meaning to (contextualise) experience, projective identification becomes a way not of communicating experience in the expectation of this being met, but instead a way of emptying into the other experiences that cannot be borne. It is then the

28. P. Fonagy, et al., The Capacity for Understanding Mental States: the Reflective Self in Parent and Child and its Significance for Security of Attachment; P. Fonagy and M. Target, Towards Understanding Violence: the Use of the Body and the Role of the Father in Psychoanalytic Understanding of Violence and Suicide, ed. R. Perelberg (London: Routledge, 1999); P. Fonagy, G. Gergerly, E. Jurist, and M. Target, Affect Regulation, Mentalization and the Development of the Self (New York: Other Press 2002). Fonagys concept of Mentalization has developed out of the Attachment Theory of John Bowlby (see J. Holmes, Notes on Mentalizing Old Hat, or New Wine?). Simply put, Fonagys idea refers to the capacity for psychological self-reflection coupled with the ability to attribute to other similar qualities of mind: wishes, feelings, aspirations, motives and so on. Fonagy identifies the origins of this in the capacity of the mother (or primary caregiver) to demonstrate to the child that she thinks of him as an intentional being whose behaviour is driven by thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires (P. Fonagy and M. Target, Towards Understanding Violence, p. 54). Caregivers affective attunement, marking, mirroring and adequate identification with the infant, along with the mediation of affective states, are all important component parts of this. In adults, mentalization refers to the ability to conceptualise, . . . beliefs, feelings, attitudes, desires, hopes, knowledge imagination . . . and so on in others (P. Fonagy et al., Affect Regulation, Mentalization and the Development of the Self ). Deficits in the capacity for mentalization arise when carers are unable to attribute qualities of mind to their infants or treat with them on the basis of their possessing such qualities. 29. P. Fonagy, et al. Affect Regulation, Mentalization and the Development of the Self.

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means by which the infant divests himself or herself of the experience by way of psychological defence typically by resorting to increasingly aggressive splitting processes or dissociation. Rather than the affect being evoked in the other as a means of communication along the lines of This is how I feel the evocation instead has the quality of I dont feel this, you feel it. We might consider how this becomes manifest in relation to aggression by considering the following example:
In therapy a young man begins to describe how he persistently bullies younger boys. An important aspect of this is what he imagines to be a rather undifferentiated fearful experience that his threats of physical attack and contemptuous dismissiveness evoke in the recipients of his attentions. Later on he recognises these as feelings of powerlessness, humiliation and fear, and later still, that he himself shares these feelings in his relationships with his own important objects, including his mother and his analyst. He comes to recognise too that at the moments when he is intimidating the smaller boys he is trying to feel significant and powerful by virtue of their feeling powerless and fearful, relative to him. In this way he can temporarily obtain respite from his persistent background feeling of dreadfulness. But this is also coupled with the fear, that his persecution of the boys is likely to eventually evoke retaliatory attacks from stronger boys or from adults, and that part of his dread is in the way that he feels trapped into a pattern of escalatory violence in order to maintain his evacuatory powers, from which he can see no escape.

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Although this defensive evacuatory use of projective identification may be protective up to a point it is also a dead end from the point of view of psychological development. Such patterns of projective identification may be relatively stable involving the systematic and fixed projection of unbearable affective elements into a suitable recipient; gangs of various kinds are likely to serve this function, with members unconsciously supporting each others psychological splitting and projection. Racism and sectarianism may serve the same function, at the level of both interpersonal and intra-psychic organisational structures. Outbursts of violent behaviour may be resorted in order to reinforce these defences when a projective process, for whatever reason, comes under threat. In such circumstances the underlying dynamics of violence may be obscured until the point at which the defensive projections begin to break down and the affect threatens to make itself felt. The usefulness and limitations of a psychological, analytic approach to violence If my differentiation of aggression and violence is accepted how is this helpful, for example, in differentiating aggression which is in the service of development from violence which has as its function the oblation of affective experiences which are felt to be unbearable, how in turn does this help to develop a concept of violence which differentiates and evaluates the destructive potential of different manifestations of violence? Is it possible, for example, to meaningfully differentiate acts which include physical force but are not violent, or between violence which is, as it were, opportunistic as opposed to being the expression of persistent underlying psychological organisations or structures which are violent in character? To turn first to the clinical situation, violence enactments of the kind which result in physical injury are fortunately rare in analysis and psychotherapy although by no means unknown. Patients who are likely to commit acts of violence are usually rejected for treatment other than in special settings such as Special Hospitals or secure psychiatric units. But if we are to develop an understanding of violence which is not confined to behavioural criteria in what ways does it then manifest itself, for example, in a psychotherapeutic

