Social rank again

A potential limitation of this type of research is that it does not clearly delineate the exact nature of the threat and the defensive response. Protest-despair was designed to cope with attachment loss and unavailability, but the defeat-submissive defences are to cope with the threat posed by potentially hostile or rejecting others (Gilbert, 2000a). Hence, as noted by Gilbert and Gerslma (1999), while attachment relationships in families have been well studied, competitive styles (such as competing to win affection and sibling rivalries) and rank-orientated ways of relating have been less well researched (see Dunn, 1992).

For the activation and use of rank-related defensive responses, there are two very important domains that can lead to vulnerability. The first is where child-parent relationships are abusive and/or are marked by high expressed emotion (over-involvement, intrusiveness, and criticism) (Wearden et al., 2000). The second domain is sibling and peer bullying. It is now well known that sexual abuse is a major risk factor for later depression, especially chronic depression in women (Andrews, 1998). In a recent major review and study on child maltreatment in the UK for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Cawson et al. (2000) found that there are numerous ways in which children can be threatened: humiliation/ and degradation, withdrawal of love, harming something dear to a child, showing marked dislike of a child, and terrorizing. In their large community study, they found that 33% of men and 34% of women acknowledged some experiences of being terrorized by their parents (Table 37).

Peer and sibling bullying is also a risk factor for depression (Schuster, 1996; Smith & Myron-Wilson 1998). As reviewed by Smith and Myron-Wilson (1998), bullies, bully/victims (who oscillate between subordinate and aggressive dominant behaviours), and victims show disturbances in early attachment relationships, and bullies often learn their behaviour in families high in conflict (parents or siblings act as hostile dominants) with harsh and inconsistent discipline (that is, non-safe environments). Victims, however, may come from families that are over-enmeshed. In a different paradigm, Vinokur and van Ryn (1993) found that social undermining (defined as social hindrance, negative social support, and social conflict) had a stronger, though more volatile, impact on mental health than social support over two time periods.

Both parental maltreatment or abuse and peer or sibling bullying can be seen as forms of harassment that inflict defeats/controls on the child. Moreover, they seriously interfere with efforts to stimulate PA in others—to be liked and accepted. In both cases, the commonly activated defences may be fight, flight-withdrawal, or submissive inhibition. However, these may be unhelpful in developing positive relationships—the things humans compete for and can stimulate PA.

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