Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 223–241 | Cite as

Reflexive violence

  • Christopher Scanlon
  • John Adlam
Original Article


In this article we build on a previous work to develop a critique of the notion of the supposedly deliberate or intentional quality of acts of self-harm and self-neglect. We suggest the term reflexive violence as a way to understand how some of us harm or neglect our-selves and become ‘identified’ as casualties (though not necessarily victims) of processes of inclusion/exclusion, oppression and colonisation played out between in-groups and socially constructed out-groups. We deploy this construct of reflexive violence to review shifting attitudes toward what constitutes deviance from the norm in modern societies, particularly the social and historical fluidities in the contested definitions of ‘personality disorder’ reflected in the American Psychiatric Association's periodic redrafting and updating of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. We also draw on philosophical, sociological and historical sources to develop a psychosocial and systems-psychodynamic commentary on discourses of power whose modalities of domination may be perceived in this violent attribution of intent into the excluded out-group.


self-harm violence personality disorder subjection social exclusion systems-psychodynamic 



We are grateful to Lynne Layton, Wayne Martin and Gabrielle Brown for their careful reading and very helpful comments on this paper and to Anna Motz for her extended dialogue with us on these themes.


  1. Adlam, J., Pelletier, C. and Scanlon, C. (2010) A citizen of the world: Cosmopolitan responses to metropolitan models of social inclusion. Paper presented at the Education and Citizenship in a Globalising World Conference; 18 November, London.Google Scholar
  2. Adshead, G. (1997) Written on the body: Deliberate self-harm and violence. In: E.V. Welldon and C. van Velsen (eds.) A Practical Guide to Forensic Psychotherapy. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 110–114.Google Scholar
  3. Adshead, G. (1998) Psychiatric staff as attachment figures. British Journal of Psychiatry 172: 64–69.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Adshead, G. (2001) Murmurs of discontent: Treatment and treatability of personality disorder. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 7 (6): 407–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Adshead, G. (2002) Three degrees of security: Attachment and forensic institutions. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 12, 2 (Supplement): 31–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Adshead, G. (2010) Written on the body: Deliberate self-harm as communication. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 24 (2): 69–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Alvarez, A. (1974) The Savage God: A Study of Suicide. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  8. American Psychiatric Association. (1987) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, (DSM -II-R) 3rd edn. (Revised). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  9. American Psychiatric Association. (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 4th edn. (DSM IV). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  10. American Psychiatric Association. (forthcoming) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 5th edn. (DSM-V). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  11. Babiak, P. and Hare, R.D. (2006) Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  12. Bateman, A. and Fonagy, P. (2004) Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: Mentalization-Based Treatment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Berkshire, E. (2011) Violent field of thought: ‘Eating disorders’. Psychodynamic Practice 17 (3): 335–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bion, W.R. (1961) Experiences in Groups. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bowlby, J. (1969, 1973, 1980) Attachment and Loss. Vols 1–3. London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  16. Brown, G., Kainth, K., Matheson, C., Osborne, J., Trenkle, A. and Adlam, J. (2012) An hospitable engagement? Open door psychotherapy with the socially excluded. Psychodynamic Practice 17 (3): 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Butler, J. (1997) The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Campbell, D. and Hale, R. (1991) Suicidal acts. In: J. Holmes (ed.) Textbook of Psychotherapy in Psychiatric Practice. London: Churchill Livingstone, pp. 287–306.Google Scholar
  19. Camus, A. (1953, 1974) The Rebel. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  20. Coe, J. (2012) Your friends and neighbours: Professional boundary violations – a review of perpetrator typologies and impact on clients. In: J. Adlam, A. Aiyegbusi, P. Kleinot, A. Motz and C. Scanlon (eds.) The Therapeutic Milieu Under Fire: Security and Insecurity in Forensic Mental Health. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 78–94.Google Scholar
