Training Opportunity: Understanding Intimate Violence from an Attachment and Trauma Perspective

Always Hurting the Ones We Love: Understanding Intimate Violence from an Attachment and Trauma Perspective

A one-day workshop with Paul Renn hosted by nscience UK – 20 September 2014 (Saturday) – 10.00am – 4.00pm

The Fitzwilliam Hotel
St Stephen’s Green
Dublin 2

To book online click on

Event Details: The social and political implications of aggression and destructiveness cannot be overstated. Interpersonal violence, in particular, is seen by many as having reached epidemic proportions in modern society. In this one-day workshop, which would be of value to psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists and couples therapists, Paul Renn draws on attachment and trauma theory and research, as well as his own clinical experience with violent individuals and couples, to explicate why so many of us end up hurting the ones we profess to love.

From an attachment perspective, an important motivational factor in the perpetuation of archaic attachment bonds is the implicit desire to recreate in the present a familiar relationship pattern from the past, regardless of how violent and self-destructive this might have been, precisely because it is familiar and, therefore, provides a modicum of felt security. Indeed, attachment theory holds that the person’s implicitly encoded cognitive-affective representational models of early self-other relationships mediate all subsequent relationships, particularly those developed with intimate partners in adulthood. As Paul illustrates, the seemingly addictive propensity to repeatedly forge adult romantic relationships that are redolent of ties to early attachment figures, even when these were characterized by violence, abuse and trauma, suggests that such behavior reflects neurobiological, as well as psychological, derivatives. Paul concludes the morning session by presenting a case vignette to illustrate theoretical and clinical issues.

In the afternoon session, attendees break into small groups to explore their own experience of violence in the context of their early attachment histories. One of several goals of this small group task is to help us to understand an often persistent tendency to recreate in the interpersonal present violent and abusive patterns deriving from the relational past. Key questions here are how comfortable we are with closeness and intimacy, and how fearful we are of rejection and abandonment. These spatial attachment phenomena represent oscillating states of fear of engulfment and fear of abandonment which may, at times, lead to conflict, coercion and even violence in our intimate relationships.

About the speaker

Paul Renn is a UKCP accredited psychoanalytic psychotherapist, training therapist and supervisor in private practice in London. He has a background in the National Probation Service where he specialized in working with violent individuals and couples. He subsequently trained at the Centre for Attachment-based Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, recently renamed the Bowlby Centre.

Paul has presented papers at international conferences and devised and facilitated seminars and workshops on attachment and trauma, violent attachments, sexuality in the consulting room, memory, trauma and dissociation in psychotherapy, and on the internal world and the process of change. He is the author of a number of book chapters and journal articles published in the UK and translated for publication abroad. He is a member of the Forum for Independent Psychotherapists, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the International Attachment Network, the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy, and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. He is on the editorial board of Psychoanalytic Inquiry and is the author of The Silent Past and the Invisible Present: Memory, Trauma, and Representation in Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2012). For details, click here


9:45AM: Registration

10:00AM: Session 1 – Attachment, Trauma, and Intimate Violence: Attachment theory is a spatial theory, in that it explores our capacity for emotional and physical closeness, as mediated by relatively discrete attachment states of mind (secure, dismissing, preoccupied and unresolved). These states of mind are developed in our earliest relationships and, though open systems, are resistant to change. Choice of adult romantic partner is one of the most significant factors by which attachment patterns and early affectional ties are externalized and maintained, particularly in instances of unmourned loss. In this first session, and with these findings in mind, we consider the way in which an attachment and trauma perspective understands anger and intimate violence; specifically, how dissociated traumatic affect may motivate violent behavior in stressful interpersonal contexts involving separation, loss and fear of abandonment.

10:45AM: Session 2 – Violence and Gender: Similarities and Differences: This session explores the similarities and differences of violent men and women. Research indicates that the psychological factors underlying couple violence are similar for both genders and, moreover, occur in same-sex as well as opposite-sex relationships. In this context, we will discuss the links between discrete attachment states of mind and violence in intimate relationships. From a clinical perspective, we consider when couples therapy should be the intervention of choice. Paul illustrates the way in which a relational or systemic approach, informed by attachment theory and research, explores the interaction between the partners’ adult attachment states of mind and the non-conscious emotional procedures that they habitually employ in their intimate relationships.

11:30AM: Coffee Break

11:45AM: Session 3 – “John” – A Case Vignette of a Violent Man: Paul presents a case vignette of a violent man from his forensic practice. Using an integrative clinical model, with attachment theory and relational psychoanalysis at its core, he demonstrates the role that implicit-procedural memory, dissociation and traumatic representational models play in the development and maintenance of personality traits and violent psychopathology. In more general terms, the case example illustrates the various theoretical and clinical issues discussed in Sessions 1 and 2. Paul suggests that clinical work with violent people does not, in fact, differ in any substantive way from work with non-violent individuals and couples.

1:00PM: Lunch (a light lunch is provided as part of the workshop)

2:00PM: Session 4 – Exploring Our Own Experience of Violence: To inform the small group task, Paul presents a brief paper that sets out a range of responses to violent situations experienced in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and in which we may have been placed in the role of victim, perpetrator, rescuer or bystander.

2:15PM: Session 5 – Small Group Task: Attendees break into small groups to explore their own experience of violence in the context of their attachment histories. A handout will be provided to facilitate this task. Attendees will be invited to explore the various violent relational experiences that may have influenced their current attitude to violence and the role that they habitually play in interpersonal conflict situations. One of several goals of this small group exercise is to better understand how we tend to reenact in the interpersonal present violent and abusive patterns deriving from our relational past – why we continue to hurt (or be hurt by) the ones we love.

3:15PM: Coffee break

3:30PM: Session 6 – Plenary: Attendees will be invited to share their experience of the small group exercise and discuss any issues outstanding from the morning session.

4:00PM: Close