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relationship, or indeed any other sort of relationship, if violent behaviour is absent and when generally the prejudice is in favour of its absence? In the absence of violent behaviour is violence unavailable for analysis in an analytic or psychotherapeutic relationship and especially the transference relationship? More generally is violence absent from violent individuals when they are not acting in violent ways? As a way of considering these questions I want to consider some clinical material from an ordinary analysis of a patient in whom, I would contend, there are violent elements to be found even if they lack the dramatic and sensational qualities that are often seen as epitomising violence. An important aspect of analysis concerns the differentiation of aggression from violence and especially the extent to which the patient is unable to do this; in the case that I will describe, the extent to which my patient was apparently unable to tell the difference between the sort of aggression that she needed to be able to draw upon in order to separate from her mother and the sort of aggression that she employs in order to deny the painful realities of her separateness from her mother. With this example I may run the risk of being accused of using material, which is not real violence at all but drawing upon my definition I hope to demonstrate that there are invariant elements which are essentially violent and which need to be distinguished from those aggressive elements, which are in the service of psychological development.
A patient informs me that she will be missing the last session of the week before a break. There follows a long statement which is apparently an attempt to show that this is a matter of great regret to her, a reluctant absence in order to spend time with her mother who is frail and whom she knows will soon die. I wonder if this may be an important expression of her wish for self-determination and ability to separate from the analyst/original mother, and a little guilty at the implicit criticism in her talk, to the effect that she is persecuted by incorrect, critical, interpretations about resistance to the analysis, and so on; the idea, for example, that she is leaving me as a way of evading the kinds of feelings that may be evoked in her by my leaving her (by taking my break). In consequence I refrain from commenting on the patients explanation. The patient then misses the session. On her return after the break I feel profoundly shocked by the extent to which the patient is emotionally absent. This is underlined a few sessions later by her commenting, not altogether unexpectedly, that she intends to end the analysis as she cannot for the life of her think what point there is in going on with it. In the same session, a little later, she recounts how, over the break, she disagreed with her mother over whether or not she should miss one of her daily telephone calls to mother. When the patient had said that she might not telephone because she had another commitment her mother had replied that is not my daughter talking. I then put it to the patient that before the missed session she had both wished to distance herself from her murderousness towards her frail and dying mother (and whether her murderousness was responsible for the frailty and death) and had simultaneously felt that a child part of her had been murdered by both her ruthless, self absorbed mother and by the part of her that defensively identified with this mother. She had needed the analysis to help her to be clear that she herself needed the analysis not least to differentiate between her aggression which was necessary to both separate from her mother and establish her own identity, and her murderousness which both sought to deny the reality of the separation and her own murderousness feelings towards her mother. Thus she felt that murder had taken place prior to the break and that the analyst was complicit in it. This interpretation then led to the reestablishment of the emotional link that had been broken and the analysis could then continue.

My description may have made clear the considerable potential that exists for confusing aggression in the service of development with violence that is intended to prevent the emergence of affects experienced as unbearably painful. Melanie Klein of course identified this sort of situation as fundamental in the development of personality in the extent to

