Can mentalization disrupt the circle of violence in adolescents with early maltreatment?
Epidemiological and longitudinal studies have convincingly demonstrated the relationship between childhood maltreatment and disruptive disorders, including acts of violence. However, the mechanisms underlying the relationship-that is, how the experience of early maltreatment is transformed into a potential for violence against others is still poorly understood. This chapter focuses on the role of mentalization as a protective factor in adolescence. Childhood maltreatment is, among other consequences, closely linked to the development of a heightened potential for violence. James Gilligan formed a thesis on extreme violence built upon numerous cases he encountered during his work in the American prison system in which seemingly small insults or even the fantasy of being humiliated appear to get out of hand, leading to extreme violence. In the face of extreme violence, such as with murderers, Gilligan also observed another phenomenon, linked to extreme forms of childhood maltreatment and early close-to-death experiences.