The developmental and attachment literature on violence is reviewed. Violence is conceptualized as an attempt to achieve justice. The cycle of violence is explored with reference to the early experience of perpetrators and their treatment by the criminal justice system after they have committed acts of violence.


The origins of violence are considered in the context of the experience of trauma in childhood and the consequent damage to ‘internal working models’ of relationships. The perpetration of violence in later life is viewed in the context of identifying with the aggressor, the obliteration of thought processes and the repetition of the earlier childhood trauma. The offence is considered as a symptom, a symbolic communication, by individuals who are unable to symbolize distress on a verbal level.

The institutional response

The ‘violence begets violence’ hypothesis is then extended to include the response of society and its institutions as part of the full circle of the repetition compulsion: the childhood victim who later becomes a perpetrator, then again becomes the victim of a cruel and persecuting system. Incarceration is viewed as a ‘compromise formation’ in that it fulfils the wish both for punishment and for care, albeit in a highly disguised form and allowing for a defensive state of mind to continue.

The therapeutic relationship

These issues are considered in the context of the therapeutic relationship and the enactment of early trauma in this setting which may provide insight into the psychological processes at work between the offender and society.


Understanding violence indicates that, whilst some individuals need to be physically checked, a response which focuses on retribution fails to address the problem of violence and colludes with the very pathology of those who engage in such action. Copyright © 2000 Whurr Publishers Ltd.