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which it introduces the capacity for non-pathological depressive guilt and the capacity for concern; the recognition that aggressive affects in relation to the object must be painfully taken responsibility for and integrated or alternatively split-off from in a way that evokes paranoid-schizoid anxieties.30 In this case it was unclear to me how far the patient was presenting me with an expression of her aggression that was in the service of her psychological development and an enhanced sense of self and self-agency or whether it was an attempt by her to escape from her sense of dependency upon me and upon the analysis by treating the analysis as though it was of little consequence and that what she really needed to do was revert to complying with what she believed to be her mothers expectations of her. Patients may seek to exploit this confusion for defensive purposes, in order to obscure their conflict about the meaning of their aggressive impulses and to make it instead a problem for the analyst. Up to a point this is inevitable of course and a reflection of the patients need for the analysis in order to help him or her develop a more congruent sense of this for himself or herself in due course. In contradiction of behavioural definitions of violence the ambiguity of the behavioural and verbal aspects of my example may help to illustrate the extent to which it is the psychological rather than the behavioural that is essentially violent. Only by understanding the unconscious meaning of an act or interchange is it possible to differentiate its ordinary aggressive affective significance from its violent intention; this may well be obscure and remain so for long periods during an analysis or therapy and this is an essential requirement of any therapeutic engagement which has a mutative as opposed to a stabilising goal must be able to tolerate and contain this uncertainty, perhaps for lengthy periods of time. Is it possible to say something more about the quality of the psychological experience, which is characteristic of violence? I have already alluded to the central part played by the sense of violation to which violence is a response and especially the extent to which this sense of violation originates not in an affective experience that is able to be owned and experienced as an aspect of the self but rather is disowned and is then experienced as originating externally but intruding. And in describing violence as a response it is important to qualify this; I do not mean to imply by this that violence has its origin in the environment, in any simple sense; that it is simply reactive. This idea has considerable currency, however, with many writers explicitly or implicitly contending that violence is a reaction to something that has, as it were, been done to patients;31 and this idea has been extensively played out in the rather futile, polarised innate/environment debate. The strength with which this reaction idea is adhered to, however, may have its roots in the extent to which emotional feelings may be experienced, at least initially, as a concrete intrusion by external elements and as a quality of an object rather than a quality of the self. I referred earlier to Damasios concept of an emotional competent stimulus and an object fulfilling this role may at first be experienced as embodying the emotional feeling rather than the feeling being experienced as a quality of the self. I say at first because the processes of integration involves a shift in experience so that the emotional feeling comes to be experienced as something which is interior and of the self, as opposed to being exterior and a quality of the object. This is of course a fluid process in normal development involving constantly changing shifts in self and self-feeling throughout development and indeed throughout life; for example it is an important aspect of cultural experience. This may not in some
30. M. Klein, Some Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms [1946] in Developments in Psychoanalysis, eds. M. Klein, P. Heimann, S. Isaacs and J. Riviere (London: Hogarth Press, 1952). 31. F. De Zulueta, From Pain to Violence (London: Wurr, 1993).

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people, however, extend to the point of achieving stability in the form of an enduring sense of self and self-representation; indeed this may not be affected at all. In the experience of psychotic or borderline personality-disordered patients, for example, an enduring sense of self and the capacity to tolerate fluid representational senses of self may fail to develop or be seriously flawed. In this circumstance emotional feeling may be experienced only as a fixed quality of the object.
A previously withdrawn and socially isolated woman was admitted to a mental hospital having hit the man who lived next door to her. The reason she gave for the assault was that he and his wife were sending electrical waves through her bedroom wall in order to interfere with her body. Talking to her, however, it became clear that what had happened was that she had heard the couple having sexual intercourse through the party wall between their houses. The womans description of her body sensations seemed to indicate that she had become sexually excited. She had, however experienced her own body-sensation, sexual excitement, as both alien and a violation; an assault to which she had responded in kind.

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This may be a rather extreme example of the phenomenon I am describing but it is common for people to describe their violence and their experience of using violence as a reaction even in circumstances in which to an outside observer such a contention is absurd. The person may (although often will not) be able to see that such a position is not quite right, but this may be in contradiction to the self-experience, which precipitated the violence. So in this example, we may be able to identify with the woman at least to the extent that her representation of her sexual experience as a concrete electrical shock may be linked to a different kind of representation, in which the electrical quality of the sexual experience may be experienced in a more symbolic, emotional kind of way although still linked to body sensations. In the example we can see too the way in which part of the experiences shocking quality might be related to her sense of having something alien (her body/sensation + affect) put into her; the extent to which her affective experience is violating and the way in which her assault upon her neighbour was an attempt to reverse this. In a neurotic as opposed to a psychotic patient this might be experienced as something less dissociated and more like they made me feel it and the it might be understood to involve feelings of jealousy, envy, exclusion and so on as well as sexual arousal. In a situation where there is greater ego strength a position of this is how I feel is more likely to be robustly established. My example illustrates one other point. The projected affect which is responded to with aggression (violence) does not itself have to be aggressive; in this case it is sexual feeling, with its complex associated affects, that is experienced as though it is a violent attack. It is not the nature of the affect itself which is important but its unmediated, unmanaged quality and it is this that endows it with the quality of being an attack. The so-called mindlessness of violence I referred at the beginning to the contention that violence may in some way be mindlessness and it is common to stress the extent to which violence is conceived of as occupying the realm of behaviour and of action. But it transpires that violence is not mindless but that the use of this expression conveys something about the development of the capacity for what Fonagy has described as mentalization and the way that this may fail to become firmly established or may be lost. So we have seen that psychological development involves the realisation of innate affective capacities and this might include emotional feeling. We have seen too the way in which this potential for psychological development,