  21. Coe, J. and Gabbard, G. (2012) Boundary violations: Are transgressing professionals beyond help? In: A. Aiyegbusi and G. Kelly (eds.) Professional and Therapeutic Boundaries in Forensic Mental Health Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 43–52.Google Scholar
  22. Department of Health. (2003) Personality Disorder: No Longer a Diagnosis of Exclusion. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  23. de Zulueta, F. (1993) From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. London: Whurr.Google Scholar
  24. Dorling, D. (2010) Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  25. Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? London: Zero Books.Google Scholar
  26. Foucault, M. (1975, 1991) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  27. Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  28. Foucault, M. (1997, 2004) Society Must Be Defended, Translated by D. Macey. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  29. Foulkes, S.H. (1948) Introduction to Group-Analytic Psychotherapy: Studies in the Social Integration of Individuals and Groups. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  30. Freud, S. (1917, 1957) Mourning and Melancholia. In: J. Strachey (ed.) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14. London: Hogarth Press, pp. 237–258.Google Scholar
  31. Gabbard, G.O. (ed.) (1989) Sexual Exploitation in Professional Relationships. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Gabbard, G.O. (2011) Understanding and treating borderline personality disorder. Paper presented at the South of England Psychotherapy Conference; 18 June, Winchester, UK.Google Scholar
  33. Galtung, J. (1969) Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research 6 (3): 167–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Galtung, J. (1996) Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Gilligan, J. (1996) Violence: Reflections on Our Deadliest Epidemic. London: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  36. Gilligan, J. (2010) Why Some Politicians are more Dangerous Than Others. London: Polity.Google Scholar
  37. Glasser, M. (1996) Aggression and violence in the perversions. In: I. Rosen (ed.) Sexual Deviation, 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 279–299.Google Scholar
  38. Goldblatt, M. (2010) Suicide and masochism: The evolving relationship between guilt, suffering, self-attack and suicide. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 24 (2): 93–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Haw, C., Hawton, K., Houston, K. and Townsend, E. (2001) Psychiatric and personality disorders in deliberate self-harm patients. British Journal of Psychiatry 178: 48–54.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Healy, J. (1988) The Grass Arena. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  41. Hegel, G.W.F. (1807, 1977) Phänomenologie des Geistes: The Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Hopper, E. (2003a) The Social Unconscious: Selected Papers. London: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  43. Hopper, E. (2003b) Traumatic Experience in the Unconscious Life of Groups: The Fourth Basic Assumption: Incohesion: Aggregation/Massification or (ba)I:A/M. London: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  44. Hopper, E. (ed.) (2012) Trauma and Organizations. London: Karnac.Google Scholar
  45. Hopper, E. and Weinberg, H. (2011) The Social Unconscious in Persons, Groups and Societies. Vol. 1: Mainly Theory. London: Karnac Books.Google Scholar
  46. Hutton, W. (2010) Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society. London: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  47. Kafka, F. (1919, 1984) In the Penal Settlement. London: Penguin Modern Classics.Google Scholar
  48. Kafka, F. (1922, 1996) A Hunger Artist. Prague: Twisted Spoon Press.Google Scholar
  49. Lasch, C. (1979) The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  50. Layton, L. (2008) What divides the subject? Psychoanalytic reflections on subjectivity, subjection and resistance. Subjectivity 22: 60–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Layton, L. (ed.) (2009) Special issue: ‘Us vs Them’. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 14 (1): 1–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Masson, J.M. (1984) The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  53. Masters, A. (2006) Stuart: A Life Backwards. London: Harper.Google Scholar
  54. Meltzer, D. (1992) The Claustrum: An Investigation of Claustrophobic Phenomena. London: Karnac Books.Google Scholar
  55. Motz, A. (2008) The Psychology of Female Violence: Crimes Against the Body. 2nd edn. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  56. Motz, A. (ed.) (2009) Managing Self-Harm: Psychological Perspectives. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  57. Motz, A. (2010) Self-harm as a sign of hope. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 24 (2): 81–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nolan, C. (dir.) (2000) Memento. Remember Productions LCC.Google Scholar
