When Parenting Becomes Unthinkable

When Parenting Becomes Unthinkable


What happens in the mind of a parent who strikes out and harms their infant or small child?

Something unthinkable occurs when an otherwise loving parent strikes out and harms their child. Although difficult to think about, the intrapsychic phenomena are multifaceted and often poorly understood by our clients and indeed by us as clinicians. A number of environmental, and internal phenomena can contribute to the shift towards more automatic mental states, the capacity for enactment (violence) and the temporary loss of empathy. The work of Peter Fonagy and Anthony Bateman on mentalizing, trauma and violence provides a useful framework for understanding how this widespread relational enactment occurs and, in helping us to understand our client’s mind, better places us to help parents make sense of and manage this dreadful experience. 

This paper will present some ideas applying the concepts of mentalizing and other aspects of Bateman & Fonagy’s work to the area of child abuse. 

Aims: To make senseof the intrapsychic phenomena which underlie the parental capacity to inflict violence on a small, and presumably harmless, infant or child.

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