Shame and empathy: Relational factors affecting the intergenerational transmission of family violence

Ellen Elizabeth Ford (2001)

This theoretical paper explores the internal process by which the presence of a supportive relationship in an abused child's life functions to help interrupt the intergenerational transmission of family violence. Reduction of shame and increase in empathy are hypothesized to be the protective sequelae of a supportive relationship. Attachment theory provides the theoretical foundation upon which this exploration rests. Examination of the literature points to several conclusions: a mutual relationship develops the capacity for empathy, a quality missing in abusive parents; it reduces shame and its consequent distortions of self-awareness, self-worth, and memory, factors in transmitting violence through the generations; it also increases adaptive regulation of arousal, which undergirds empathy, memory, self-awareness, and self-worth. The theoretical information is applied to clinical practice.