  59. O'Loughlin, M. (2009) The Subject of Childhood. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  60. Pelletier, C. (2009a) Education, equality and emancipation: Rancière's critique of Bourdieu and the question of performativity. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 30 (2): 137–150.Google Scholar
  61. Pelletier, C. (2009b) Rancière and the poetics of the social sciences. International Journal of Research and Method in Education 32 (3): 267–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pelletier, C. (2011) Beating the barrel of inclusion: Cosmopolitanism through Rabelais and Rancière. Psychodynamic Practice 17 (3): 255–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Pfäfflin, F. and Lamotte, F. (2010) Antisocial personalities. Forensische Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie 17 (3): 82–88.Google Scholar
  64. Platt, S., et al (1992) Parasuicide in Europe: The WHO/EURO multicentre study on parasuicide. I. Introduction and preliminary analysis for 1989. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 85 (2): 97–104.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Rancière, J. (2004) The Philosopher and his Poor, Translated by A. Parker. Durham NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rancière, J. (2007) The Hatred of Democracy. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  67. Sarkar, J. and Adshead, G. (2006) Personality disorders as disorganisation of attachment and affect regulation. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 12: 297–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Scanlon, C. and Adlam, J. (2008) Nursing dangerousness, dangerous nursing and the spaces in between: Learning to live with uncertainties. In: A. Aiyegbusi and J. Clarke (eds.) Therapeutic Relationships with Offenders: An Introduction to the Psychodynamics of Forensic Mental Health Nursing. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 127–142.Google Scholar
  69. Scanlon, C. and Adlam, J. (2009) ‘Why do you treat me this way?’: Reciprocal violence and the mythology of ‘deliberate self-harm’. In: A. Motz (ed.) Managing Self-harm: Psychological Perspectives. London: Routledge, pp. 55–81.Google Scholar
  70. Scanlon, C. and Adlam, J. (2010) The Recovery Model or the modelling of a cover-up? On the creeping privatisation and individualisation of dis-ease and being-unwell-ness. Groupwork 20 (3): 100–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Scanlon, C. and Adlam, J. (2011) ‘Defacing the currency’: A group-analytic appreciation of homelessness, dangerousness, disorder and other inarticulate speech of the heart? Group Analysis 44 (2): 131–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Scanlon, C. and Adlam, J. (2012) Disorganised responses to refusal and spoiling in traumatised organisations. In: E. Hopper (ed.) Trauma and Organisations. London: Karnac Books, pp. 151–172.Google Scholar
  73. Sinason, V. (1996) From abused to abuser. In: C. Cordess and M. Cox (eds.) Forensic Psychotherapy: Crime, Psychodynamics and the Offender Patient. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 371–382.Google Scholar
  74. Stein, A. (2011) The tattooed therapist: Exposure, disclosure, transference. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 16 (2): 113–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Stein, M. (2003) Unbounded irrationality: Risk and organizational narcissism at Long Term Capital Management. Human Relations 56 (5): 523–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stein, M. (2011) A culture of mania: A psychoanalytic view of the incubation of the 2008 credit crisis. Human Relations 18 (2): 173–186.Google Scholar
  77. Sullivan, D. and Romilly, C. (2000) Hunger strike and food refusal. In: S. Wilson and I. Cumming (eds.) Psychiatry in Prisons: A Comprehensive Handbook. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 156–172.Google Scholar
  78. Turner, K., Lovell, K. and Brooker, A. (2011) ‘… and they all lived happily ever after’: ‘Recovery’ or discovery of the self in personality disorder. Psychodynamic Practice 17 (3): 341–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Welldon, E.V. (1992) Mother, Madonna, Whore: The Idealisation and Denigration of Motherhood. London: Karnac Books.Google Scholar
  80. Welldon, E.V. (1996) Contrasting male and female perversions. In: C. Cordess and M. Cox (eds.) Forensic Psychotherapy: Crime, Psychodynamics and the Offender Patient. London: Jessica Kingsley, pp. 273–289.Google Scholar
  81. Welldon, E.V. (2002) Ideas in Psychoanalysis: Sadomasochism. Cambridge: Icon Books.Google Scholar
  82. Welldon, E.V. (2011) Playing with Dynamite: A Personal Approach to Psychoanalytic Understanding of Perversions, Violence and Criminality. London: Karnac.Google Scholar
  83. Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  84. Žižek, S. (2008) Violence. London: Profile.Google Scholar
  85. Žižek, S. (2010) Liberal multiculturalism masks an old barbarian with a human face. The Guardian 4 October,, accessed 27 November 2012.

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Millfields Severe Personality Disorders Unit, John Howard CentreLondonUK
  2. 2.SW London and St George's Adult Eating Disorders Service, Avalon Ward, Springfield University HospitalLondonUK

Personalised recommendations