Research shows that domestic violence increases during times of major sporting events such as the world cup. Reasons that are often cited include increased tension, investment in the outcome, disappointment, adrenaline, and intoxication.
From our perspective, this up-tic in emotional outbursts, is best understood from the perspective of attachment and rejection theory.
Domestic violence is associated with adults who have an affectively-oriented attachment structure, or a “C” pattern. These patterns tend to rely, to one degree or another, on affective information, rather than cognitive information to guide thoughts and behavior. That is, feelings, especially “elicited negative feelings” in the body provide the neural system with preferred information, and intense feelings tend to drive intense thoughts and behaviors. Intense feeling can override cognitive information, such as the thought “I should control my feelings because if I don’t I might do something I will regret.” (Crittenden, Patricia M., and Spieker, Susan, J., (2018), Can attachment inform decision-making in child protection and forensic settings?, Infant Mental Health Journal, in press.)
From a social science rejection theory perspective, attachment C patterns can involve the increased likelihood of angry responses to relationship threats, increased history of relationship abuse, increased feelings of jealousy, a tendency to perceive partners in a negative light, and struggle between wanting and avoiding intimacy. These are all elements common to people who tend to be sensitive to rejection and respond with aggression. There are two types of relational rejections that are important to understand. Perceived low relational evaluation: a person may feel rejected when their perceived relational evaluation is not as high as they desire (even though they may recognize they are valued, liked, or accepted). Relational devaluation: a person may feel particularly rejected when they experience a subjective, sudden and dramatic devaluation in a relationship. (Leary, Mark R., Twenge. Jean M., Quinlivan, Erin, (2006), Interpersonal rejection as a determinate of anger and aggression, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10:2, 111-132.
As noted in the CNN article above, expectations and the game’s outcome can make a difference. A 2010 British study found that violence spiked during the World Cup tournament only if the English team won or lost, not if the game ended in a draw. In a 2015 British study, violence spiked if expectations were high –either because of who was playing, where the games was played or because of the significance of the match.
Taken together, we can see that when a person evaluates their own self-worth based on the performance of a sporting team, and when they have an affective-oriented personality structure, they may be more susceptible to act upon intense feelings and less able to manage those feelings whether the team wins or loses. We would expect losses would tend to elicit more negative feelings. What can be done? Armed with foreknowledge about the risks, people with partners who tend to use attachment C-pattern behaviors can anticipate and be proactive. They can help put the games in a healthy context, provide healthy outlets to let off steam, be mindful to eat healthy food and moderate alcohol consumption, be mindful about other potential relational challenges and rejections (avoid, put off, minimize, or address in a structured way or with helpful third parties present), and keep a focus on positive places, people, events and things that elicit positive rather than negative feelings.
From a longer term perspective, it may be helpful to work with their partners to develop a good set of skills for managing emotions, such as recognizing and labeling emotions (neurobiological drives) and feelings (the outcome of the neurobiological impulse), learning to accept and talk about feelings, and develop mindfulness techniques. Partners may want to model such techniques and engage in practices like yoga and exercise to encourage partners to do the same.
Mark Baumann (c) 2018