Madam Puddifoot’s: What Exactly did Ron Do?

by Michael Knish

It was most unfortunate to hear of young Ron’s pending fate. Before reading on, I wanted to warn you that I am a mere therapist, and a middle-aged therapist at that. I certainly won’t attempt to match the length of the editorial suggesting that Ron may well find himself a perpetrator of domestic violence. I fear that by the tenth page, I will have forgotten what I had written on page three. I am also trying to muster the courage to take on a work based on Dear Abby. I’m afraid that my academic preparation has only included exposures to researchers and clinical practitioners. I guess we all have to do the best we can with what we have.

This undertaking reminds of the movie Minority Report, in which individuals were arrested and convicted based on evidence suggesting that they have a significant probability of committing a given crime. I hope that readers find this notion to be frightening. Of course, the more deterministic reader will find a certain appeal to the notion of a life course solely determined by developmental history, genetic predisposition, and personality traits. Alfred Adler, an amazing psychological theorist, was faced with the grim determinism of his mentor, Sigmund Freud. He responded with the notion of the Creative Self. Adler suggested that our reactions to our experiences are based on subjective interpretation. While rain may put a damper on the wedding day of a bride, it is quite a positive experience for a farmer living through a drought. Adler also suggested that choice exists in every situation. To be sure, most abused children do not go on to become abusive parents, and the experience of living in a violent household will not doom an individual to a life of violence.

I want to go out on a limb at this point and suggest that there exist other, and perhaps more predictive, indicators of violence than those mentioned by Dear Abby. Yet, the reader should note that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. My guess is that the most predictive evidence simply does not exist. Young Ron does not present with a history of violence. He also fails to present with any indication of tenuously controlled rage or anger. We have all observed individuals who seem to be simmering with unexpressed irritability. You might remember one of your parents slamming the kitchen cabinets or a car door, and snapping an angry response of “Nothing” when you ask, “What’s wrong?” If this behavior is displayed frequently, we might become suspicious.

Further, 60% of violent offenders were raised in a violent household. We tend to model observed behavior. This is especially true in our first five years of life, when the basics of personality are formed. A personality is composed of well-engrained ways of thinking, perceiving, feeling, and acting. Ideally, the early environment is an accurate reflection of values and behaviors that exist and occur outside of the home. The child’s values and behaviors will then tend to “fit” those outside of the home. Of course, a child emerging from a violent household will often display behaviors that are at odds with the relatively non-violent expectations outside of the home. Threats, fights, generally inappropriate behavior toward teachers or other students — all might lead us to “flag” an individual as high risk. By the way, there also tend to be higher rates of alcoholism and depression in the families of violent offenders.

I’ll end this first installment with an assignment for those interested in assessing the danger, or potential danger posed by young Ron. Search your memory, or the actual writings if you have the time, for the risk factors I have mentioned in this first installment. At the end of my presentation, I will provide resources so that interested readers might further investigate domestic violence.

Michael T. Knish, MA, LMHC