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mind and mentation also involves not only the realisation of innate potential but is dependent upon the availability of suitable objects, initially in the form of competent carers, in order to mediate and give context and meaning to the emotional-feeling experience; it is this that transforms sensory body experience into mind. In the absence of a suitable carer, who is able to attune to and manage and mediate the affective experience, rather than it leading to the development of mind, it acquires the quality of being violating and engenders the fear of annihilation by uncontained affect.32 Violence represents an attempt to deal with the violating experience which may be felt to be catastrophic and presaging either serious damage to the self or its destruction. This involves an attempt to reverse the process by which alien elements are experienced as threatening the self and this is achieved by evoking these in another. In the mind of the perpetrator of a violent action the part of the experience that is felt to be dangerous and which the enactment is intended to discharge is the dangerous emotional feeling. Ironically perhaps the man who punches another man on the nose is likely to be the man who is afraid of feeling like punching the other man on the nose. Violent acts are attempts not to have aggressive feelings (or be subject to aggressive affects). In this article I have considered some of what I believe to be the essential elements of violence and in particular I have emphasised the extent to which violence is a psychological phenomenon serving a psychological defensive purpose. This is true even if the defence takes concrete physical form including violent, physical enactments. I have tried to distinguish violence from aggression including where this too is expressed as bodily action but I have discriminated between violent aggressive actions which serve a defensive purpose from those aggressive phenomena including forceful acts, which are in the service of development. Thus we might think about aggression as a set of which violence, along with related phenomena such as brutality or destructiveness, is a subset. Furthermore that a particular quality of this subset is its pathological quality so that violence might be thought about as aggression, disintegrated, as opposed to integrated or un-integrated. It may be argued that my contentions do not hold water; that violence may be merely instrumental, for example violence used in the course of acquiring money or for sexual gratification. Clinical experience frequently demonstrates, however, that it is the violence which is the primary aim and that the money or the sex is secondary. Instead the acquisition of money by violent means has as its primary aim the inducing of painful feelings of loss in the other perhaps coupled with a sense of impotence or humiliating powerlessness or in the case of sex, the perverse destruction of a medium for reciprocal, intimate relating by turning it into an experience of helpless vulnerability. It may be important at this point to add a final caveat to what I have been describing. If my description of violence and its origins is a psychological one, this does not touch directly upon violence as a social phenomenon. I need to make it clear that although a psychological definition of violence is relevant to this question they should not be confused. Although violence as a psychological phenomenon may be more or less endemic, the ways in which this is manifested or expressed will depend upon social structures and the cultural mores of the particular society or social situation, for example, the material, economic and social circumstances into which the person is born, in which they live and in which they may find themselves in any particular moment. So we might guess that a prison will contain many people in whom violence plays a dominant even a predominant part of their psychological make-up. But the culture within the prison will be important with regard to how this

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32. R. Carvalho, Psychic Retreats Revisited.

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violence is contained, managed and expressed; even how far the potential for violence among the prisoners may be transformed into a more integrated capacity for managing their aggression as opposed to managing their violence, a therapeutic aim if you like. Important in this would be the ways in which the staff respond to the violence; in a way which draws up their capacity for aggression in a psychologically integrated manner or alternatively has recourse to violence.33 I have used the example of a prison as a relatively straightforward example but in fact what I describe would be an active element in all human social organisations including the family and of course originally in the interaction between an infant and his or her primary carers. I have described the extent to which to be aggressive is to be human but this is not the same thing as contending that violence is an inherent human trait, even if the capacity for violence is ubiquitous. The development of mind involves giving meaning to subjective, especially affective, experience. Violence arises in the context of a failure to mentally represent emotional feelings but instead evacuate these, for example, by means of the mechanisms of splitting and projection and in particular projective identification. Violence does not begat violence in any simple sense. It is rather the experience of violation, uncontained, that begets violence, which has the evacuation of the experience of violation as its aim. The purpose of the evacuation is the transformation of what is anticipated as being an unbearable affective experience into action (action used in Bions sense). Somewhat misleadingly this gives rise to the idea of mindless violence. The apparent mindless attributes of violence are in fact a consequence of the purpose of violence, which involves the emptying of a sense of violation out of the subject into an object. Notes on contributor
Richard Mizen MA, DSW, CQSW, is a Professional Member of the Society of Analytical Psychology. He worked for over 20 years in health and social services including adult mental health, forensic psychiatry and child protection. He is the co-editor with Jan Wiener and Jenny Duckham of Supervising and Being Supervised (Palgrave, 2003) and is co-author with Mark Morris of On Aggression and Violence: An Analytic Perspective (Palgrave, 2007). He is in private practice as an analyst and supervisor at Exeter and also organises and leads post-graduate courses in psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the School of Psychology at the University of Exeter.

33. R. Mizen and M. Morris, On Aggression and Violence; an Analytic Perspective (London: Palgrave, 2007).