The attachment triangles

In the first instance, we should return to the attachment triangle in chapter two, which described the developmental pathway of the personality disordered offender. Figure 4.1 shows how one might compare the development of a core understanding of oneself in relation to others – patterns of interpersonal relating – to a triangle of the here-and-now, linking these patterns to intimate and social relationships as well as the relationship with the offender manager and MAPPP.


In other words, if the development of attachment and early experiences of trauma sets up a repeated pattern of relating to others, what does this suggest that we – the offender manager, the hostel, MAPPP or the community mental health team – might expect in terms of behaviour and interpersonal functioning?

If we return to the case of Billy (detailed in previous chapters), we know that he experienced his mother as seductive and loving, but also as erratic and rejecting of him. His father was apparently a rapist, and a subsequent positive relationship with his step-father was abruptly severed with his sudden death. In adolescence he was placed in Local Authority care, and the only attention he received was in the form of sexual abuse by a male staff member – the sexual contact was unwanted but better than no attention at all. In adulthood, Billy began by selling his body to men, working as a rent boy; this reflected the sexual way in which he defined himself. He went on to have intense, but brief and conflictual relationships with women. Finally, the index offence – indecent assault – appeared to have been an expression of rage, triggered by the victim’s understandable rejection of him.

What might we therefore expect in terms of Billy’s relationship with others, following his release from prison into an approved premises?

  • Intense, rather sexualised relationships with women, particularly those in authority?
  • He may be particularly sensitive to signs of betrayal or rejection?
  • It is not clear whether he will see himself as a victim of authority (arising out of his experiences in care), or somehow bad like his father with whom he identifies….maybe he will alternate between victim and perpetrator stances?
  • He is likely to get into a rather delinquent relationship with other men in the hostel, perhaps engaging in conning or mildly subversive behaviour – breaking rules?

An alternative way of developing a community management plan would be to focus on what we know about core and secondary personality characteristics. Table 4.2 outlines the core beliefs, and interpersonal styles of each of the personality disorders (as defined by DSM-IV). These ideas are drawn from Millon and Padesky, and link closely to cognitive behavioural theories of personality disorder.

Self-schema relates to the individual’s core belief about himself, usually drawn from early developmental experiences and/or inherent traits, and reinforced over the years.

World schemas describe the key traits with which the individual views himself in relation to the world around him/her.

Expressive acts refers to the way in which others experience the personality disordered individual, the observable behaviours

The interpersonal strategy describes the primary means by which the individual approaches and relates to others.

Personality type Self-schema World schema Expressive Acts Interpersonal strategy
Paranoid Right/noble Malicious Defensive Suspicious or provocative
Schizoid Self-sufficient Intrusive or unimportant Impassive Isolated or unengaged
Schizotypal Estranged Varies Eccentric Secretive
Antisocial Strong/alone A jungle Impulsive Deceive or manipulate
Borderline Bad or vulnerable Dangerous Spasmodic Attach or attack
Histrionic Inadequate Seducible Dramatic Charm or seek attention
Narcissistic Admirable Threatening Haughty Compete or exploit
Avoidant Worthless Critical Fretful Avoid
Dependent Helpless Overwhelming Incompetent Submit
Obsessive-compulsive Competent or conscientious Needs order Disciplined Control or respectful

Consider Peter again. In chapter two he was identified as being largely narcissistic – with a few antisocial traits – in his presentation and history. That is, he repeatedly holds an extremely positive view of himself as admirable and right, experiencing others as potentially posing a threat to this self image if they stand up to him or thwart him. Almost always, he is experienced by others as haughty and contemptuous in his attitudes, and others often feel that he pushes them into a competitive stance, or that he uses and manipulates them. How might these characteristics be reflected in his pattern of offending – sexual assaults on pubescent boys – and in his behaviour with others?

  • His attitude to boys is rather like narcissus looking at his reflection in the pond, he sees them not as individuals but as an extension of himself – something pure, unsullied, innocent and lost.
  • He relies on literature, and inconsistencies in the law, to argue for and justify ‘man-boy love’, and pushes all professionals into a debate about it. This always results in an argument about the sexualisation of children.
  • He relates only to others who collude with his beliefs, either via the internet, or as a result of cell sharing on the prison wing.
  • He tends to avoid other peer relationships, preferring to seek out rather vulnerable younger men who look to him for help.

Any risk management plan, with Peter, would have to consider the relationship between his personality traits and his offending and behaviour, and try to disentangle those aspects which were primarily linked to future risk from those characteristics which were perhaps annoying but ‘harmless’.